By Haley Sawyer
Standing outside South Pasadena City Hall, the speaker dressed as Princess Leia recalled her late friend Vanessa Marquez’s affection for the movie franchise in which the fictional heroine figured prominently. But the costume had a deeper meaning, the speaker said.
“She loved ‘Star Wars,’” Minerva Garcia said of Marquez, who was fatally shot during a confrontation with city police in 2018. “She was like a kid. She knew everything about the films.
“And it’s also symbolic. We are the Rebel Alliance. They’re the evil empire,” Garcia added, depicting the alliance in this case as the families and supporters of people affected by police violence.
The rally and the march that preceded it were the second “Angelversary” celebration of Marquez, an actor whose career included numerous appearances in the TV series “ER” as well as roles in “Seinfeld,” “Wiseguy” and the movie “Stand and Deliver.” The event also served as a way to draw attention to the cause of her death at age 49.
Two years ago, Marquez was frail and suffering from autoimmune diseases. On Aug. 30, 2018, a friend called paramedics, who also brought South Pasadena police officers, to check on Marquez. A lawsuit that has been filed over the matter said officers disregarded the paramedics’ decision that Marquez had a right to refuse to be taken to a hospital, according to City News Service.
A confrontation ensued, and Marquez was shot by officers when they believed she had produced a gun. She suffered two gunshot wounds and was pronounced dead after she was taken to a hospital.
The object Marquez produced was later identified to be a BB gun, but a lieutenant in the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said it was a replica of a semiautomatic handgun.
In June, Marquez’s mother, Delia McElfresh, sued the city of South Pasadena, its former police chief and other officers, alleging civil rights violation. Previously, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office concluded that the officers acted in self-defense — local officials, including police, have in the past made statements that the shooting was justified — and no charges were filed.
“We are here to say that that’s a wrong ruling,” Garcia said, “but we’re also here to celebrate my friend.”
The march began at 11 a.m. in front of Marquez’s former home and ended in front of City Hall. Other families of those affected by violence involving police joined the peaceful rally, including the families of Eric Rivera, Mely Corado, Anthony McClain, Anthony Alexander Okamoto, Alex Flores and Daniel Hernandez.
“There’s times that you’re so tired or you don’t want to go out anymore,” said Amanda Flores, sister of Alex Flores, who was shot and killed by law enforcement in South Central Los Angeles in November 2019.
“You just want to stay home, but when you see other families on the street it’s like hey, they’re there, we’re gonna go ahead and support, work together. We’re a family together. As a family we support each other as a family.”
Residents along the route of the march peered from windows, stood on porches and sometimes even joined the group of roughly 30 people, headed by dancers in Aztec garb.
“I just want to go ahead and have everybody to share my story, my brother Alex. … I just feel that everyone’s story matters,” Amanda Flores said. “Every victim. The victim of law enforcement matters. So that’s what we want to keep sharing, the story, bring awareness.”
Garcia urged Los Angeles residents to examine legislation aimed at bringing about change in law enforcement, including Senate Bill 731, the Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act of 2020, which seeks to revoke certification of officers who have been convicted of certain crimes or termination of employment due to misconduct.
“You can start there,” Garcia said. “There’s other legislation that are also targets youth, to protect youth. Because sadly, you know, juveniles get profiled by police, sadly, too much, especially men of color.”
Until she sees change, Garcia and her alliance will continue their battle.
“People need to pay attention,” she said. “This is too drastic of a problem.”