A Shooting in Santa Ana
Last summer, Santa Ana joined other cities across the nation as its citizens took to the streets in support of Black Lives Matter. Galvanized by the horrific murder of George Floyd, hundreds of residents marched through downtown and the surrounding area to peacefully protest police violence against black people. Black Lives Matter, of course, is an organic movement made up of various organizations and individuals who may have their own distinct agendas and goals, so while libertarians may not agree with every word uttered by everyone claiming the BLM mantle, they should unequivocally be onboard with the movement’s overall goal of combating the twin evils of racism and police brutality. As passionately as Santa Ana citizens marched against these scourges though, the relatively calm manner in which the demonstrations unfolded may have given observers the impression that they were protesting problems in other places, not an issue that directly affects people living in this city. This might have been a comforting impression to some, an alluring illusion of safety from the kind of abuse and overreach that sparked the marches in the first place. Yet tragically, this illusion was shattered just two weeks ago in the most shocking way possible.
On Tuesday, September 28th, Anaheim police spotted Brandon Lopez—a 34-year-old who, according to family members, struggled with mental illness—driving what was claimed to be a stolen car in Santa Ana. It would later turn out that the car in question belonged to Lopez’s girlfriend, who allegedly reported it as stolen after she and Lopez got in an argument and he drove off in it. A car chase ensued, with the officers losing track of Lopez before he was sighted again on the intersection of Bristol Street and Santa Ana Boulevard, where he apparently holed himself up in the vehicle after it became disabled. Despite the incident occurring in Santa Ana, the city’s police department reportedly ceded control of the situation over to the Anaheim PD—whose business in Santa Ana has yet to be explained as of this writing—and allowed them to bring in a SWAT team. After 4 hours of trying to negotiate with Lopez, the team launched tear gas at the car, with the canister exploding on the windshield. Understandably dazed, Lopez made a hasty exit from the car but was met with gunfire from the authorities, killing him and riddling his body with bullets even after it hit the ground.
As is often the case with such incidents, the “Back the Blue” crowd is arguing that the police were right to shoot Lopez as he fled the vehicle because—per their expert analysis of the situation—he was armed. And by expert analysis, I mean YouTube tacticians identifying a few, unclear seconds of Lopez’s briefly visible hand in video of the incident as incontrovertible evidence that he had a gun on him. Why wouldn’t Lopez—who, these same people believe, was an imminent threat to others—think to use this supposed gun even once during his over four hour stand-off with law enforcement? The armchair criminal psychologists among their ranks will have to get back to us on that one. Nor do they explain why the Anaheim PD, in their own press release about the shooting, failed to mention that they found or even had reason to believe that he had a gun at the time. One would assume that a police department would endlessly trumpet the fact that a suspect fatally shot by their officers was armed, but in fact the only instance of the word “armed” in their statement occurs in reference to Lopez being “wanted for armed robberies”. While this does invite those who want an excuse for the shooting to see one, it hardly establishes any real threat of Lopez opening fire on police or bystanders.
Casting further doubt on the police’s handling of the situation is the way officers on the scene allegedly treated Johnathan Ryan Hernandez, a Santa Ana councilman as well as a cousin of Lopez. Rushing to the site after hearing that Lopez was involved, Hernandez identified himself as a city official to police and implored them to let him try and negotiate with his distressed relative. Instead of taking up Hernandez on his offer, an officer simply said that he was "no more special than anybody else”. This same officer also reportedly told the councilman that “People kill people every day” when he explained that he only wanted to make sure that law enforcement didn’t kill Lopez. Such a callous disregard for human life should be unbecoming, to say the very least, for people entrusted with protecting others, but it’s disturbingly congruent with the sort of mindset that would reject intervention by a family member in favor of tear gas and lethal force. That Hernandez is a trained mental health professional who has helped former prisoners reintegrate into society and kept at-risk youth out of trouble makes the police’s refusal to let him mediate between them and Lopez all the more outrageous and incomprehensible.
And yet, as terrible as this case is in and of itself, there’s an additional layer to the story that makes it all the more painful. As mentioned before, Lopez was wanted for armed robbery, a serious crime that neither I nor any responsible person can defend. As any number of Latinos living in Santa Ana can tell you, the destructive nihilism of gang life and other criminal activity has done tremendous harm to our community, with many knowing a friend or family member (this writer included) who may have become involved with, or worse, lost to this evil. It’s a sad truth that Councilman Hernandez acknowledges in one of his tributes to his cousin on Instagram, writing “…the barrio comes with trauma, pain, addiction, poverty, abandonment, all of which is harmful to the brain and the body’s development. It’s no secret what’s going on in our neighborhoods. This is nothing new. So, why are we surprised when people fall through the cracks of living in urban poverty and choose self destruction… I don’t condone what happens in our community, but I understand it.” Indeed, it is up to us, the people who live here, to try and understand the roots of the violence in our neighborhoods so we can make them safe to live in.
Thankfully, we don’t have to choose between the violence of the streets and the violence of the state. If we, as both citizens concerned for the well-being of others and individuals concerned for our own safety, take action in our own lives to ensure that both the rule of law and rights of others are respected, it will bring us that much closer to a safe, healthy society where vulnerable people like Brandon Lopez are neither driven to violence nor victimized by it.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily the views of the Libertarian Party of Orange County.
Reggie Peralta is a native of Santa Ana and UCLA graduate with a BA in Political Science. In addition to helping out as Blog Editor for the Libertarian Party of Orange County, he has volunteered and written content for local arts and cultural organizations like The Frida Cinema, Makara Center for the Arts, and LibroMobile.