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Indigenous Taquero Returns To Sell Tacos Day After Violent Raid Arrest Footage In El Monte Goes Viral

4:14 PM PST on February 8, 2021

[dropcap size=big]O[/dropcap]n Saturday night, startling footage of an altercation between vendors of a taco stand in El Monte, the police, and L.A. County Health inspectors made the rounds on Instagram. 

First posted by La Puente Eats, a woman is heard shouting in distress as three male officers are on the ground in an altercation with three individuals, one of which appeared to be a female. In the rest of the video, more shouting and sirens are heard as several people nearby record the chaotic incident as it is happening. It all took place underneath the canopy of a taco stand at 8:30 PM, resulting in two individuals arrested.

In an interview posted on the food account MexiPapa Adventures, the taquera behind Tacos Los Palomos, one of the individuals pinned against the floor says she felt “humiliated, beaten, and very scared.” Going to say, “They threw us to the floor, and I hit my head. They had a knee on my husband’s back.” In the video from another angle that MexiPapa Adventures uploaded, a police officer is repeatedly seen hitting an individual with his baton. 

L.A. Taco was able to confirm the names of the taqueros involved in the altercation, Fermín Martinez-Martinez, 30, and Silvia Aguilar, 36. Martinez-Martinez is originally from Cuatro Palos Tamazulápam del Espíritu Santo, an indigenous region in Oaxaca, and his wife is from El Salvador. 

Martinez-Martinez has two stands operating under Tacos Los Palomos, one in the Valley and one in El Monte. In addition to another taco operation that Martinez-Martinez prefers to not mention in fear of police retaliation. He is a taquero by trade with 15 years of experience in L.A.’s Taco Life. His specialty is Mexico City-style al pastor and Tijuana-style asada al carbon. 

“This is not the first time this happens,” Martinez-Martinez tells L.A. Taco over a phone interview. “The police have arrested my wife in the past, and they have also arrested two taquero colleagues for selling tacos, spending the night in jail.” 

L.A. Taco reached out to El Monte Police Department, and they provided the following statement:

On February 6, at about 8:30 pm, El Monte Police Department Officers and El Monte Code Enforcement were assisting Los Angeles County Health Inspectors with a safety inspection of perishable items sold by street vendors. The police department has assisted the health inspectors with these types of health and safety inspections in the past. The police department plays a supportive role in this process, and these inspections are necessitated by public concerns and complaints dealing with public health.

During the inspection, a vendor and a county health officer inspector were involved in an altercation that escalated. El Monte Police Officers intervened and were assaulted by a vendor, which resulted in a police use of force. Two subjects were arrested at the scene. Intervention by El Monte Police was necessary to keep the peace and protect county employees.

There were no serious injuries reported. The inspection of food items sold by vendors is a function of county health inspectors and are provided to ensure health and safety of our community.

The police department has started an inquiry into the actions of all involved parties and will be reviewing Body Cam video along with videos that have been posted on social media. We encourage witnesses into last night’s events to contact the police department.

Despite 2020 being the first year that Los Angeles legalized street food, after more than a decade of community organizing, multi-vehicle organized inspection raids committed by L.A. County Health and a local police department are a common scene throughout the city. Bureau of Street Services (StreetsLA) also performs these unannounced sweeps against street vendors that involve the disposing and confiscating of the vendor's livelihood via fresh food and cooking equipment. Permit costs and confusing language in paperwork have prevented many street vendors from getting on the pathway to become legalized. The pandemic has exacerbated this. The city also prioritized a penalization-approach to regulation versus one focused on education and outreach. In January, Eater LA reported a similar aggressive raid that took place at Sara’s Market against a burger vendor set up on the sidewalk in front.   

To avoid being penalized and prevent their costly equipment from being confiscated, street vendors have developed informal systems such as communicating with each other via phone as soon as a sweep starts to take place. 

Despite the police altercation that led to two arrests, Tacos Los Palomos was open for service the following day in the same location. Martinez shares that he was met with support by many new customers and other nearby taqueros. 

“We returned to work because selling tacos is our craft, I can’t just switch careers after doing this my entire life. I’m not going to just give up,” Martinez-Martinez tells L.A. Taco. 

Tacos Los Palomos is open from 4:30 to midnight, every day at 11907 Valley Blvd, El Monte, CA 91732

The interview was conducted in Spanish and translated into English. 

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