The Mexican consul general in Los Angeles charged Tuesday that allegations of police abuse and escalating acts of hostility and violence against immigrants were eroding many Latinos' faith in the U.S. justice system.
Jose Angel Pescador Osuna called "excessive use of force and handguns on the police's behalf" one of several factors heightening violence. The consul general alleged that a "pattern" of police abuse of Mexican immigrants and a "culture of impunity" involving officers and others who victimize Latinos exists.
Pescador referred to a number of violent incidents in the San Fernando Valley, including the shooting of two Latino taggers in Sun Valley, one fatally, by William Masters II. Masters was not charged with murder or manslaughter because the district attorney's office concluded that he acted in reasonable self-defense.
The consul also cited a traffic accident Saturday that took the lives of two sisters who were hit by a car as they crossed Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood. The driver was not arrested.
"What worries us . . . is the expression of the police official who said those two ladies were in violation of the law by jaywalking," Pescador said. "Those ladies were 53 and 55 years old. . . . They are dead, and nobody has been detained."
Pescador also cited a crash that killed four members of a Latino family on the San Diego Freeway in North Hills on Sunday night. He expressed concern that police have not arrested a 17-year-old who California Highway Patrol officers said was racing another car on the freeway at speeds of 90 m.p.h., perhaps causing the fatal crash. Authorities have said the investigation is continuing.
"We feel, at the moment, that there is a grave problem of communication," said Pescador, who contended that some Latinos are afraid to approach the police.
He called for additional meetings among police, community groups and the consul's office.
Los Angeles-area law enforcement authorities promptly took issue with the allegations and offered to discuss them with the consul.
"We treat all people the same," said Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block.
Block and Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Tim McBride denied that rogue officers were immune from prosecution and discipline.
"We're the peacemakers of the city, and, occasionally, by the nature of our business, we are involved in activities that are subject to question, and we hold officers responsible," McBride said.
Along with police abuse, the Mexican consul cited violence associated with gang activity, street crime and accidents, including the March 27 collision of a police car with a vehicle in San Pedro that left three Latino youths dead. The youths' parents, who allege police misconduct, were among the many victims' relatives who attended the news conference at the Mexican Consulate across the street from MacArthur Park.
"What happened to our children was an injustice," said Imelda Pacheco, mother of the three youths killed in San Pedro.
Police officials are investigating the crash, McBride said.
Also present at the consulate were two brothers of Santiago Lopez Garcia, a Mexican teen-ager shot and killed by sheriff's officers during a confrontation in East Los Angeles on April 2. His brothers said Lopez was playing basketball when confronted by police.
But Block called the teen-ager's shooting "appropriate," contending that Lopez brandished what appeared to be a gun--it later turned out to be a novelty cigarette lighter.
In recent years, Mexican authorities have spoken out with increasing force about alleged abuses against some of the millions of Mexican citizens residing in the United States. Stories of abuse of Mexican expatriates by U.S. law enforcement officers are staples of the media in Mexico.
But Pescador's statements, made before English and Spanish-language media, were among the strongest condemnations to date. The consuls general of Guatemala and El Salvador--two nations that also have many immigrants in Los Angeles--flanked Pescador during the news conference.
Pescador, an economist and educator, also cited a "climate of intolerance" associated with Proposition 187, the ballot initiative approved by California voters last fall. Many immigrants remain unaware that court challenges have held up implementation of much of Proposition 187, which, among other things, would require that local police turn in suspected illegal immigrants to U.S. authorities.
Mexican consular officials plan to distribute a "preventive protection manual" that would alert immigrants that Proposition 187 remains largely on hold and inform them of their rights.
The consul also vowed to work to reduce cultural barriers that he said often led to misunderstandings with police.
"The bottom line is that we want (criminal acts) against Mexicans, Latinos and minorities to be reduced," Pescador said. "We want a society less afraid and with less violence."
In addition, Pescador said, Mexican authorities intend to increase meetings with police and community groups and make an 800 number available to those complaining of abuse.