Baktun 12 Presents…
A Community Burial at City Hall
Editorial By Alexis J. Casas
“Like the calm before the storm…”
Photos by Elizabeth Atilano
It was 4pm on Tuesday May 25th, 2021; the anniversary of George Floyd’s death. Like the calm before the storm, members of Baktun12, MILPA, and the Salinas community gathered in a circulo preparing for the events about to unfold; a call to action as the Salinas City Council met to discuss the budget. The call: fund the community, defund the police.
Baktun12 organized a community burial complete with caskets and flowers to honor the lives lost at the hands of law enforcement . The gathering involved a peaceful procession from MILPA’s office on Melody Ln to City Hall. Upon arrival the group was met with a Pro Salinas Police rally, organized to urge members of the city council to NOT defund the police.
What many neglect to understand is the root concern and demand behind ‘defund the police.’ The action leaders made it clear; funding for more police engagement means further disconnection from the community. What does this look like in terms of the budget? Reallocating funds that would otherwise go to police by funding vital resources like mental health crisis response teams, affordable housing, accessible Wi-Fi zones for the community, as well as libraries & community services.
About half of Salinas’ city budget goes to the police, and the department is still asking for more money, potentially creating an even bigger resource divide between them and the community. The budgetary issues pertaining to poverty, hunger, and a lack of resources later translate into higher rates of petty crime when these resources aren’t provided and needs are not met, further fueling the vicious cycle of incarceration in our community.
This community burial was not just metaphorical, community organizers marched down the streets of Old Town Salinas carrying hand-painted coffins while voicing the names of George Floyed, Brenda Rodriguez, Carlos Mejia, and Breonna Taylor.
Written on each of the coffins was a letter, indicating the directions: North(Elders), East(Men), South(Children), and the West(Women/Water). Mother Earth and Father Sun were honored as well by Airam Coronado, of MILPA, who burned cedar and shared the representation of each direction. MILPA is a local organization that aims to revitalize and empower through cultural and healing practices.
Throughout the event the word, ‘PRESENTE’, which translates to present in English, was repeated as a call and response after each name was read out loud, honoring their presence in the space.
The event also opened the floor for community members to voice their concerns and heartfelt messages, however pro police rally protesters used these vulnerable opportunities to shout hurtful and ill-mannered comments over them.
River Navaille, a longtime resident of Monterey County shared that the community of Salinas, like many others, is in need of resources and support. Specifically folks that are in need of housing and often seek shelter.
“What is it going to look like a year from now? What is it going to look like two years from now, when evictions open back up? We need to invest BIG TIME into our housing of our people, into job opportunities, into arts and culture. We cannot wait. This is urgent. We want to see those funds move from policing and criminalizing our communities and into uplifting, supporting, and taking care of our communities.”
“Our hearts are in it for the long run, no matter how tired we get. We’re not fueled by just anger. We’re not fueled by hate. We’re fueled by a desire for hope, a desire for improvement, a longingness to overcome all of what we’ve gone through; especially those of us that come from a minority background.”
During an interview with Monique, a local violinist who opened for the gathering playing an original composition, mentioned:
“A lot of people like myself have a lot of strong feelings about what’s going on in the world and don’t really have an outlet, and community organization, artistic organization like this, I think, is a way of providing healing for ourselves and our community.”
When asked about how it felt to perform for such a powerful event, Monique said it was quite liberating,
“I thought, you know what? Con puros huevos, I’m just going to play with my heart and that’s going to be enough. And I prayed about it a lot and put a lot of my intentions into creating healing for the people around us. I just said ‘Universe, I’m going to let you do what you need to do through me and I’m going to accept the outcome. Thank you for letting me be a part of whatever bigger picture this is today.’”
This community burial was also symbolic, highlighting the impact of violence and the importance of alternatives for healing, while the pro-police rally demanded even more money for an already overly funded department. One rally showcased talented local artists, while the other ridiculed them through a microphone, and yet both groups called attention to the suffering and loss brought on by violence, and each in their own way, seeking healing.