Almost three years to the day since the late actress Vanessa Marquez was shot and killed by South Pasadena Police officers on August 30, 2018, in what was meant to be a mental wellness check, a crowd of about 100 people congregated to remember her.
Taking a slightly different approach than last year, the organizing groups were able to secure a spot at the Metro Goldline park located on Meridian Ave in the city. With canopies, chairs, refreshments, and a taco stand all provided for attendees free of charge, the event served as moment to connect and unify a community still looking to heal in the aftermath of tragedy.
“She wanted to be treated with dignity and respect, as we all should be when we’re ill,” lamented Minerva García — a longtime friend who has played a key part in battling the City and its police department — who asserts that Marquez suffered a timeline of misdiagnoses, misconduct, mistreatment, and ultimately, an undignified death. “Vanessa didn’t get the proper treatment, constantly. In 2011, she had a medical misdiagnosis and almost died,” said García, censuring the receiving doctor at the time, “who didn’t believe [Marquez’] stomach hurt so badly that she was about to pass out. She eventually did faint and was told she had an obstruction in her small intestine. If Vanessa hadn’t advocated for herself insisting that the doctor pay attention to her, she would have died. This was the incident that led her to become disabled. It only took one tiny incident for her life to take a drastic turn.”
Marquez, who endured debilitating mental illness towards the end of her life, was alone in bed at her apartment when police came to check up on her in response to a call from a friend. After speaking with her, they concluded she needed help and decided to take her to a hospital, despite Marquez’ protestations. She ultimately displayed what turned out to be a fake gun, sending the officers in retreat. To rebut, García, speaking on behalf of another advocate for the Marquez camp, mother Delia McElfresh, read aloud a report that allegedly provided conflicting statements from officers. In one specific case, it was apparently revealed that one officer of the SPPD admitted that they did not feel they were actually threatened by Marquez. As they called to her from the foyer below, she emerged from her door and pointed the weapon at them, according to the official account, whereupon she was shot to death.
Similar to last year’s angelversary, which began in front of Marquez’ former residence on Fremont Ave and brought protesters and supporters on a march that concluded in front of South Pasadena City Hall, families of those who were also killed by responding officers to various scenes shared their stories of loss and the cause célèbre ignited by police misconduct and brutality, particularly in Los Angeles the past few years.
A narrative of bringing the officers to who played roles in the incidents that resulted in the deaths of a long list of individuals — Marquez, Anthony Vargas, Eric Rivera, and Mely Corado to name a few — to justice was prevalent throughout the program. “Cops say that they care about the community. They go out there and do the photo ops; they’re playing catch with a kid, but they still have a gun by their side and they’re still wearing a bulletproof vest,” said Albert Corado, brother of an innocent bystander who was fatally shot by police at a Trader Joe’s during a shootout in 2018. “This [is] community that’s been built around the death of our loved ones. It’s weird to go in front of a crowd of people [and] everyone knows [about] the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. It’s a very unique thing that not many people in the world can can attest to. But again, we are out here because we understand the importance of not only lifting up our loved ones’ name, but also giving a name to the people who did this.”
Although much of the program was dedicated to speaking in terms of social reform and grieving for the fallen, García reminded the crowd that she was, “also here to celebrate Vanessa. She didn’t have an easy upbringing, being the only child of a single mother struggling economically. But in spite of all these obstacles, she fought for her place in the world. Vanessa made her dreams of becoming an actress true, only to have them shattered by an indifferent racist and misogynistic entertainment industry that made her retreat from the world,” referring to the accusations Marquez had pressed against former costars like George Clooney.
“One of Vanessa’s favorite periods and classic movies was the 1940s, that’s why I chose [to wear this], this was my approximation,” said García, donning a costume in tribute to her late friend. “She always said she was born in the wrong decade. She loved the Lindy hop and love to swing dance when she was in better health. One of her favorite films, Casablanca has that famous line: ‘Welcome to the fight.’ I know this time, our side will win. Little did Vanessa know that she would be the light that was shown to continue our fight to hold police accountable and ultimately to abolish them,” García concluded , before playing a video tribute to Marquez.
This story is developing, stay tuned for updates.