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Moreno Valley community demands answers in the latest police shooting

by mary shelton Tuesday, Mar. 20, 2001 at 5:59 PM

The shooting of Dante Meniefield has attracted outside attention, from the federal government, as well as stirred up the passion of the community in which he lived and died in.

errorAfter the tragic shooting death of Dante Meniefield by a Moreno Valley Police Department officer, his family members and friends mourned his loss. And the community rose up and marched the streets demanding that justice be served so that another life will not be lost at the hands of the police.

Last week, the Riverside Sheriffs Department issued a press release that said that the officer, who served nine years in the department, shot Meniefield because he made a quick movement. A man who was with Meniefield when it happened offered a different story, according to Bernell Butler. This man said that he and Meniefield had taken shelter in the apartment during a rain storm, and that both men had their hands up when the officer fired his weapon because Meniefield had said to do it for their safety.

At a meeting, community activist Gwen Pascal spoke of the past eight months spent appealing to Coz and city officials to deal with the officer involved in the shooting. I didnt go once, I didnt go two times. I went a lot of times, she said. She contacted the mayor and members of the city council repeatedly, with her concerns. I told them this particular officer was going to kill someone, she said.

After the shooting, nearly 100 people have gathered in the parking lot of a store to wash cars, in order to raise money for Meniefields funeral and burial. When the last car is washed, they march and rally at the police station and city hall and say they wont stop until justice is done. Activist Gloria Willis asked that more mothers become involved in the quest for justice. We did not carry our children for nine months to be shot down, she said.

No justice, no peace, no racist police, the message that resounded through Riverside has come to a new front. The police officers have already begun the video surveillance, and harassment of protesters at the rallies, sending out a pair of motorcycles to speed by when the crowd spills over onto the streets. Many of the residents of the apartments in Edgemont spoke of how they have been harassed by the officers who police their neighborhood before and after the shooting. And asked why the city of Moreno Valley had contracted its police services from the Sheriffs Department. They are Riverside Sheriffs in Moreno Valley Police uniforms, Butler said, adding that the city needed its own department. The one that it currently utilizes has had 5 fatal shootings in the past year, including that of Ruben Vega several months ago, according to Butler.

At Meniefields funeral, Police Chief Richard Coz said Nothing we can do is going to change what happened, and told the audience of 700 people at Trinity Baptist Church, that his department would find out what happened. Butler told them he was not there to lead, but to provide support. He said that he would not accept racial profiling and police brutality any more. No shooting innocent kids with their hands up any more, he said. Friends and family members of Meniefield filled the aisle to share their feelings eelings. They described Meniefield as an intelligent loving man, who loved to play football. Mama Hope, who considered all the neighborhood children her own, spoke of the long conversations she had with Meniefield. Dante, I love you. Ill be back soon, she said. Melanie Meniefield described him as a fun, outgoing person. Everyone who came into contact with him loved him so much, she said. She listed all the relatives that would outlive him, including his parents, aunts, uncles and two children, Tanika and an unborn child by his girlfriend.

After the funeral, mourners followed Meniefields body to its final resting place at Olivewood cemetery. The Riverside Police Department awaited them, having sent out officers from its SWAT team to stage at nearby Riverside Polytechnic High School, in riot gear and with an armored vehicle. Other officers parked in marked and unmarked vehicles nearby, to observe the burial service. When contacted about the reason for the massive police presense, the department did not return phone calls. Nor was a phone call returned from Councilman William Beaty, who represented the district where the shooting took place.

Last Monday, 30 people marched to the station and City Hall to express their concerns to the people in power there, and were harassed by two motorcycle police officers on the way back to the gas station. Brother X Mohammed was pulled over by the officers who told him he was driving in the wrong lane. I was driving while Black,. When the protesters confronted the officers at the station, they drove off.

Stephen Thom, a representative of the United States Justice Departments Community Relations Division told the marchers that the FBI will investigate the incident and that the federal government will as well, according to a letter sent out by U.S. Attorney Michael Gennaco. Hopefully, we will find the truth in all this, and take the appropriate steps, he said. He added that his office would work closely with the community leaders in the coming months.

The officer is on paid administrative leave pending the completion of the investigations being conducted jointly by the police department and the Sheriffs Departments Central Division.

The local newspaper, the Press Enterprise, has received considerable criticism for its lack of substantial coverage since the day of the shooting, including its decision not to include any coverage of the funeral in its pages. In an email, City Editor John Gryka wrote:

My understanding of the situation is that our coverage of this news story is not
over. We are looking at a more in-depth story and, of course, will cover any
breaking developments.

The photographs taken of the funeral may appear in a future story that takes a
look at the case so far. But a determination of that will be made when we know
what emphasis that story takes.

My colleagues and I are very concerned about presenting balanced coverage of all
communities that we cover. Your email will help to keep that uppermost in our
thoughts; therefore i will share it with some key people in the Newsroom.

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and concerns.

The Tyisha Miller Steering Committee met last week, to discuss how to work with local ministers on establishing changes in how Moreno Valley does business. Getting the officer fired is a priority along with urging the federal and state justice departments to conduct investigations of the shooting and the agencies involved, he said. Establishing an independent form of civilian review and restructuring the police department, to create an independent agency are high priorities as well. If the chief wont change them, then well change him, Butler said.
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Re: Dante Meniefield article 3-19-01 Karsten Barnes Saturday, Mar. 24, 2001 at 11:42 AM
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