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‘To Sheriff Villanueva:’ Black and Brown Parents Share Experiences of Fear and Trauma on Behalf of their Children

1:23 PM PST on November 10, 2020

    [dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]s George Gascón replaces Jackie Lacy and the conversations around the Black Lives Matter movement makes headlines again, activists continue lending their voices to denounce police brutality and support restorative justice. A decisive moment is forming, where communities of color are unifying against white supremacy. This moment is especially notable considering past conflicts between Black and Latinx Angelenos that have manifested in gang violence, violence against street vendors, and anti-immigration politics. Today, Latinx people across Los Angeles County are openly expressing their outrage over racially charged police violence and bringing awareness to its presence in their communities. 

    Though Latinx people do not share the same history of oppression as their Black counterparts, both have experienced and continue to experience fear and trauma at the hands of law enforcement.  Much of this trauma is centered on police officers’ rampant targeting of Black and Latino men. According to the Los Angeles Times’ Homicide Report, since 2000, 53 percent of police fatalities were identified as “Latino” by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner. Twenty-five percent were identified as Black, and 96 percent were male. From George Floyd to Andres Guardado, Black and Latinx men regularly embody symbols of racial unrest and social inequalities.

    With the politicization of their deaths often follows the dehumanization of their lives. The significance of their aspirations is minimized. Their demeanor with family and friends is overlooked. Too quickly, the public can forget that these men were once as real and vibrant out in the world as we all are.

    This phenomenon is bolstered by the absence of police accountability, a direct result of actions by reigning public officials such as Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. This past July, UNITE HERE the ACLU of Southern California joined Local 11, Black Lives Matter - Los Angeles, Justice-LA, Check The Sheriff Coalition, and more than 60 other labor unions and community groups in publicly calling for Villanueva’s resignation. This campaign, which was aptly titled #AdiosVillanueva, was catalyzed by the Sheriff Department’s response to Andres Guardado’s killing. This response included meeting peaceful protestors with riot gear and allegedly destroying surveillance footage. However, Villanueva’s transgressions date back to the beginning of his term in office. Organizers have criticized his reinstatement of deputies fired for dishonesty and unreasonable force, as well as the Sheriff Department’s failure to disclose legally mandated records detailing serious misconduct. Until Villanueva is forced to recognize the undue harm that his department has caused families of color, true accountability will never be accomplished. 

    As part of a call for compassion toward affected families and in the spirit of #AdiosVillanueva, L.A. Taco invited four Los Angeles-based POC activists to write letters to the Sheriff on behalf of their sons. 

    The first letter is from Eric Eztil, a first-generation Mexican American organizing in Southeast Los Angeles and raising a one-year-old son. He holds regular community events at the Alivio Open Mic and co-runs the Instagram account @bloomhomie, highlighting the patriarchy’s negative impact on men.

    The second letter is from Helen Jones. Her son, John Horton, died while incarcerated in solitary confinement. She is involved with Dignity and Power Now, a Los Angeles-based grassroots organization founded in 2012 that fights for the dignity and power of all incarcerated people, their families, and communities.

    The third letter was written by Valerie Rivera, an activist for police abolition and mother to five sons, one of whom was killed by the Los Angeles Police Department on June 6, 2017. Today, she grapples with preparing her teenage sons to navigate encounters with law enforcement officials, where they are more likely to be perceived as adults.

    As a father of a one-year-old, I do not look forward to the day I need to have “the talk” with my son. When I say “the talk,” I don’t mean the birds and the bees–I mean surviving the police.

    The final letter was written by Maria Hernandez, who is the mother to Daniel Hernandez, a 38-year-old man killed by an LAPD police officer on April 22 in South L.A. Both she and husband Manuel Hernandez are suing the City of Los Angeles, the LAPD, and Officer Toni McBride for claims, including wrongful death, assault and battery, and civil rights violations. 

    This letter-writing project aims to give readers a greater insight into these grief experiences and how concerns among Brown and Black parents evolve as children grow older. In turn, their encounters with law enforcement escalate.

    _____________________________________________________________________________

    To Sheriff Villanueva,

    As a father of a one-year-old, I do not look forward to the day I need to have “the talk” with my son. When I say “the talk,” I don’t mean the birds and the bees–I mean surviving the police. One day I will have to sit my son down and tell him how extremely cautious and careful he needs to be if a cop ever stops him. I will have to teach him never to put his hands in his pockets, or make sudden movements, or grab his cell phone from his jacket. He will ask me why, and I will have to tell him because “he matches the description” of any excuse the police want to use to make him a new statistic, a new tragedy, a new reason for me as a father to lose my will to live.   

    All I want is for my child to grow up in a community with the same resources as communities that weren’t redlined into poverty, segregation, and industrial pollution decades ago. I would like my son not to be criminalized by the men in uniforms indoctrinated to serve the racist prison-industrial complex agendas. I would like all children in Southeast Los Angeles never to fear their lives when patrol vehicles prowl by their homes. I would like all the children of my community to attend well-funded schools with nurses, counselors, and social workers well equipped to deal with the complexities of children. 

    So when I say defund the police, I advocate for funding our children with enough resources that they never have to turn to crime to make a living. When I say defund the police, I advocate for holistic “alivio” in my community that can never be achieved with guns but can be achieved with funds and love allocated in the right places. Lastly, when I say defund the police, I advocate for a society that values teachers, nurses, day laborers, seamstresses, doctors, essential workers, and, most importantly, our children. 

