Salinas, California police shootings of Latinos spark outrage

Civil rights attorney John Burris is calling for a Justice Department civil rights investigation after four Latino men were shot and killed by the police…

The police shooting scene at Fairhaven and Williams Streets in Salinas, California. (CommonSpenceTV/Twitter)

Civil rights attorney John Burris is calling for a Justice Department civil rights investigation after four Latino men were shot and killed by the police in Salinas, Calif. since March.

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“I’m very concerned when you have this number of police shootings in a very short period of time involving Latino men,” Oakland-based lawyer Burris told VOXXI. “I’m concerned that there is a lack of respect for life. There’s this trigger-happiness here.”

For the past four months, the Salinas community – 75 percent of which IS Latino – has been protesting the killing of Angel Ruiz, 42 (March 20), Osman Hernandez, 26 (May 9), Carlos Mejia, 44 (May 20) and Frank Alvarado, 39 (July 11).

The most egregious incident, which was caught on video, involved Mejia who waved a pair of garden shears before police shot him. Also, Alvarado was shot while pointing a cellphone at police.

“The case involving a Hispanic man who had grass cutters, I thought he was essentially just being stalked with any little move he made going to be used as a justification for shooting him,” Burris said. “A point of fact is they didn’t have to create that kind of confrontation.

“The others have other questionable facts around them. The issue is whether these are isolated individual cases that stand on their own or does it represent a pattern. And on the face it looks like a pattern. So it seems to me the government should take a look to see if there is a pattern, and if there’s something within the policy, the training and the culture of the department that’s contributing to this.”

So far Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin has downplayed the need for a federal investigation, saying his department “has nothing to hide.” Also, internal investigations of the shootings are still pending.

Burris, who intends to file federal civil rights lawsuit representing the families of Mejia and Alvarado, said he’s aware of isolated cases involving the Salinas Police Department in the past involving excessive force and false arrest.

“The community has been outraged by the number of shootings and concerned they’re not really safe,” Burris said. “They’re also concerned there’s no place to go seek justice about it.”

The lawyer said because the police investigate themselves behind closed doors, there’s a lack of transparency that leaves the community feeling as though officers aren’t held accountable for their actions.

Salinas California Police Shooting

This May 20th surveillance still shows Carlos Mejia a minute before police shot at him and he died on a sidewalk in Salinas, California. (Photo: Salinas Police Dept.)

McMillin defended his department and officers. “We weren’t racially profiling anyone,” he said. “We were responding in every case to calls for service because of the actions of these individuals. They identified themselves by acting violently and frightening, terrorizing the people around them.”

Said Burris, “I don’t believe that if a person has a prior record that’s a license to kill them under any circumstance. The standard for killing someone is based on an objective as a police officer subjected to imminent threat to their life or the lives of others.

“The concern that I have is whether the police officer set up their own standards that is subjective – ‘I thought he was doing something, therefore I shot and killed him.’ The question is whether the community itself should be afraid that there’s a pattern and practice of using them unnecessarily against the Latino community.”

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