Saturday afternoon, a group of families, friends, and community supporters rallied outside the Los Angeles West Valley Police Station in the city of Reseda. The demonstration was held on the one-year anniversary of 23-year-old Javier Arrazola’s death at hands of Los Angeles county police officers.
On October 1st, 2012, Javier Arrazola Jr. was misidentified by police as a “parolee” and chased through a gated apartment complex in the 18400 block of Valerio Street. Once cornered, Javier was handcuffed then beaten and tasered in the heart multiple times by Los Angeles police officer Charles Wunder. Suffering substantial injuries, Javier was left on the concrete floor without receiving any medical attention or being administered CPR. It then took paramedics 20 minutes to transport Javier to the Northridge Hospital Medical Center, only a mile away, where Javier was pronounced dead. Initial reports to media outlets continued to refer to Arrazola as an “unidentified parolee.” “Javi” was not on parole or probation, and was unarmed the day of his death.
Arrazola’s death was the fourth slaying under Officer Charles Wunder’s badge. In July of 2003, Wunder and another officer shot and killed 36-year-old Erick Jerome Garcia at a downtown Greyhound bus terminal. Officials claim Garcia was “acting erratically” and wielded “a metal rod” when officers were called out, but surveillance footage displayed Garcia “crawling with the metal object at his side,” and then “shot by officers from at least 12 feet away.”
Following the shooting, Wunder was under investigation because the use of lethal force brought “significant concerns,” especially since one of the three officers involved tried to subdue Garcia with a “nonlethal” stun gun, while Wunder and officer Edward Rocha felt it “justifiable” to use deadly force. Both Wunder and Rocha received “desk duty” during the investigation.
Prior to the 2003 killing, Wunder had been involved in two other shootings, one in September of 2001, and another in July of 2002. Both shootings were found “justified” by officials.
Now Sergeant, Charles T. Wunder is President and C.E.O. of the D.P.S. (Discreet Protection Services) Security company. According to the Newbury Park-based company’s website, Wunder has “trained law enforcement personnel in areas including active shooters on school campuses, officer rapid deployment, building searches, use of force, field tactics, and multi-assault counter terrorism action capabilities, among others.”
Just over a year after Arrazola’s death, Javi’s family continues to stand up against police injustices along with other families of police killing victims.
During Saturday’s rally, the Arrazolas were joined by other families of victims killed by California “peace” officers, who have equally carried the memory and legacy of their loved ones. These included relatives and supporters of Martin Angel Hernandez (Anaheim), Michael Lee Nida II (Downey), Manuel Angel Diaz (Anaheim), Cesar Cruz (Anaheim), Joe Whitehouse (Anaheim), Andres Avila (Pomona), Rigoberto Arceo (Cudahy), Ignacio Ochoa (Paramount), David Dilva (Bakersfield), Alfonso Limon Jr. (Oxnard), and Kenneth Harding Jr. (San Francisco).
After rallying outside the police station for nearly an hour, the group mobilized in a coordinated march onto the leftmost lane of Vanowen Street towards the Vanowen St and Reseda Blvd intersection in what would turn out to be an enduring day for many participants. Not even the extreme San Fernando Valley heat or heavy winds would hinder their efforts.
The march was met with immense support as vehicles honked in agreement with their cause. Armed with banners, posters, and photos of Javier, the coordinated march took shape as the chants of “LAPD, You are guilty!” echoed throughout the street. The march would be interrupted just a couple blocks away from the station as police vehicles arrived, attempting to break up the group.
L.A.P.D. Lieutenant Paul M. Weber (#1007), Sergeant Collins (#4793), and Senior Lead Officers David Ham (#11015) and Isela Parra (#17597) were amongst the first to arrive and immediately attempted to disintegrate the group by targeting individuals, but the determined families continued en route towards the intersecting Reseda Blvd.
Once at the intersection, demonstrators rallied at the corners for a few minutes while honks of support continued to flood the junction. Here, passers-by were handed information about the victims’ stories as owners and customers of nearby businesses also waved in support of their cause.
