Noel’s family is keeping the struggle alive

March 23, 2015

Michael Brown reports from Southern California on protests organized to demand justice for Noel Aguilar, killed by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies last year.

ONE WEEK before Noel Aguilar was killed by Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) deputies last year, he uttered what would come to be fateful words to Mary Herrera, who at the time was pregnant with his daughter.

"Tell my baby I'll always love her, just in case anything ever happens to me," Aguilar told Herrera in what would be one of their last conversations. Herrera, who was then separated from Aguilar, said the two hadn't seen each other in the week before she got news one morning that would prove to be life altering.

On the morning of May 26 of last year, she was preparing to eat breakfast when a friend of Aguilar's came to her home and told her that deputies had shot the 23-year-old. "Let his mom know that Noel got shot" was the message relayed to Herrera. Herrera said she began "walking fast" to nearby 69th Street in the North Long Beach neighborhood where she lives. There, she came upon the cordoned-off scene where Aguilar's lifeless, handcuffed body lay.

"I asked the deputy, 'Who was shot?'" Herrera recalled--to which the deputy asked, "Is he your boyfriend?" Herrera said the only detail the deputy gave her was that the man killed had a "big tattoo on his stomach." It wasn't until later that evening that Herrera was able to find out definitely--through media reports--that the father of her unborn daughter had been killed.

Demanding justice from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
Demanding justice from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (Wayne Marchyshyn)

In a tragic case of coincidence--and an example of how systemic police-on-civilian killings are throughout LA County--Aguilar was killed just blocks away from where his childhood friend, 21-year-old Jesse Delgadillo, was killed in 2013 by the Long Beach Police Department.

Since then, both families have connected and held a series of protests, including a February 28 action attended by more than 60 people at an intersection near the border between Long Beach and Compton.

The fightback for Aguilar and Delgadillo has been helped along through solidarity extended by families throughout LA and Orange County whose loved ones were also killed by police. Family and friends of Carey Smith-Viramontes (killed by the Long Beach PD); Michael Lee Nida II (Downey PD); Paul Quintanar (Tustin PD); and Martin Hernandez, Manuel Diaz and Caesar Ray Cruz (Anaheim PD) attended the latest protest.

"If me and Noel's mom [Elbia Aguilar] didn't have help by other families, I'd just break down in tears," Herrera said. "It makes me feel stronger. By crying and being alone, it's not helping. Seeing other people helps, because we're fighting for the same thing."

MANY OF the details of how and why deputies killed Aguilar last May remain unclear. Learning the truth was complicated by a lie that the LASD didn't bother to correct until almost two weeks after his death.

Initially, deputies claimed they "stopped" Aguilar while he was riding his bike shortly before 10 a.m., though up until this point, an official pretext for the stop was never been given in media reports or by the LASD. Herrera says Aguilar was wearing earbuds, which she says may have been the reason for the stop.

After being stopped, a supposed "struggle" ensued, according to the police. LASD officials claimed that during the struggle, Aguilar shot one of the two deputies in the stomach. Except that wasn't the case--LASD officials eventually corrected the record in early June, explaining that the deputy had been shot by his partner.

LASD officials then claim that after the deputy was shot, Aguilar fled on foot before the deputies caught up with him. Next, a "second struggle occurred," leading to Aguilar being shot because he "tried to take an officer's gun," according to a police statement.

Why Aguilar, who LASD officials say was armed with his own handgun they recovered at the scene, would try to "take" one of the deputies' guns defies logic. The LASD version of events of how and when he was killed--allegedly shot while he struggled with officers--is also in question. According to several eyewitnesses to the killing, Aguilar was shot while he was handcuffed.

Both deputies, who are based out of the LASD Compton station, were also outside of their jurisdiction when they stopped Aguilar.

AFTER DELGADILLO'S killing, Herrera said Aguilar initially "broke down" when he heard about his friend, and that's when she began to pay attention to police violence. However, after Aguilar's killing, she said, "My eyes were really opened to reality."

Predictably, after Aguilar's killing, the well-worn practice of victim-blaming was on full display. LASD statements and media reports immediately began to describe Aguilar as a "known gang member." Herrera said that soon after his death, Aguilar's past criminal record was made available on the Internet.

The physical killings, coupled with the character assassinations carried out by the police and the media, are calculated and contribute to the racist demonization aimed squarely at working-class Black and Brown people after these killings occur, as evidenced by the killings of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, who despite having no criminal record, was still labeled "no angel" by the New York Times.

"They're not taking time to find out who he really was," said Herrera. "Although he was out in the streets, he cared deeply for his mom, and would never want to leave her alone."

Herrera added that she wants justice for their daughter, 6-month-old Noely, and would like to see the police prosecuted and off the streets. However, they shouldn't expect any help coming by way of the LA County District Attorney, whose office has proven allergic to indicting police, regardless of the circumstances.

For instance, according to a recent report released by the District Attorney's Justice System Integrity Division, despite 409 on-duty, police-on-civilian shootings in LA County between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2014, all were determined to be "justified."

Jameel, a friend of Aguilar's, said at the protest, "The police aren't here to protect us, they're out here to just catch us and lock us up."

Mass Black and Brown incarceration and police terrorism against our communities go hand in hand, aided by the complicity in district attorneys' offices and the corporate media.

The continued self-organization of families directly affected by police violence needs to be placed at the center of struggle, along with the continued development of movements like Black Lives Matter--all this and more is needed to mount a challenge against systemic, state-sanctioned violence in all of its forms.

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