On Feb. 11, at 12:20 a.m., just 24 1/2 hours after her 34th birthday, Los Angeles Police Officer Tina Zapata Kerbrat died. She died while trying to protect the people of Los Angeles by making their streets safe. She died while serving all the people of Los Angeles without regard for their race, nationality, creed, religion, age, sex or their status of residency in this country. She died without warning; without reason. She died when a drunken illegal immigrant from El Salvador walked up to her police car and shot her point-blank in the face with a .357-magnum pistol.
Tina Kerbrat's death followed by four months and two days the death of Detective Russell Kuster. Like Tina, Russ died without warning; without reason. He died when a drunken illegal immigrant from Hungary began waving a loaded gun at him and other patrons in a restaurant and shot him several times at very close range.
To its credit, the Los Angeles Hungarian community did not choose to rally behind a cop-killer and claim that criticism of him was an affront to all Hungarians. To the contrary, Hungary rejected Bela Marko. Hungarians did not want him in their country either. Because Hungary would not take him back, our immigration system shamefully allowed him to stay here. The shame of the United States' immigration system failure continues. Instead of addressing the problem, too many demand apologies from the too few who dare allude to the criminal element among our undocumented residents as being undesirables who should be deported.
My plea is to the good Salvadoran people who live in Los Angeles is to understand that I do not hold them responsible for Officer Kerbrat's murder. I do not hold the good people of the Salvadoran community responsible for Jose Amaya's brutal assassination of Tina. I hold Jose Amaya responsible along with a duplicitous, failed federal immigration system that protects imported criminals no matter how they got into this country.
Tina Kerbrat is probably wondering why strong criticism of her killer and the conditions that gave him a chance to kill her would be offensive to anyone. The issue is what can be done to reduce the likelihood that within the next few months another police officer will be fatally shot, point-blank, without reason, by a known violence-prone illegal immigrant whom our system has been unable to deport. That is the issue our federal, state and local governments should be addressing, as well as all of our communities and the media. Demanding apologies is no help, it's a cop-out.
The consul general of El Salvador understands what the real issue is. For his understanding, I am deeply grateful.
DARYL F. GATES, Chief of Police, Los Angeles