RELIGION: RNS] — One year after the Junipero Serra monument fell in San Rafael, north of San Francisco. Advocates are asking the Marin County District Attorney to drop the felony charges against five protesters arrested after the monument was taken down on Indigenous Peoples Day.
“There needs to be a separation of church and state,” stated Corrina, a spokesperson for Confederated Villages Lisjan/Ohlone at a virtual press conference on Monday (Oct. 11).
“The church is doing the violence, the state is supporting these five people to be persecuted as the church decides they want someone to hold them accountable for their beliefs,” said Gould, who in 2015 argued against Serra’s sainthood.
Melissa Aguilar, Mayorgi Nadieska Delgadillo, Victoria Eva Montano Pena, Moira Van De Walker and Andrew Lester Mendle — who are referred to as the “Indigenous Peoples 5” — are each facing one count of felony vandalism for leveling the statue at Mission San Rafael Arcangel in San Rafael, according to a complaint filed Nov. 12, 2020, by the Marin County District Attorney’s Office. Damages were estimated at $10,000, according to the complaint.
A court date is scheduled Oct. 15 for the setting of their preliminary hearing.
In the days following the fall, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone praised the charges and called for the district attorney’s attention to press charges to the maximum extent allowed by law. He also suggested that they be charged with hate crimes.
To the supporters of the protesters, it is absurd that the district attorney continues with the charges despite the fact that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation to replace the Serra Statue — which, prior to its fall, was on the grounds at the California Capitol 1967 — and with a memorial to the state’s Native Americans.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti and city officials joined tribal leaders to mark Indigenous Peoples Day by announcing that the area informally called Father Serra Park, which was where his statue was thrown down last summer, would be officially renamed .
“It raises the question: ‘Why isn’t Marin following the example of the protesters?’,” Annie Banks, who was a supporter at the virtual press conference.
Hasmik Geoghamyan was one of five lawyers defending the protesters and attended the virtual event. He said that the charges were “needless” as well as “politically motivated .”
” There is an emphasis on a restitution by the DA’s Office. Geghamyan stated that the statue was given to the church by a developer over a period of decades.
This donation is made through a tax-exempt entity, she stated.
” This raises the question of complicity and also violates the establishment clause, because the DA’s Office is involved in the operation of the church,” she stated. “This raises the question of whether church and state .”
should be separated.
” If this were a true democracy, the DA’s would not have brought these charges in any way,” Geghamyan stated.
Geghamyan stated that she was not aware of any additional charges related to the downing of Serra statues. Marin County District Attorney’s Office did not respond before publication to a request for comment.
More than 80,000 people have signed a change.org petition urging District Attorney Lori Frugoli to drop the charges against the protesters. According to the petition, “All five of those facing charges are Indigenous women as well as Two Spirited people.”
” While monuments to violence and racism are being removed by state and city officials, schools and parks, and activists from across the state, San Rafael refuses to recognize the harms committed against Indigenous peoples and has decided that felony charges will be filed against five of fifty demonstrators.” the petition states.
While Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan priest and Catholic saint, is credited with spreading the Catholic faith in what is now California, critics say he was part of an imperial conquest that enslaved Native Americans.
This public scrutiny of Serra has returned in the wake protests against institutional racism and police brutality. It led to the removal of monuments to Confederate leaders. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento were the places where statues were toppled.
Cordileone, and Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez issued letters defending the history and image of Serra as well as criticizing those who have defaced the statues.
These responses have galvanized Indigenous scholars, who want the Catholic Church fully to admit that the Catholic Church has a colonial past that led to loss of culture and land for the Native community.