The born-in-L.A. Black Lives Matter movement has brought a renewed attention to police shootings of unarmed black men nationwide. The cause has been bolstered by the proliferation of cellphone video that has sometimes contradicted law enforcement's self-defense narrative.
Community activists are hoping to take some of that attention and direct it at cops' conduct on L.A.'s Eastside, where seven Latino men, most of them young, some of them teenagers, have been fatally shot by law enforcement since the beginning of 2016. Today, relatives of shooting victims Jesse Romero, Jose Mendez and Edwin Rodriguez are staging a rally in Boyle Heights to protest the violence.
"We're saying stop killing our youth," says co-organizer Carlos Montes of the Community Service Organization. "Black Lives matter has helped by bringing the issue up. Now we're going to take it to a higher level. This is a human rights issue."
Romero was 14 when he was shot by Los Angeles Police Department Hollenbeck Division officers on Aug. 9, 2016. Mendez was 16 when he was killed Feb. 6, 2016 by cops from the same division. Rodriguez, 24, was fatally wounded by sheriff's deputies from the East Los Angeles Station on Valentine's Day 2016.
In the case of the Romero shooting, the LAPD stated that cops responding to a vandalism report in Boyle Heights engaged in a foot chase with the teen that ended after he crouched and pointed something at them and officers opened fire. Video that captured the moments immediately after the shooting shows a handgun on the other side of a fence, several feet from Romero's body.
Medez's parents, meanwhile, have a federal lawsuit pending against the LAPD that claims he was wrongfully killed. Video obtained by the Weekly shows cops dragging his body away from the car he was in when he was shot, action that even the LAPD itself admitted was unusual.
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The latest shooting occurred March 24, when 35-year-old Fred Barragan was killed by officers who were investigating a report of shots fired near Breed and First streets. The initial shots were so loud that cops at the Hollenbeck Division could hear them, according to the LAPD. "Barragan removed a handgun from his waistband," prompting cops to open fire, according to a statement from the department.
Montes argues that many police shootings on the Eastside involve unarmed youth and that cops' stories on the confrontations are increasingly being challenged by video footage. "On the the Jesse Romero and the Jose Mendez cases, there was independent video that shows they were unarmed when they were shot," he says.
"We've united the families," he says. "Police act like it's normal to kill young Latinos. We want justice."
The "Stop Killing Our Youth" rally is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. outside the LAPD's Hollenbeck Division at 2111 East First St.