While other information is scarce, we do have a little information pieced together from various statements. Deputy Chief David Hendricks admitted in an interview to the Long Beach Press Telegram on Friday night that the officer who fired the shots gave no warning to Morejon. “That’s something we try and do in every situation, however there are those times where the exigency of the situation prevents us from doing that,” he said. One has to question how exigent a situation could possibly be at 3:00 in the afternoon outside on a sunny day, which has no reports of a weapon beforehand involving a person who is instead wielding a spray can. Public Relations Officer Megan Zabel also told LBReport.com that the officer that fired the shots was a twenty-year veteran of the force.
The family’s lawyer has also released information he obtained while interviewing the victim’s mother Lucia Morejon. She states that her son certainly was not a gang member and that any reports by the police to the contrary are false. She also spoke of the last time she saw her son as he propped himself up in the ambulance after the shooting and reached out to her, “Mommy, Mommy, please come, please come!” Mrs. Morejon tried to walk to him but was stopped by an officer. When she got the hospital, she tried again to see him but was denied access until after he had passed away. While the family mourns, their lawyer, R. Samuel Paz has asked for the public’s help in seeking justice from the LBPD and the actions of the officer involved. He is also seeking the release of more information of the shooting, such as the name of the officers involved, how many rounds were fired, and what happened the moments before the shooting.
After finding out about this shooting I had a conversation over twitter with known activist and Free Thought Project contributor Cassandra Fairbanks and photographer and street art lover, “MsG” concerning the case. It was decided quickly that a certain importance must be placed on the piece or tag that Hector was working on in his final moments. For one, there is quite a lot of emotional and sentimental value attached to a piece created in those circumstances. There is also however an important fact that needs to be considered about the graffiti. The content of the tag could change the entire narrative of this case.
The LBPD has already taken many steps to label this situation as gang related. If they can paint the picture of gang activity, then they have the opportunity to sway public opinion on their side. They have alleged that Hector Morejon was in a gang, and that does not seem to be true based on the evidence present. The police claim that there was gang activity going on in the vacant space and that the graffiti was gang related. The content of that graffiti could hold the key to proving the police wrong and forcing accountability on the officer who fired the shots. If pictures of the piece could be obtained, an expert could potentially provide proof that Hector Morejon was not participating in gang activity when he was painting on the wall. Without the presence of evidence of gang activity, the LBPD loses its one leg to stand on to justify the rapid escalation of force that led to Morejon losing his life. I mentioned it to Mrs. Fairbanks and MsG at the time, but I had gone down there to do just that. To get pictures of Hector Morejon’s art. I was not able to do that exactly, but I was able to pay my respects at the scene and make a few observations.
Hoffman Avenue in Long Beach is a short neighborhood in Long Beach that is hidden off Anaheim Avenue between a commercial building and a popular neighborhood bodega. I personally have driven by it over a hundred times and never really noticed it. When I approached it yesterday, the street sign was hanging to the side, an ominous modern tapestry of the city. The neighborhood itself has a very confined feeling. The mostly one story apartment buildings that line the street are densely packed and gives the drive down a narrow street an almost tunnel like quality. I parked down at the end of the block and prepared myself. I knew the potential of the situation that I was entering. I stepped out into the sun and started down the long block.
“We don’t really know you, and nothing against you but we don’t want any pictures taken. It wouldn’t be respectful.” I responded quickly, “That’s not a problem, I understand, and I respect that.” I pulled the camera from around my neck and held it to my side. A different man to my left spoke next and asked me a few questions, each after I gave the answer to the previous one. “Who are you? Who are you representing? What do you want?” I told him the truth. “My name is Steven Matthews. I represent no one, I am an independent. I believe that this may another instance of police brutality and if there is way I can contribute to proving that, that’s why I am here.” A could tell a little of the malice toward me lift at that, but so much more of it remained. “We don’t really want that from you. We don’t want our boy slammed, and we don’t know if you are here to do that.”
“I am only here out of solidarity and respect, I promise you. I would be willing to ask some questions if anyone wanted to answer…” This actually angered a third person to the side, so I followed quickly with, “but I have no intention of being a bad element here, and I won’t press it at all. Like I said, I am here with respect.” Nobody said anything after that and I stood in silence for a couple of minutes, looking at the memorial. After the time had passed, I said, “I am very sorry for you loss guys.” and I turned to leave. More than half of them expressed thanks to me for that, and I walked quietly away.
I knew that I was not welcome there. As much as I can attribute that to my race, much of what I felt was not really about me at all. There was pain there, and anger. That neighborhood lost one of its own last week, and the men I spoke to are the voice of that neighborhood. A village among us that is as close as the buildings that protect it, and they lost one of their prospects for the future at the hands of an outsider. When another outsider walks in without invitation, one has to expect to answer some questions and to be a witness to that voice that is in pain. So, when I realized that I came close to seeing some of that pain and anger first hand, I did not have any emotion except understanding. While I can never claim to understand how the lives of those people have led them, I can understand why they reacted to my presence the way they did. I am also thankful to that I was not lying to them when I told them I was there out of respect. I was certainly there out of respect, but if it was a lie, I have no doubt they would have known it.
There seems to be two sides to this narrative to sort through. If the family and neighbors are correct, then Hector Morejon had nothing to do with any gang activity and even though he had trespassed and was spray-painting a wall, he was not a violent or hard criminal. That being the case, and considering that he was shot with no warning, while he did not have a weapon, seems to provide the context that this is another example of police brutality to a person of color. If you consider the angle that he was somehow a member of a gang, and that his tagging that wall was a direct move to promote his gang affiliation, you still have an officer shooting an un-armed person without any warning. Therefore, it would almost seem that no matter what narrative is accurate, we still see a case of un-necessary police violence in a situation that was not violent to begin with. The result does not change with the narrative shift and neither does that result’s consequences. All because the officer present could not identify the presence of an object in Morejon’s hands.
As a resident of Long Beach, I find that I have a certain bias. I desire to see justice done in this situation and I also think that the public deserves to ask a few questions, and hear the answers. “What happened right before the shooting? Who is the officer involved and what is his service record? What accountability will be leveled against him, and will changes be made to the operations of the LBPD after this? What is it about the training of the LBPD that could result in this needless loss of life due to unnecessary force escalation?” and finally “What was Hector Morejon painting that an officer of the law decided that he should pay for with his life?” I have always believed that Long Beach was a particular progressive city. Here’s hoping that I was not wrong. We already know that the un-named officer was wrong when he fired his gun that day, now I want to know what my city is going to do about it.