Los Angeles community riots after police shooting

It is a Sunday afternoon, and a Guatemalan day laborer walks down the city block after enjoying his fair share of drink. He takes out a knife, and a civilian calls the police, fearing he is a threat. Three policemen arrive on bicycles, commanding him to drop the knife in both Spanish and English. The man lunges with the knife and is shot twice in the head. This situation occurred on Sept. 5 in Westlake, Los Angeles, and resulted in the death of Manuel Jaminez, 37-years-old, and father of three. The policeman who killed him was Frank Hernandez, a veteran cop, Hispanic cop. Hernandez was reportedly disliked by the community for ticketing food sellers and sometimes throwing the food away, said Juan Lorenzo a fellow day laborer to the Associated Press.

It is difficult to completely condemn the police as Jaminez has been portrayed in different lights. The community describes him as being a good man who works hard to his family in Guatemala. Police and witnesses observed a constant drunk menace.

What followed was three days of protests from members of the community. Police expected the issue, another killed immigrant, to be dropped. But it was called back into the light when people took to the streets to voice their opinion on this unfair and unnecessary use of police force.

The biggest protest occurred Sept. 7, when over 300 people gathered outside the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Rampart station. Eggs, bottles and rocks were thrown at the station. Mattresses burned in the streets. Televisions were dropped. A community that constantly feels oppression got the stimulus needed to speak up.

Salvador Sanabria, executive director of the community group El Rescate, told USA Today that the community, “reacted this way because they thought there was another way to deal with a drunk guy.”

True the police were threatened and they were called there by members of the community, but does a perceived gesture really warrant being shot in the head?

Hernandez has Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa behind him, heralding the officers as heroes. Villaraigosa claimed it was outrageous that community members called Police Chief Charlie Beck a murderer.

The newspaper box near the site of Jaminez’s death has been converted to a memorial, embellished with flowers and a picture. The community is also gathering money to help support his family.

L.A., like any big city, has a history of riots. Dating back to the 1930s, the Zoot Suit Riots occurred between the cities Latino youths and local marines. The 1991 Rodney King case raised national awareness about LAPD brutality, as clips of the beating were aired around the world. These examples confirm the fact what happened this September is not new, it’s just displayed in different manifestations.

Assistant Professor of Justice and Policy Studies Sanjay Marwah said that conditions have improved because of increased communication between the police and the community

“They have a hard time reaching populations and this forces them to do that,” Marwah said.

The killing touches on many problems that the community feels: racial discrimination, police brutality, and poverty. While they have now calmed in the aftermath, Jaminez was only a temporary representation of issues that, for the community’s good, must be addressed.

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