There was caked blood in the gutter along Del Monte Avenue in East Salinas on Wednesday, the day after police shot and killed a man there on the busy corner of Sanborn Avenue.
Next to the sidewalk, a modest memorial to the still-unidentified man has taken shape. There are candles and flowers, and a sign in Spanish that says “Keep out, police-murderers.”
Two officers responded to a 911 call reporting a man with garden shears had broken into a house and threatened to kill the resident and a dog with the shears. A grainy video filmed by a neighbor has gotten over 56,000 views, and shows two police officers, guns drawn, following the man to the corner, where they shot him. Police say he lunged at them with the shears; from the video available, it’s hard to see exactly what happens.
But the community is asking to know what happened, and they’re asking loudly.
About 60 people appeared Tuesday afternoon on the City Hall lawn as City Council prepared to meet, where they demanded a federal investigation.
Many of them were back on Wednesday morning, when San Francisco attorney Chris Dolan announced at a press conference he was ready to take the Salinas Police Department to court.
His clients are family members of Osmar Hernandez—not the man was was shot yesterday, but a 26-year-old farm worker who was reportedly waving a lettuce knife in a crowded East Salinas parking lot on the evening of May 9 when two police officers shot and killed him.
An aunt describes Hernandez as a hard worker who didn’t go out much. His parents and three older siblings still live in El Salvador, where Hernandez grew up.
Aunts and uncles gathered behind Dolan to announce their claim against the city, seeking $2 million for wrongful death and use of excessive force. “The tactics used that night were willful and reckless,” according to the claim.
“When the police kill two Latino men two weeks apart, it shows something is seriously wrong,” Dolan said.
City Attorney Chris Callihan says he hasn’t completed his review of the Hernandez family’s claim. The police department, meanwhile, will answer questions at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
Police Chief Kelly McMillin, Callihan and Dolan met this morning during Dolan’s heated press conference. As Dolan wrapped up his remarks about the Hernandez family claim, protesters in the crowd followed Salinas PD detectives to their parked cars.
McMillin walked into the group of about 30 protesters and said, “You’re absolutely welcome to protest, but you also need to be respectful of the police officers that are trying to do their work.”
“There’s a lot of tension in this town right now,” Dolan responded.
That tension manifested when Callihan and McMillin walked away, and protesters started shouting, “Shame on you! Murderer!”
A few miles away, at the bloody Alisal corner that was the site of Tuesday’s shooting, a group of residents was gathered around the memorial flowers.
Eighteen-year-old Raymond Leon, who plans to enlist in the Army, was on the scene reluctantly.
He knew this block, where Elkington Avenue meets Del Monte, as one to avoid, where gang violence was rampant through his childhood. He’s still mostly afraid of gangs, he says, but adds: “Cops scare the shit out of me.”
He demonstrates the way he’s learned to walk, hands out and never in his pockets, to avoid giving police the false impression he’s hiding a weapon. Besides, Leon says, he isn’t: “I’m a good Christian boy.”
He remembers when last summer turned particularly bloody, with retaliatory gang-related shootings. “Luckily, it’s the cops this time, not the gangsters,” Leon says. “Otherwise we’d be under hella bullets.
“Our lives are in the cops’ hands.”