“We are the Rebel Alliance,” said a woman dressed as Princess Leia emphatically speaking through a bullhorn to a crowd of about 50 in front of the former residence of the late Vanessa Marquez, an actress who was fatally shot by South Pasadena Police Department officers who were responding to a wellness check on August 30, 2018.
Standing just about 5 feet tall, but packed with the energy and determination of an army, was Minerva Garcia, a close friend of Marquez who has stood with others as an advocate for resolution in the case against local law enforcement and the City of South Pasadena.
On a day that signified the two year anniversary, or “Angelversary” which Garcia explains “marks the day our loved ones were taken tragically from us by the incessant police violence that plagues black and brown communities,” a feeling of exasperation coupled with hope brought many together under one cohesive message, “Justice for Vanessa Marquez.”
But it was also an opportunity to rally families and friends that had similarly been impacted by police brutality.
An assembly of local organizers, demonstrators, and family members of those who had been killed by conflict with the police in communities all around Los Angeles had come to share their own stories of loss. Discussing the arduous steps of recovery necessitated by a litany of police-related deaths, the ultimate desire for systemic change was considered imperative in order to prevent more of the same types of familial tragedies.
Of those present that day speaking in front of City Hall were: Valerie Rivera, mother of Eric Rivera; Albert Corado, brother of Mely Corado; a family friend of Anthony McClain; Barbara Okamoto, Grandmother of Christopher Alexander Okamoto; Amanda Flores, sister of Alex Flores; and Maria Hernandez, mother of Daniel Hernandez.
Reasoning the choice to dress as Princess Leia, Garcia says it was a way to honor her late friend who loved Star Wars “ …there is no disrespect by us dressing up. It’s not cosplay. We are not by any means making light of what has happened to any of these families. It is being used as a metaphor for the fight we have going against us,” adhering to the analogous narrative, one that equates the day’s collective to the Rebels — an unconventional group of individuals brought together for a just cause –, and “policing in America” to the “Evil Empire.”
Assisting in leading the march with Garcia was Fahren James, a local demonstrator/ protestor who with her brother London Lang, established the Black Lives Matter protests in South Pasadena on June 1. The group had stood in solidarity with the Marquez camp during a press conference on June 24.
Standing in for Lang was Joseph Haynes, a community organizer who commended demonstrators as they marched south on Fremont Ave in the heat. “I know some of you are tired. I even see with some of you today, your families have been personally affected by this,” he said, encouraging everyone to “keep up the the spirit of hope” through the social upheaval and strife.
Speaking on behalf of the departed, Haynes continued to emphasize the same central theme of togetherness many of his peers have championed over recent months, “Unity is the only way we’re gonna win this fight in their honor.”
Insisting that Marquez’ wellness check was a miscalculated and preventable tragedy, Garcia, speaking in front of City Hall, decried the SPPD’s actions. The notion that an 85 lb, disabled woman could pose a threat to anyone has been of prominence, attributed as a point of contest in a wrongful death claim. “Over the last few years Vanessa had many health struggles. She was diagnosed with celiac disease, fibromyalgia osteoporosis, she was disabled and struggling financially due to the insurmountable medical debt. Being disconnected from the outside world was tough for Vanessa.”
In a suit filed in 2019 which alleged wrongful death and battery, the Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey had exonerated the South Pasadena Police officers involved in the shooting of Vanessa Marquez, ruling that they acted in self defense. Body cam footage released earlier this year in March revealed that Marquez was in possession of a pellet gun, but did not open fire.
A federal suit was more recently filed against South Pasadena by the Marquez family on Thursday, August 28 — the latest addition in a long timeline of battles between the family and the City. The allegation claims the officer-related shooting includes a civil rights violation, stating that the responding officers had sparked the incident by ignoring a decision made by paramedics that Marquez had the right to decline transportation to a hospital.
“Anytime they (police) kill someone, they always try to make an excuse as to why it happened. Suicide by cop? ‘Oh, this person made threats, I was afraid for my life.,” says Albert Corado in deriding fashion. His sister Mely Corado, a Trader Joe’s assistant store manager in Sliverlake, had been collaterally killed in the crossfire of a police shootout in July 2018.
Seeing Mely’s death as another product of gross overreaction by officers, the Corado family had also filed a lawsuit, this one against the City of Los Angeles last July. The Los Angeles Police Commission had deemed the actions as concurrent with policy, ruling returning fire at an armed suspect was within legal bounds.
Sharing other’s frustration over a more heavily militarized police force, Corado exclaimed, “If you’ve been out into the streets doing these protests in the last few months, what have you seen? You’ve seen cops in full riot gear with helmets and bulletproof vests and quote unquote, ‘non-lethal’ weapons that can take your f—ing eye out? What are these sorts of freedom?”
Despite all the anguish produced by recent events, Garcia told those in attendance that positivity wins out the day saying,“Vanessa reminded me that the greatest weapon a revolutionary has is love.”