May 31, 2014. Salinas, CA. After the murder of two Latino residents by Salinas, California police officers in as many months, a third murder caught on videotape was all that was needed to launch a massive protest march through the city on May 25th. While the first two killings are debatable, the third included falsified reports by police officers that were exposed by a YouTube video of the shooting that immediately went viral.
An estimated 1,000 marched against police brutality in Salinas, CA earlier this week. Image courtesy of TheCalifornian.com.
“Recent police killings have sparked outrage in the Salinas community,” writes Omar Ali for the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), “There have been at least three police killings of innocent people in Salinas within the last three months.” The most recent was on May 20th.
Protest turns deadly
Within 24 hours of the third shooting death by police, outrage and hostilities erupted in the Latino section of East Salinas, causing a growing crowd of spontaneous protesters. As night fell on the hostile demonstration, shots erupted and one innocent bystander standing in front of his house was killed. Demonstrators then attacked the responding police and paramedics, injuring one officer when he was struck in the head with a bottle.
Police officials released the following statement after the incident, “As officers arrived in the area to render aid to the victim and investigate the shooting, many people who had gathered in the area to protest started to throw bottles, sticks, rocks and bricks at the responding officers and the EMS personnel. While an officer was conducting CPR on the shooting victim, a bottle hit the officer in the head preventing him from rendering aid to the victim while on scene. The shooting victim was quickly taken away in an ambulance and to a local hospital where he died from his injuries. The shooting victim was a local resident of the neighborhood who was standing on the sidewalk in front of his home. Constantino Garcia had recently moved to Salinas with his wife and child."
Police killings in Salinas
The first shooting of the three unrelated incidents occurred in March when Salinas police officers shot and killed Angel Ruiz. The man was holding an air-powered pellet gun which responding police insist they thought was a real firearm. The report from PSL notes that immediately after the shooting by police, local media outlets attempted to demonize Ruiz and all but excused the police shooting simply because the victim had a police record.
On May 9th, less than two months later, Osman Hernandez was shot and killed by Salinas police officers as he stood outside a local fresh market. Police say he displayed a knife to them. But the report from PSL insists it was merely the tool Hernandez used working to harvest lettuce on his job as a field worker in the agricultural town.
The third police killing on May 20th was the catalyst for an eruption of outrage among the Latino community in Salinas, California. Carlos Mejia was shot and killed by police who reported that he attacked them with garden sheers while drunk. Almost immediately, a video of the shooting surfaced on YouTube which clearly showed Mejia slowly walking away from the two officers with his hands up for a full two and a half minutes.
With the officers walking behind him with their guns trained on the apparently drunk and often stumbling man, they slowly closed their distance from 20 feet, to 10 feet, to 5 feet. It was at that point where the officer couldn’t help but bump into Carlos Mejia that he shot Mejia at point blank range. The video then captures the officer flipping the lifeless body onto his stomach where he was then handcuffed as the second officer stood overhead with his gun trained on the body.
Police shooting in Salinas, CA
Massive protests erupt
The following day, after the video went viral, a large crowd of angry demonstrators began arriving in the neighborhood. With local police outnumbered by the outraged mob, authorities apparently reached out to neighboring communities to send help. What arrived in East Salinas on the night of May 21st has been described as an army of assault troops. The PSL account quotes the Latino news outlet Frontera NorteSur News reporting, ‘Police from surrounding communities poured into the agricultural city. Anti-riot gear and automatic weapons were deployed.’
In response, on May 25th the community of Salinas held a massive, organized and peaceful protest march through the streets of the city. An estimated 1,000 citizens took part, demonstrating against police brutality and waving homemade signs, banners and even flags from many of their South and Central American native countries.
During the march, the parade of demonstrators stopped at each of the three locations where the men were shot and killed by police. Afterward, organizers erected a stage and the crowd gathered to hear speeches from family members of the victims, as well as local grassroots activists. The demonstrators vowed to keep protesting as long as racism and brutality are rampant in their community’s police department.
For more information, visit the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
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