By Augustine Ugalde
Police are killing Latinos on the streets of Monterey Park and no one seems to care. The shooting of an East Los Angeles College student at the Carl’s Jr. across the street from the campus on Jan. 23 has many people wondering why this man had to die.
Steven Rodriguez, 22, was shot and killed in broad daylight by two trigger-happy Monterey Park police officers for breaking a few windows and lunging at one of the officers with a metal bar. Rodriguez erred. There is no doubt about that.
This is not a commentary that proposes to ignore this man’s mistakes. What he did was wrong and he needed to be stopped. This is a given. The question remains though, did he have to die? Why has the Latino community not organized and taken their outrage to the Monterey Park Police Department’s grounds?
Where are the protests? Where is the outrage? Why are these officers still on the force? Why isn’t the Latino community calling for the heads of these two cowboys who apparently are taught to shoot first, and ask questions later?
In typical fashion, neither the MPPD, nor the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department, which is handling the investigation of the incident, are releasing any information. This includes the officer’s names.
The only information the LASD will release is that the two officers are on paid, administrative leave and that one is a 12-year veteran and the other, a three-year veteran of the MPPD.
The LASD has ordered the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office to not release the findings of the autopsy being conducted on Rodriguez until after the results are reviewed by the department.
Ten shots were fired at Rodriguez under very close range. This was done despite the fact that Rodriguez was surrounded by police and one of the officers had a dog at his disposal.
This shooting could have possibly been justified had all 10 shots been fired simultaneously, but they were not. One quick-draw officer fired five shots into Rodriguez’s chest first.
Then the other fired into his falling body an additional five times, presumably because he felt that Rodriguez was not dead enough. This is simply not acceptable. This incident brings to mind a similar story, played out in another part of Los Angeles County 21 years ago: the Rodney King beating.
On March 15, 1991, four Los Angeles Police officers were videotaped by a bystander as they beat King, a black man, senseless for refusing to pull his car over for a traffic violation, then leading the officers on a high-speed chase.
King committed a crime, evading arrest. Rodriguez committed a crime, destruction of property. King was under the influence of PCP. Rodriguez is suspected of the same. King lunged at officers. Rodriguez did the same. King is a member of the minority community. Rodriguez was also a member of the minority community.
King was beaten into submission. Rodriguez was killed. The outrage over the King beating went viral, at a time preceding the Internet. The outrage over Rodriguez’s shooting went, well, nowhere so far.
A candlelight vigil attended by a small group of Rodriguez’s classmates and family, along with a makeshift memorial at the place this student fell is all the community has mustered in protest of this travesty.
The King beating was on every major television network and news agency in the country and around the world. There was a huge outcry for justice from the black community about the incident.
Where is the Latino community’s voice? The subsequent criminal trial of the four officers resulted in an initial acquittal on nearly all counts, sparking five days of rioting, looting and arson in many parts of Los Angeles.
This dark period of time for the city left an indelible mark on how the LAPD conducts its business of patrolling the streets of the city. Are the MPPD officers going to rejoin the department and go about their merry way once this story blows over?
King’s attackers were eventually convicted in a civil case, giving the minority community some measure of justice. It looks very much like Rodriguez’s killers will walk away, free and clear.
This man had aspirations. An eyewitness to the shootings who wished to remain anonymous, knew Rodriguez and said that he wanted to transfer to a four-year university to continue his studies.
This student erred, but his sins were not as great as those who took his life.