Repair community trust

Dec. 23, 2013 @ 10:55 AM

Holding vigils for people has long been a part of our community, and, until Thursday night, no violence has occurred.
But the death of a teenage boy in the back of a squad car in the parking lot at police headquarters has become a lightning rod.
Jesus Huerta’s death and his grieving family deserve to be treated respectfully. Thursday’s vigil wound up doing just the opposite.
The police had issued a call for a peaceful march and vigil. Chief Jose Lopez urged Huerta’s family to contact the department if they wished “to place a memorial or hold a vigil on the parking lot” at the department.
The family at the start of the vigil said they wanted a peaceful event to honor Huerto, particularly given that a demonstration in November over his death and concerns about racial profiling turned ugly.
It seemed, initially, that both sides wanted a peaceful memorial.
But as the marchers made their way from CCB Plaza to police headquarters, some antagonized the police with chants of “cops, pigs, murderers.” There were obscene gestures.
And the chief said the family never reached out to the department about the vigil. So when marchers arrived, they were greeted with a wall of officers wearing masks and full gear. As Huerta’s sister and mother knelt in the police parking lot to light candles and lay down crosses and flowers, police were issuing orders for people to leave or face arrest. The crowd chanted “shame” back.
When the crowd returned to CCB Plaza, police told them to leave and then marched forward to clear the area. Police said at that point, bottles and rocks were thrown. In response, officers used tear gas.
Thursday’s confrontation did absolutely nothing to dissipate the increasing tension between the department and those in the community concerned about the circumstances of Huerto’s death.
We fully support the police in maintaining public safety. People cannot throw rocks and break windows. But Thursday’s response seemed out of proportion to the provocation. Emotions have become increasingly charged, and that was evident in the outcome of the vigil.
What we ask is that our city’s leadership find a way to mend a broken bridge with a disaffected part of our community. There are some on the demonstrators’ side who clearly don’t want that bridge to be rebuilt – we fully acknowledge that and firmly believe anyone inciting violence should face legal repercussions. But we also know there are many decent people who are angry and frustrated over the loss of a friend and loved one, whose anger, frustration and mistrust was fanned by the department’s response. An already frayed relationship is continuing to unravel. Our leaders need to find a way to repair it, and using tear gas on the streets of downtown is not the path to rebuilding, but only further escalation of the damage.