They can’t fight for themselves

June 29, 2015

The latest killings by the Long Beach Police Department have pushed the movement to make Black lives matter to a new level, writes Michael Brown.

ACCORDING TO his family and friends, 20-year-old college student Feras Morad was a supporter of the Black Lives Mater movement and was pursuing a law degree so that he could legally represent victims of police terror.

Unfortunately, Morad will never get that chance. The nationally ranked speech and debate student was killed on May 27 by Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) officer Matthew Hernandez, a 12-year veteran.

Notwithstanding future legal proceedings, the center of struggle for Morad--and for 19-year-old Hector Morejon, who was killed a month earlier by LBPD--is in the streets. In recent weeks, families of both of the young men, along with community allies, have shut down streets, staged a die-in and confronted the police chief at a community town hall.

More than 250 people attended a June 13 protest that began in front of LBPD headquarters. The event was originally planned for Morejon, but was modified to include Morad after members of both families met at a June 4 rally held in response to Morad's killing.

Demonstrators against police violence take to the streets in Long Beach, California
Demonstrators against police violence take to the streets in Long Beach, California (Wayne Marchyshyn)

Both families were joined in a speak-out at the protest by friends and families of Donte Jordan, Tyler Woods and Carey Smith-Viramontes (all killed by the LBPD); Ezell Ford (killed by the Los Angeles police); Michael Lee Nida II (killed by the Downey police); Asa James Dolak (killed by the Torrance police); Bobby Henning and Ignacio Ochoa (both killed by Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department); and Martin Hernandez and Manuel Diaz (killed by Anaheim police).

The gathered families' loved ones shared tearful testimony about how the victims died at the hands of police. An aunt of 19-year-old Tyler Woods, who was with him the night he was killed in November 2013, read a letter from his mother, who is currently incarcerated. Woods, who was unarmed, was shot 19 times in a hail of 38 rounds, after he fled on foot from officers following being profiled by them at a convenience store and after the car he was in was subsequently pulled over.

Kareem Morad, a cousin of Feras, told the crowd, "What the police did to my cousin was unjust. What the police have done to all of these families is unjust. And it's going to keep happening until we do something about it. We need to spread the awareness. We need to tell everyone that we know. We need to get as many people out here as we can."

Pamela Fields, the mother of Donte Jordan, an unarmed man killed in November 2013, talked about the trauma her family has gone through, not just with her son's killing, but less than a year later, following the death of her nephew Dante Parker, who was killed by police in Victorville, Calif.

"This has been really, really hard," Fields said. "We don't even know where to pick up the pieces, because we're out here fighting, and every time we think we have a grip on what we're going through, then there's another mother going through the same."

After the speak-out, the families, joined by activists from organizations such as Black Lives Matter-Long Beach, the Youth Justice Coalition and the Young Survivors-Legacy Support Network, marched from police headquarters to a nearby intersection in downtown, blocking streets in all four directions.

The names of the more than 40 people killed by the LBPD since 2000 were chalked inside of the intersections' crosswalks, followed by a one-minute die-in. Protestors then left and continued blocking streets and traffic--until LBPD responded with a phalanx of riot-clad officers, once the protest wound its way through the commercial district.

THE RECENT killings of Morad and Morejon have served as a catalyst for struggle in Los Angeles County's second-largest city. Both men were unarmed, and initial police reports were discredited by eyewitnesses.

Morad, who was visiting Long Beach because he was set to begin classes in the fall at California State University-Long Beach, suffered from a bad reaction after taking psychedelic mushrooms, according to a family member. He fell through a window, crashed onto the pavement and was wandering through an alley, bloodied and disoriented.

A neighbor called the fire department after seeing Morad, whom she described as "very intoxicated and bloody." After the caller said, "I think we need police also," the dispatcher then notified the LBPD, where it was relayed that Morad was "acting erratic," but was unarmed.

Officer Hernandez arrived on the scene after fire department personnel shortly after 7:30 p.m., exited his vehicle, and ordered Morad to raise his arms, according to the LBPD. When Morad didn't comply, he was hit with a flashlight and Tased twice, according to witnesses. The LBPD claims that Hernandez shot Morad after he "advanced" on the officer and said, "I'm going to attack you."

Immediately, the LBPD's version of events was challenged by witnesses to the shooting. Morad's friend Ryan Fobes told ABC7, "We were saying, 'Don't shoot! Don't shoot, he's not armed!'" He added, "Feras was shirtless and covered in blood and obviously very hurt."

Another witness, neighborhood resident Bob Garner, described a scene where Morad had his hands up before he was shot, a far cry from "advancing" on the officer. Unfortunately, NBC4 altered Garner's comments, and spliced up his words to fit the LBPD narrative.

Despite no crime being committed, Morad was constantly referred to as a "suspect," and his family found out about his killing via Facebook, due to the LBPD putting information on a "security hold."

MOREJON WAS killed in a vacant apartment April 23, by Officer Jeffrey Meyer. "Suspicion of trespassing" was the pretext used by the LBPD to explain why the officer was called. Once arriving, Meyer, without issuing a verbal command or warning, shot the teen through an open window.

Since then, Morejon's family and friends have waged a struggle to refute smears, slanders and lies by the LBPD and the local cop-compliant media.

Ruben Morejon, Hector's eldest brother, told Chief Robert Luna in front of an audience at a June 11 community town hall, "Long Beach police cannot investigate themselves. That's an inherent conflict of interest." Ruben's concerns certainly have merit when one considers that no officers have been indicted in any of the more than 400 shootings and dozens of killings in Long Beach since 2001. Help surely will not be coming by way of the LA County District Attorney's office either, as evidenced by a recent report.

During the speak out, Tritobia Ford, mother of Ezell Ford, said she heard the same "parallels" when listening to one family after another tell their stories. Moving forward, it will be imperative for families and activists fighting and organizing against state-sanctioned police terror to analyze and understand that those "parallels" aren't merely incidental nor are they mere defects of the social and economic order we live under.

All institutions and aspects of the current criminal injustice system work in concert, and against those seeking justice after their loved ones have been killed by police, while at the same time granting officers impunity with which to carry out violence.

Families struggling to win justice for their loved ones are helping to challenge this status quo by building the kinds of grassroots actions we've seen emerge over the past year following uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore and the Black Lives Matter movement more generally. As Kareen Morad said at the June 13 protest, "Our voices need to be heard, because my cousin and all of the innocent [victims]...that were killed, they can't fight for themselves anymore."

Further Reading

From the archives