Last weekend, hundreds of family and community members took to the streets to protest the growing number of officer-involved shootings throughout Southern California. Tension has been growing as every officer involved in these fatal shootings has been cleared from any wrongdoing. The latest "justified" killing is Anaheim police officer Dan Hurtado, who shot and killed 21-year-old Martin Angel Hernandez on March 6th last year.
This Sunday in Pomona, families of victims from Anaheim, Downey, and Pomona gathered in solidarity at the corner of Garey and Holt Ave to protest the shooting of 26-year-old Andres Avila.
Officers Edgar Padilla and Scott Hess approached Andres Avila while he slept in his car with his girlfriend outside the Super Inn motel in Pomona on October 16th, 2011. Avila was taken out of his vehicle, tasered and then fatally shot by the officers. Family members were not notified of the shooting, they would find out about it through a news airing where Avila’s name was released before family was ever contacted. Avila was unarmed, had no warrants on him, and was not on parole or probation.
3 months prior to the shooting, Andres Avila had filed a complaint against Sgt. Patrick O’Malley and officers Joe Hernandez, Daniel Gomez, and Jung after Andres was beat and tasered outside a friend’s house on July 4th, 2011. The beating was caught on video by multiple witnesses, where the owner of the house could be heard repeatedly ordering the officer to leave his property.
His family has since then demanded justice for the wrongful death of “Andy”.
During the demonstration, endless chants and cars honking occupied the busy intersection as passers-by stopped to talk to some of the family. Some drivers stopped to speak of personal cases of police brutality, most of them describing their need for help or guidance in their cases.
Andy’s brother, Chuy, spoke on the importance of solidarity with the different families that day:
“When something like this happens, there’s just no game plan - you think that nothing can be done because that’s the way its been happening for years… But with people getting together, it forms a unit where more people can pay attention, more people gather up and now they have a group to attach themselves to.”
Later that afternoon, the Pomona group marched in unity towards the Pomona police department located at Park Ave and Mission Blvd. Here the group continued with their demands for accountability from the department as well as better training for these armed officers. Some friends and family members obtained complaint forms from the temporary police station lobby.
Liza Ortiz, whose daughter was with Andres the day he was shot by police, says that the family won’t stop fighting until justice is met:
“They killed him in cold blood!“ describes Lisa, “We stand here today as Andy’s voice and we want justice - these police officers that killed Andy are still roaming the streets today! We need to stop this police brutality, just because they have a badge does not give them the authority to kill a human being…We will never stop until Andy Avila and his family have justice!”
Andy Avila’s sister, Adriana, who has been supporting Nida’s Rydas and the families in Anaheim for some time, explains the families’ need to support each other:
“People just don’t know where to turn to,” explains Adriana, “If they see that other families are in the same situation they come and ask for help – there’s no other activist group or organization to help with these situations, we have to help each other...Today was great, we got a lot of support from family, friends, and families from other cities.”
Also this weekend, Nida’s Rydas held their weekly demonstration at the corner of Imperial Hwy and Paramount Blvd in Downey this Saturday. Nida’s Rydas have been protesting ever since 31-year-old Michael Lee Nida II was shot and killed by Downey Police in October of 2011.
On October 22nd, 2011, Michael Nida, father of four, was out to have dinner with his wife. On a stop to get gasoline, Michael went across the street to buy cigarettes for his wife. On his way out, being mistaken for a suspect in a nearby ATM robbery, Nida was detained by Officer Steven Gilley. Having a fear of law enforcement, Nida fled from police only to be detained again a few minutes later. Michael managed to escape again only this time officer Gilley opened fire, shooting Nida in the back multiple times with an MP5 machine gun. Nida was not on parole or probation and was unarmed.
Almost a year later, Los Angeles District Attorney ruled that officer Gilley “acted lawfully in self-defense and in defense of others” and cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Since the shooting, Michael’s parents, Jean and Jerry Thaxton, and best friend Damion Ramirez have protested the wrongful shooting. As part of their mission, Nida’s Rydas demand accountability on behalf of the Downey police department, but also look to enforce stricter training for officers and support a civilian oversight committee with subpoena power.
That afternoon, families of other victims of police-involved shootings also joined the protest. These included families of Tony Francis from Bellflower, Jonathan Cuevas from Lynwood, and Jose de La Trinidad from Compton, all victims having been shot and killed by LA County Sheriff Deputies. Genevieve Huizar, mother of Manuel Diaz, and Sonia Hernandez, sister of Martin Hernandez, both young men victims of Anaheim police, were also present to support the group.
The following day, friends and family of Binh Van Nguyen gathered to build a makeshift memorial on Maxine St in Santa Ana. Binh is the most recent case of officer-involved shootings having been fatally shot while in his car last Friday. Officers claim Binh “accelerated towards” officers in an attempt to “strike them” with his vehicle, but circulating photographs show police shot through the driver’s window, where officers would be away from the car’s path. Binh was unarmed.
He left behind two boys, ages 13 and 7. The family plans to file a claim against the city, adding that this was a case of police brutality.
Traveling distances to attend the various demonstrations every week, these families continue to build a strong coalition in their fight for justice. The group continues to plan their actions through a vote where every family has a say. Tomorrow, the Anaheim families and supporters plan to attend the city council meeting to demand accountability from the Anaheim police department for the numerous deaths at their hands.
The city council meeting will take place tomorrow at 5PM at 200 S Anaheim Blvd in Anaheim.