Herrera family addresses Ontario city council

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Herrera family addresses Ontario city council

Thursday, June 3, 2014
ONTARIO — For the first time since the death of their loved one, the Herrera family had the chance to address the politicians ultimately responsible for the heinous act of police violence that took place on Mother's Day.

Ever since the incident took place, the members of the Herrera family, their friends and extended family, and supportive community members, have been protesting the shooting death of Jose Raul "Chepe" Herrera. Herrera was shot in the back four times by an Ontario PD officer who arrived at the family gathering in response to a medical emergency call reporting Herrera's loss of consciousness.

The family and their supporters have directed public protests toward the police department, staging numerous demonstrations outside the police station on Archibald and the 60 freeway, as well as targeting city hall. Several actions, such as demonstrations at strategic streetcorners such as 4th and Grove, have served solely to inform the community about the injustice. These rallies have been met with great concern by the community of Ontario, made up largely of working class Latinos and Latinas. Police shootings, while common in the region and the state, have actually been infrequent in Ontario in recent years.

The council meeting was preceded by an hour of street demonstrations, during which family members and activists held signs with slogans like "Serve and Protect, Not Kill," and "Justice for Jose." Ivan and Marlon, Jose Herrera's sons, entered the council chamber, sharply dressed in slacks and ties. Not many seats were available, so many in the family stood in the back. As the meeting got underway, the tension in the room increased. The agenda was adjusted to allow several award ceremonies to take place before the public comment session. The city gave awards to Niagara water, one of the largest corporations in the city and one which, according to a transparecy website, pays its top executives six-figure salaries, while paying the production operators and the forklift drivers a mere 14 dollars an hour and 13.50 an hour, respectively.

People in the audience began to stir.

The council then bestowed numerous awards on people and corporations who have done a good job of taking care of buildings. "When will we get our turn?" many people, for some of whom it was their first city council meeting, seemed to be wondering.

Then Mayor Paul Leon called a recess. "They're trying to get rid of the fancy people before we get to go up," someone whispered in my ear.

They treated the corporate people to cake and drink lavish libations.

At long last, the council resumed business, and finally heard public comment. One member of the city council, Paul Vincent Avila, took the unusual measure of using public comment time, and first. He was followed by attorney Luis Carrillo, who requested that the city release the video. (Video was recorded by a Tazer-cam used by the second officer on the scene. A still from the footage was released to the media to substantiate the police claim that the victim was armed. However, while the image shows Herrera holding something, it is not clear what it is. Furthermore, it is held down at his side, not in a threatening manner whatsoever.)

Eventually, the mayor called a member of the Herrera family. At that time, we all stood up to stand behind the speakers. One by one, Jose Herrera's family members, including a young girl of about 9, approached the podium and spoke. They spoke of Jose's upright nature, and of the pain of losing a family member prematurely and tragically. With the end of the family speakers, the crowd retreated.

The next scandal that arose surrounded the dismissal of planning commissioner Nicola Ricci, which local columnist David Allen documents on his blog. The situation degenerated until the mayor called for another recess.

After a lengthy speech to urge calm, the mayor reopened for more activists to speak. Most of them pointed out the city's responsibilty in holding the police accountable. Some of them, including CWIE members, tied the issue to social inequality.

"This issue of police violence is not just here in Ontario, not just here in California. This is a nationwide issue, and it has a lot to go with the power differential between the police and the civilian community. And its this power imbalance that creates the potential for unnecessary police violence, and it subsequently shields individual officers and the department as a whole from accountability."

Others made specific recommendations, including release of the names of dangerous officers, independent investigations, toxicology reports for police involved in incidents, and civilian review boards.

At some points the mayor seemed almost apologetic. "Nobody's happy about this. Nobody," he stated.

Although nobody from the council was able to comment due to the matter being under litigation, the mayor did acknowledge the situation and seem even willing to hear criticism. "We don't just discount what you're saying."

After our part the circus continued, with candidates for the council and for mayor just feeding into the madness, even if some of them did express support for the family.

The attendees seemed satisfied with the turnout and outcome of the action. They are mostly concerned that the same thing not happen to any other family, and know that political pressure is the only thing that can bring that about.

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