Pursuits of Justice

THEY HELD UP BLOWN-UP PHOTOS OF their fallen sons, and, one by one, took the bullhorn and told the crowd gathered in Downey how police encounters ended the lives of their loved ones.

First it was the parents of Uriel Damian and Salvador Sibrian, whose sons died last November 16 as they drove through South Los Angeles in a 2002 Lexus. A police officer said he opened fire after the driver accelerated toward him; the car lost control and struck a tree. The families say the young men were mistaken for gang members. In all, four families pleaded their cases.

They came to mark the first anniversary of the death of Gonzalo Martinez, a 26-year-old Downey man who was fatally shot by police around 2 a.m. on February 15, 2002. Police said Martinez was drunk and tried to run over an officer during a freeway pursuit. A short time later, the pursuit ended in a residential neighborhood. As Martinez began to get out of his car, an officer said he thought he was reaching for a gun, but no weapon was found. A videotape broadcast by Spanish station KVEA-TV 52 showed Martinez offered no resistance as police fired on him with various weapons, including an MP-5 machine gun.

More than 100 people — relatives and friends of Gonzalo Martinez — began the Saturday march near the shooting scene at the corner of Woodruff Avenue and Firestone Boulevard. With an array of mostly Latino community residents including parents, grandmothers, students and even an Aztec dance group, the march went down Firestone, the city’s main thoroughfare. They carried banners that read “Downey Police Are Trigger Happy” and “Pray for Gonzalo.” They chanted, “We want justice for Gonzalo” and “Raza sí, policia no”(“People yes, police no”) as passing motorists honked their horns and stuck their fists out the windows in a sign of solidarity.

One of those marching was a 55-year-old Vietnam combat veteran who traveled from Long Beach to take part in the march. “They want us to believe that the war is abroad, but the war is here in the streets,’’ said the man. “War is not only planes, tanks and bombs, but Sheriff’s helicopters, cop cars and 34 rounds from an MP-5 machine gun — that’s war!”

After the 3-mile march, the crowd rallied at the Civic Center. Gonzalo’s mother, Norma Martinez, wearing a T-shirt with Gonzalo’s picture on the front and the words “Stop Police Brutality” on the back, passionately spoke: “We can’t be afraid. We can’t be afraid of the police. We need justice, because today it’s my son, but tomorrow it could be your son. Today me — tomorrow you.”

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