Here, officers began diverting traffic away from Reseda Blvd and some members of the group were also “offered” to take up “one lane” of the road, which led the march to continue and eventually take the street again. At least 6 police vehicles were blocking the rightmost lane of Reseda Blvd when once again, officers attempted to close in on marching families with their vehicles, some coming close to running over victims’ mothers whose only defense were the cardboard signs they displayed.
Just before 2 PM that afternoon, officers again targeted and harassed individuals and as seen through a witnesses’ video, two female officers ran up behind, and detained one of the demonstrators, Damion Ramirez. Another witness video shows Damion being leaned against a wall on the sidewalk without confrontation, even though reports claim Ramirez was “resisting arrest.”
Some people, who had recently endured the loss of a loved one to police fire, went into a state of shock when they witnessed the female officers rushing towards Ramirez.
Supporters demanded the release of Ramirez while L.A.P.D. officers Smith (#18027) and Nuñez (#22162) pulled out their batons and continued to push people away. A member of the Brown Berets was shoved with force as she was communicating to officer Smith that one of the women he had pushed had heart problems. After the upheaval, Damion was arrested and transported to the Van Nuys Police Station Jail Facility.
Resolute families were now determined to continue marching. “We’re only getting stronger,” repeated Sonia Hernandez, whose brother Martin Angel Hernandez was shot and killed by Anaheim police last year, as they marched onwards towards Valerio Street.
Once at Valerio Street, Javier’s family had a private ceremony in memory of Javi at the apartment complex where he was killed. A standstill of L.A.P.D. officers and demonstrators remained outside, where the action would eventually come to an end.
“I want to say thank you to everybody for coming out and supporting us,” shared Javi’s brother, Gerry, “We’re out here for my brother and for everybody, and anybody that hasn’t gone through this, we don’t want this to happen to anybody else because its not nothing good – its sad and its hard…It was a good march, safe, and I know we ran into a little things with the police, they were trying to push us, but it was good that we were all united and we kept control. We just gotta say free Damion, and he’ll be outta here!”
“I’m sure my little brother is looking down from heaven and he’s very proud of us,” shared Javier’s sister, Maria, “Javi did not die in vain. We’re gonna continue this fight, a lot of us are fighting the same battle.”
Damion Ramirez was released just before midnight on Saturday where he was charged with “resisting delaying or obstructing” an officer as stated under California Penal Code 148 (a)(1).
“ We must not let these kinds of incidents frighten us or influence our actions in any way,” shared Damion in a statement through the Young Survivors Legacy Support Network, “We know that we are on a path to justice, and as long as we keep marching fearlessly, whether together or alone, we will get there…when I was assaulted, the L.A.P.D. expected me to act like an animal; in fact, they expected all of us to become violent once they initiated their attack. Instead, we acted like human beings and they became the animals…and the names of our loved ones were remembered.”
The recently founded Young Survivors Legacy Support Network is a group initiated for “the children, survivors of police killings, the ensure that the legacy of their murdered fathers and mothers be preserved by people who empathize.” They add, “We know how alone it feels to know a good person was murdered and no one cares. We Care.”
The victims’ families that endured the experience express it has only made them stronger and unified. Most of the families are part of an initiative that aims at having a statewide action at the state Capitol in Sacramento this upcoming October 22nd during National Day of Action Against Police Brutality. Many of these families have already connected and joined forces with families from throughout Northern California during a conference in Oxnard earlier this year, and a statewide day of action in Anaheim.
Many of the families present during Saturday’s action also plan to demonstrate in Pomona next weekend for the two-year anniversary of the killing of 26-year-old Andres Avila by Pomona police. “Andy” was tasered and fatally shot by officers while spending the night in his car with his girlfriend outside the Super Inn Motel the day of the events. Avila was unarmed, was not on parole or probation, and did not have any warrants. The demonstration next weekend is planned for Sunday at Noon at the 100 East block of Holt Ave in Pomona.
Also next Sunday, families and supporters in Oxnard will have a vigil to remember the one-year anniversary of the slaying of Alfonso Limon Jr. by Oxnard police last year. The vigil is scheduled to begin at 4 PM at the Camino del Sol Park located in the 1924 block of Camino Del Sol in Oxnard.