On May 20, the police killing of Carlos Mejía, a 44-year-old from El Salvador, marked the third such killing in Salinas, Calif., in 90 days. Lettuce harvester Osman Hernández, also originally from El Salvador, was slain by Salinas police on May 9. On March 20, Ángel Ruiz was shot and killed by police. Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin said that he was requesting that both the FBI and the Department of Justice probe the Mejía and Hernández shootings.
Salinas police state that they were responding to a 911 call about a man threatening to break into a house on May 20. When police arrived, they say they found Mejía, a migrant farmworker, with a pair of garden shears. Police state they ordered Mejía to drop his “weapon,” while Mejía walked away towards the intersection. Police then claim Mejía “lunged at the officers,” prompting them to shoot him four times at point-blank range.
In a video by a bystander, however, a startled and disoriented Mejía is seen walking away from officers, as they followed closely behind before fatally shooting him. “Why the fuck did you guys shoot him?” shouted the bystander, who recorded the footage. (http://tinyurl.com/ktr4nhq)
The video of the Mejía shooting was widely viewed and the outrage over the third death of a Latino man in just two months sparked protests near the intersection where Mejía was killed. Crowds spontaneously protested on the evening of May 20.
As more than 1,000 people protested, police from surrounding communities poured into town. Anti-riot gear and automatic weapons were deployed. An onlooker, 23-year-old Constantino García Tienda, was struck by a bullet fired by an unknown shooter and killed. A native of Hidalgo, Mexico, García worked as a strawberry picker. The young man was married and the father of a small child. The following evening, May 21, another protest against the police shooting and violence was held in Salinas.
As many as 1,000 people marched through Salinas on May 25, calling for a new police chief, a new mayor and a comprehensive citizen review of police shootings over the past decade. Support contingents from the Bay Area, Los Angeles and other towns joined with local residents in demanding justice, dignity and respect.
On May 27, attorney John Burris filed a claim against the city of Salinas on behalf of Mejía’s family. In the wake of Hernández’s death, San Francisco attorney Christopher Dolan had filed a similar claim against the city.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Salinas Valley was an important battleground in the campaign waged by César Chávez and the United Farm Workers union. Salinas is known as the lettuce-producing capital of the United States. With a poverty rate of more than 30.7 percent, Salinas is also one of the poorest areas in California.