By Scott Scheffer
Published Sep 16, 2010 9:04 PM
The anger of the mostly Central American migrant neighborhood of Westlake in Los Angeles erupted in the streets for four nights over a police slaying. A 37-year-old Guatemalan day laborer, Manuel Jamines, was shot twice in the head on a crowded street on Sept. 5. He was unarmed according to eyewitnesses.
After the slaying, militant demonstrations each night were attacked by police with tear gas and rubber bullets. Cops wielding batons charged into crowds of angry residents and demonstrators. People fled, regrouped and fought back. There were injuries on both sides and more than 30 arrests.
The rebellion alarmed Los Angeles Police Department brass who desperately attempted to “spin” the situation and hoped it would go away. “Manuel Jamines was intoxicated,” they said. They claimed he held a knife high over his head and lunged at the police. They brought up his immigration status and said he was using a false name.
The mayor prophesized that the officers involved would be shown to be “heroic” by the investigation. But everything the cops said and did resulted in more anger from the community.
Organizers from the Southern California Immigration Coalition and other activists who have been out in the community leafleting each day found nothing but solidarity for Manuel Jamines.
One woman who received a leaflet on the street called SCIC to say she had seen the shooting. She had reported what she saw to the LAPD, but they painted a picture that was the opposite of what she had told them, and she wanted to get the truth out. At a hastily-organized press conference, activists brought out Ana’s testimony using only her first name. “Jamines had no knife when he was shot, and he didn’t lunge at police,” she had told them.
When the LAPD organized a “town hall meeting” on the evening of Sept. 8, Police Chief Charlie Beck was frequently shouted down. Even the establishment press saw the meeting as unsuccessful. It wasn’t that the LAPD hadn’t done their job thoroughly. They had their spokespeople lined up to praise the police. The chief promised there would be a “thorough” and “transparent” investigation.
But a long line of community residents tenaciously stood waiting for their chance at the microphone. The line stretched from near the front of the large room to near the back. Community members seemed to outnumber 100 to one the handpicked police supporters.
Many spoke of being mistreated for being Guatemalan. Some spoke in their native language of K’iche’, a Mayan language which was the only language Manuel Jamines spoke and understood. Their remarks were translated into Spanish and English, and drove home the point that when the police shouted at him in Spanish, Jamines didn’t understand them. Westlake is a community of more than a few languages.
Others demanded to know why the police didn’t use their much-touted “nonlethal” means when dealing with Jamines. To the jeers and shouts of the entire room, a police speaker responded that bicycle cops carry only lethal weapons.
Another man said the police were “out of control” in the neighborhood, and that people had gotten their teeth knocked out and their property stolen by cops.
Westlake is an occupied neighborhood and the cops are from the Rampart Division, whose brutality and corruption were exposed in the late 1990s. It forced a federal investigation and a consent decree that only lapsed this year. Fifty-eight cops were tried for beating and shooting people, committing theft and selling drugs in this very neighborhood.
Of course most of the cops got off, but it was one of the worst police corruption scandals in U.S. history. This history speaks volumes about racism towards migrant workers.
But if this wave of anger is any indication, consent decrees and public relations are the least of the LAPD’s problems. Activists are in the streets of Westlake handing out leaflets for another demonstration scheduled for Sept. 18.
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