Political frame-ups of two activists in LA

July 1, 2009

Sarah Knopp reports on the charges that authorities have leveled against two of Los Angeles' best-known activists.

TWO LEADING civil rights and immigrant rights activists in Los Angeles have been charged with felonies and face possible prison time--and it's clear in both cases that the charges are politically motivated attempts to undermine their organizing work.

Los Angeles County prosecutors announced in late June that they had issued an arrest warrant for Nativo Vigil López, president of Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) and a veteran immigrant rights and labor rights organizer, on four counts of voter fraud.

The charges come down to a ballot that López cast in 2008 in Los Angeles, where he leased office space--the authorities claim it was illegal to use this address for voting, because he allegedly lived in Orange County.

The issue of using "domiciles" to determine where a person must vote is thorny and often "disenfranchising," according to López:

There are many instances in which domicile issues are a threat to people's voting rights. How do we use "domicile" as a determining factor for homeless people? What about the large numbers of people who continue to vote from their parents' addresses long after they leave home?

And what about the large numbers of middle-class business owners who use their business addresses as their legal addresses? How will the concept of "domicile" affect voters who have recently lost their homes to foreclosure? These are technical issues that are usually dealt with administratively as opposed to felony charges.

Nativo Lopez
Nativo Lopez

The investigation into López's voting patterns was launched by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a liberal Democrat, after complaints were filed by Green Party members who opposed López in an internal political battle over the direction of the party. Bowen turned over results of the state investigation to Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, who decided to charge López with four felonies.

This isn't the first time that the state of California has gone after López. In 1996, when Republican Bill Jones was secretary of state, López was investigated for election fraud for allegedly registering people to vote before they became citizens. At the time, MAPA was at the forefront of a fight to get access to drivers' licenses for undocumented workers.

López was exonerated of all the fraud allegations by a judge. "We defeated them, but the enemy has a long memory," said Lopez. "They lie in waiting until things have quieted down, and they come after you again."

Today, in addition to fighting for legalization for all immigrants, López has been involved in a campaign among workers at the Overhill Farms factory in Vernon, Calif., the largest food products distributor in the state, where over 300 workers have been terminated for discrepancies in Social Security numbers.

What you can do

Nativo López is asking people to write letters of support on his behalf to LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley at his Los Angeles Headquarters, 210 W Temple St., Los Angeles CA 90012--or call 213-974-3512 and fax 213-974-1484.

Alex Sánchez is asking supporters to write letters of support, focusing on his positive contributions to the community, to: Honorable Alicia G. Rosenberg, United States Courthouse, 312 N. Spring St., Courtroom D, Los Angeles, CA 90012, RE: Mr. Alex Sánchez Cr. 09-00466

ON THE same day that the charges were announced against López, police arrested a prominent Los Angeles anti-gang violence activist Alex Sánchez.

Sánchez, who is Salavadoran, co-founded the group Homies Unidos that worked on gang truces and on giving youth alternatives to violence.

"We have seen him build and promote peace in neighborhoods from LA to Long Island to El Salvador," the Youth Justice Coalition of Los Angeles said in a statement. "We have witnessed the truces Alex has helped to build between rival neighborhoods. We have seen him ease Black-Brown tensions throughout the country."

Sánchez has beaten politically motivated attacks before. This time, though, he is under federal indictment for racketeering charges, based on his alleged ties to the Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha. The government has provided no evidence against him so far, and activists are organizing for his bail hearing on June 30.

The charges against these two political activists--even if their coming at the same time is a coincidence--should be an alarm bell for the social justice community of Los Angeles. We have to defend ourselves against efforts by the authorities to squelch the voices of resistance.

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