Shot down by Oakland police

March 28, 2008

Todd Chretien reports on another killing carried out by officers of the Oakland Police Department.

José Luis Buenrostro-Gonzalez, 1992-2008

JOSÉ LUIS Buenrostro-Gonzalez was shot and killed in broad daylight March 19 by three officers of the Oakland Police Department.

The police claim that the 15-year-old student pointed a weapon at them, and in response, all three officers shot him. But eyewitnesses and Buenrostro's family tell a very different story.

"It's not like what they're saying," Maria Zepeda, José's aunt, said in an interview. "He isn't a gang member. He was a good kid, but unfortunately, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time... and the police killed him, murdered him, sprayed him with bullets.

"They shot him eight or 12 times--we don't know exactly, because we still haven't seen him. But there were people who saw that he didn't have anything to hide. The police said he had a gun, but it wasn't his. They planted it on him, because he didn't have anything to hide. And besides this, when they stopped him, he had his hands in the air, and they riddled him with shots."

Police have so far refused to release the names of the officers who shot the boy, in the interest of "confidentiality." However, a spokesperson did tell the San Francisco Chronicle that the family "may have been" associated with gang activity. Even if this weren't simply an obvious attempt to discredit the family, it has nothing to do with why police shot José, because they didn't know who he was when they opened fire.

One week earlier, Oakland police shot and killed a 70-year-old African American man named Casper Banjo, claiming that he had pointed a toy gun at them.

THE KILLINGS come at a time when the Oakland police are trying to remake their image. The OPD has a long-established reputation for corruption and brutality, and have been roundly criticized for their inability to stop the escalating murder rate that has left between 100 and 150 people dead every year for the last five years.

This violence has taken a heavy toll in Oakland, especially on working-class Black and Latino families, whose members are 90 percent of the victims. The OPD hasn't solved half of these cases.

Despite this, the Oakland City Council, Democratic Mayor Ron Dellums and former anti-police brutality activist-turned-city Public Safety Director Lenore Anderson are all rushing to hire an additional 70 cops, at a cost of $7.7 million, increasing spending on the department by 10 percent at a time when school funding and city services are being slashed.

Flooding the streets with poorly trained rookies at a time when the cops are being given a green light to "get tough" by city leaders is a recipe for disaster, and these most recent police murders are unlikely to be the last in the coming months. Unemployment is climbing fast in Oakland, and more police won't stop violence. Money for good jobs, better schools and real cultural and social outlets for youth is what's needed.

Shamefully, the police are trying to justify their actions by racially profiling José and his family.

"He was going to Oakland Aviation School," José's sister, Maggie Buenrostro, explained as she showed me José's room. "He wanted to be a pilot. He wanted to repair airplanes and to have his own plane. Aviation and mechanics were his inspiration for going to school.

"He loved the Raiders and went to their games and had some of their autographs. He used to play soccer--here are his medals. His room is a little messy now, but he was very neat. He used to play with my younger sister here in his room. He played Guitar Hero a lot, with that guitar.

"Here's his achievement award for outstanding work in his aviation studies and his honor roll certificate from school. He was a good brother."

The Buenrostros live in one of the poorest and most violent neighborhoods in the country, about 10 blocks away from the Oakland Coliseum and Oracle Arena, where billions of dollars pass through the hands of the owners of the Raiders, Athletics and Warriors sports teams.

Their house is immaculate and well-kept, and they are a tight-knit family with many close friends in the neighborhood, where they've lived for 10 years. The police are hoping that they will keep quiet, but the family has already hired a lawyer and is working with activists in Acorn Woodland Elementary School, where José's younger sister goes to school, to organize a march to the mayor's office on March 26.

José's family plans on taking him to La Palma, Michoacan for burial, but they then intend to bring their demands for justice back to Oakland.

"We want justice for him because it can't just be left like this," Maria Zepeda explained. "We have to speak out--we have to tell everything about what happened with the police. We can't keep quiet. Now, it is him--tomorrow, we don't know, it will be your kids. The police say we can call them, but why? They're going to come and kill our children. We have to demand justice for him and everyone."

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