A man named Juan said he was walking home from work with three friends when a police car pulled up and stopped them.
“He tells me to remove my jacket,” Juan said, according to an interpreter. “It was cold out and I didn’t want to take it off. But he was already pointing the gun at me.”
Juan and others recounted stories of police intimidation and disdain for Hispanic people in Pasco and elsewhere Tuesday night at St. Patrick’s Catholic Parish. More than 50 people attended the forum for Spanish speakers. The meeting aimed to provide another opportunity for the community to express their feelings and concerns to the Commission on Hispanic Affairs in the wake of the controversial police shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes.
Juan said he and one of his friends were handcuffed. When Juan asked the officers, two white and two Hispanic, why he was stopped, he said he was told it was part of an investigation. When he pressed further, he said he was told to shut up.
“Once they investigate further, they say, ‘Sorry’ (and release me),” Juan said. “It’s a mockery.”
Most who spoke at the forum said they aren’t against the police force and know there are good and hardworking officers. But change is needed, and those involved in the Zambrano-Montes shooting need to be held accountable.
“It’s truly a nightmare to think that the people who are wearing a uniform, who we’re supposed to see as heroes, we’re now afraid of,” said one woman who said she owns a store in Pasco.
Police fired 17 times at Zambrano-Montes near the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Lewis Street on Feb. 10. He reportedly threw at least one rock at the officers before they shot him.
Eyewitness accounts and viral video of the shooting sparked protests in the weeks that followed as Hispanic residents.
The state Commission on Hispanic Affairs and the U.S. Department of Justice have been in Pasco in recent weeks to open dialogue between the public and city and police officials.
Concerns that people most affected by bad experiences with police or local government, such as non-English speakers or undocumented residents, prompted Tuesday’s meeting. No one was required to share their name before speaking, no police officials were present and the media wasn’t allowed to bring in cameras or conduct interviews, officials said, so people wouldn’t be intimidated.
“I hope this sanctuary will allow you to speak freely,” Knight Sor of the DOJ told the crowd through an interpreter.
Some who attended talked about incidents of the police disregarding or profiling the Hispanic community. Reports made to police are either waved off or never followed up on, they said. One woman said police interrogated her after she called in when she found a man injured on the street.
When the police showed up at a former Pasco man’s home years ago about a report of a broken window, he said the officers seemed more interested in placing blame on his family than on investigating.
A woman named Carla said her son was assaulted at school, resulting in a concussion that kept him out of class for a week. But the police refused to take a report, saying there was nothing they could do because the suspects were minors.
Another man said he has been stopped by police while walking down the street and is afraid of officers. He also doesn’t go out at night anymore.
“I have been robbed but where are the police?” he said. “I file reports and nothing.”
The problems aren’t limited to Pasco, one woman said. The woman, who teaches in a Pasco elementary school but lives in West Richland, said she rushed home several years ago after she learned police broke into her home in connection to an investigation. No charges were ever filed, but they intimidated her and threatened her chihuahua.
“He says if he barks at me again it will be the last thing he’ll do,” she recounted the officer saying.
But the Zambrano-Montes shooting demonstrated that police aren’t trained to work with people who may be having mental health issues, speakers said. While some said they have had positive interactions with police in the past, something has changed over the years, and now the Hispanic community doesn’t know who to trust.
“I know there are a lot of officers who are just and work for the community, but who are they?” said Marta Zambrano, Zambrano-Montes’ aunt.