    Sincerely,

    Eric Eztli

    _____________________________________________________________________________

    To Sheriff Villanueva,

    My name is Helen Jones. I witnessed first hand as a teenager and an adult the street abuse of LAPD and the sheriff department. Sadly, that abuse carried on over to my son’s generation. Once he became a teenager, he started experiencing the same abuse, hatred, and racism, just trying to walk to the corner store for snacks. And to get harassed just for walking because of his skin color, and I’ve seen so many Black and Brown men go through that abuse in their neighborhood by LAPD and the sheriff department. It is sad to know that some police leave their homes and family and go to work in the L.A. county neighborhoods to abuse the citizens. On March 30th, 2009, my son John Horton was beaten to death by ten deputies called the 3000 Boys Sheriff Gang on the third floor at the Men's Central County Jail after only being there for 30 days.

    After his death was covered up with a staged suicide, 11 years after he was killed, no one has been criminally charged for this vicious attack.

    After his death was covered up with a staged suicide, 11 years after he was killed, no one has been criminally charged for this vicious attack. This crime and his cause of death have been changed from suicide to undetermined by the LAPD. The sheriffs have killed so many people and stolen so many lives we need to see them be held accountable for their crimes committed against our children.  

    Sincerely, 

    Helen Jones

    _____________________________________________________________________________

    To Sheriff Alex Villanueva,  

    Hi, my name is Valerie Rivera, and I am the mother of Eric Rivera, who was 20 years old when the LAPD unjustly murdered him on JUNE 6, 2017. Eric was my firstborn son; I also have four other sons. Eric was also his father's only child. My sons are becoming young adults, and I fear for their lives every day from law enforcement. Speaking to my sons about what to do or not do when they are near law enforcement is extremely difficult and heartbreaking, especially because my family and I have been deeply impacted by the loss of my son and their brother Eric.

    How can my sons feel safe around officers when they continue to get harassed by the people who are supposed to protect and serve us?

    I fear for my life and my children’s and everyone's life because, sadly, law enforcement continues to kill our Black and Brown communities with zero accountability. My youngest boys have been homeschooled since the murder of their brother Eric. They cannot concentrate and be comfortable going to school, knowing that there are school police on campus. There should be NO Cops on school grounds, period. How can my sons feel safe around officers when they continue to get harassed by the people who are supposed to protect and serve us? Who do I call when the police kill our loved ones?

    If Not the cops. If Not the sheriffs. If Not the District Attorney... than WHO?

    There have been 618 killings that we know of since Jackie Lacey has been in office, and that number keeps going up with n0 prosecutions and accountability. I know for a fact that so many families have been coming out and showing up to many commission meetings and civilian oversight meetings just to be heard and understood. We also have been protesting along with BLM-LA in front of the Hall of (In)Justice seeking answers, seeking accountability, seeking some form of Justice. And we are constantly being met with disrespect and even being laughed at by law enforcement. It's so scary and unsettling to know that there are thousands of killer cops that are still working, still patrolling our streets, and still getting promoted even after the death of our loved ones.

    Shame on you for allowing your deputies to continue to kill, harass, and victimize innocent people, including myself, a grieving mother.

    How can anyone be safe with these killers on the streets free to kill again because they wear a badge? Enough Is Enough. It's easy; STOP KILLING US!!! My family and I will never be the same. We will forever be devastated. We will forever be scared. We will forever be angry. As long as those cops that kill our people keep getting away with it, none of us is safe. And I refuse to live in a world where my sons can't grow up and live in peace. That's why I am asking to defund the police and sheriffs and put that money into the community where it should have gone. No more cops in schools. No more cops in parks. No more cops at bus and train stations. My boys deserve to live in a world where they should feel safe from law enforcement.

    WE ALL DO.

    But until then, I will continue to stand with the many other families fighting for their loved ones. And I will continue to hold all law enforcement accountable for their actions. And I will continue to fight for new laws that are set up for the people and not for law enforcement. Shame on you for allowing your deputies to continue to kill, harass, and victimize innocent people, including myself, a grieving mother.  

    #JusticeForEricRivera

    #NoJusticeNoPeace

    #ProsecuteKillerCops

    Sincerely, 

    Valerie Rivera

    _____________________________________________________________________________

    To Sheriff Alex Villanueva, 

    I want justice for my son Daniel Hernandez. My child was involved in a multi-vehicle collision. He should have been rendered medical help. Toni McBride killed Danny. She did not make any attempt to de-escalate the situation by using a less-lethal weapon. Danny was wounded, down on the ground, and he posed no danger to her when she pumped five more additional bullets into him. She shot to kill.

    I want Toni McBride fired from LAPD and prosecuted for his murder. It is clear from her Instagram posts that she is a gun-toting sharpshooter who enjoys shooting targets.

    I want Toni McBride fired from LAPD and prosecuted for his murder. It is clear from her Instagram posts that she is a gun-toting sharpshooter who enjoys shooting targets. She should never have been allowed to carry a weapon as an LAPD officer. She does not protect and serve our community. She has no reverence for life. I do not trust the Los Angeles Police Department; it is a corrupt institution. Twenty-four police officers are being charged for lying and falsifying documents. There is no public trust in LAPD.

    We stand in solidarity with the families of those who have lost loved ones at the hands of law enforcement. We join the voice of Black Lives Matter to demand Jackie Lacey prosecute killer cops. Six hundred and eighteen people have been killed at the hands of police officers with impunity. We ask the Latino community to join the movement and fight against the criminalization of Brown and Black people. This is the time to rise up and demand human dignity for people of color.

    Stop protecting killer cops. You are the biggest gang. The community does not trust you. Abolish LASD!

    Sincerely,

    Maria Hernandez

    _____________________________________________________________________________

    The parents will be sending these letters to Sheriff Villanueva and the department’s office. 

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