BEAUTY IN THE FRIDGE

Their Brother’s Keeper: How Sean Monterrosa’s Sisters Are Fighting to Keep His Name Alive

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ashley and michelle monterrosa are fighting for justice for their brother sean, who was killed by police in california
Sean Monterrosa and his sisters, Michelle and Ashley.

Courtesy of Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa

This week marks the nine-month anniversary of when a police officer shot and killed Sean Monterrosa outside of a Walgreens in Vallejo, CA. Monterrosa was 22 years old and kneeling with his hands up when he was shot through the windshield of an unmarked police car. Later, released body-camera footage showed that the officer realized what he’d done and said, “This is not what I fucking needed tonight.” The disregard for Monterrosa’s humanity couldn’t be more evident.

Since that June day, the Bay Area community has been engulfed in both grief and advocacy; accountability and justice are never guaranteed in this country, especially not when Black and brown people are the victims. The officer was placed on administrative leave, but as of November, is back at work, according to The New Yorker. Those of us who are allies in this fight only see what the media and our news feeds allow us to see: hashtags, petitions, and calls to action. But those who loved Monterrosa are surrounded by reminders of his stolen dreams and the future he deserved.

The rest of us get to look away and forget, but for Monterrosa’s two sisters, life will never be the same. Through their unconditional love, we bear witness to how powerful two sisters’ resolve can be. Below, in their own words, Ashley and Michelle share their story of healing and how they’re continuing to fight on behalf of their brother.

True story: The last time we heard from Sean, he was asking us to sign a petition for George Floyd. Sean was that kind of guy. He didn’t consider himself an activist, but as a carpenter, and he was used to being intentional and reflective. He worked with his hands, and he cared for people. So the moment we heard he had been hurt in an “officer-involved shooting,” we knew things weren’t right. We’ve been fighting for answers and accountability ever since.

As we began to scratch the surface of what the Vallejo Police Department did that night, and was trying to cover up, we learned about so many other victims of police brutality. People like 20-year-old Willie McCoy, who was sleeping in his car in a Taco Bell drive-through, when six Vallejo police officers shot and killed him. The New Yorker reported that members of the Vallejo Police Department have killed 19 people since 2010, and in Northern California, VPD has the highest number of people shot by officers, per capita.

We also learned about the high-ranking members of the district’s Solano County Sheriff’s Office who, according to a recent investigation, have publicly shown support for a far-right extremist group.

Our love for Sean pushed us to the frontlines, but our love for people kept us here. Nine months after the death of our brother, we are still fighting for justice. That’s nine months we could have spent healing, honoring Sean’s life, and holding one another close. Instead, we’ve been traveling the country talking to anyone who would listen to our pleas and address our concerns. Some of the people who have taken a moment to hear us and echo our pain have been Rep. Ro Khanna, Rep. Cori Bush, Rep. Hank Johnson, Rep. Nanette Barragán, Rep. Eleanor Norton, and the Biden-Harris transition team.

Nine months after the death of our brother, we are still fighting for justice. That’s nine months we could have spent healing, honoring Sean’s life, and holding one another close.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi went so far as to not only talk with us but also release a statement of support. “I join Sean’s family, Vallejo city officials and community members in calling for an FBI investigation into Sean’s murder, including into the destruction of essential evidence in this homicide case,” she shared on July 17. “We must insist on justice and accountability to honor Sean’s life and the lives of all killed by police brutality in America.” Yet months later, we have yet to sit down with California Governor Gavin Newsom or California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is now being nominated for a cabinet position in the Biden administration. But we are still not giving up. Sean wouldn’t have, and neither will we.

While this road has been painful and isolating, in so many ways, we haven’t walked it alone. Many activists and organizers have shown up for us, like our new family at The Gathering For Justice and Justice League CA, an organization and task force, respectively, working to end child and mass incarceration. We have also met the family members of several other police brutality victims who have welcomed us into the club no one wants to join. Through and in community with them, we have become even more committed to creating a system of public safety that doesn’t leave sisters and mothers and fathers and grandparents and uncles and cousins dealing with this same pain.

a memorial to sean monterrosa, george floyd and other victims of police violence is seen at lake merritt in oakland, calif, on monday, june 8, 2020
A memorial to Sean Monterrosa, in Oakland, CA, in June 2020.

MediaNews Group/East Bay Times via Getty ImagesGetty Images

We also have each other, which has truly sustained us when we thought we couldn’t go on. Above all, we have our mother, who is a deeply spiritual woman. Two years before our brother was taken from us, our mom prophesied that we would have huge platforms. At the time, we were young students and brushed it off. Now—though we would give it all back for even one more hour with Sean—it all makes sense.

We understand and accept the call on our lives to advocate for those no longer here to do so themselves. We also understand that there is trauma in mourning a loved one. So many family members are bleeding, with no relief or healing. With our mom as the spiritual center and heartbeat of everything we do, we are working to change that by pushing for the removal of all officers involved in the shooting, as well as an impartial special prosecutor to investigate Sean’s case and the entire department’s violent policing practices. No family should suffer in silence or beg for crumbs of justice. No family should have to operate like a machine when what we truly need is grief support and transparency. We, too, deserve peace and joy and care and empathy. We deserve to be listened to. Instead, we must show up on an elected official’s lawn to have an audience with those paid to protect and represent us.

michelle and ashley monterossa at their brother sean's funeral, after he was killed by police
Michelle and Ashley Monterossa at their brother Sean’s funeral.

Courtesy of Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa

This Women’s History Month, we are standing firmly in our womanhood. We are recommitting to restoration and healing for not just our family, but for every family and community facing a similar loss. That last text from Sean was a literal call to action. His unspoken words were: “Here’s the baton. Now take it, and run.” We’ve done that and will continue to do so, but we can’t do it alone. We want to pass this baton to each and every person so they may see themselves in our fight, that they may join us in pursuing justice for our brother, Sean Monterrosa.

Visit gatheringforjustice.org/justice4sean to learn more about our story and to take action. Brea Baker is a member of Justice League NYC and a volunteer for The Gathering for Justice, the organization supporting the Monterrosa family in pursuing justice for Sean.

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