Francisco Serna’s Crucifix

Francisco Serna, a 73 year old abuelo with a history of dementia was killed by police in Bakersfield, California eight months ago. He was only carrying a crucifix as he walked toward the police. A few days ago a local police investigation absolved the officer who shot him seven times.

To repeat, he was carrying a crucifix.

Mijente, the network of Latinx activists rightfully points out in its petition to California state authorities, this abulelito, needed to be spoken to; need compassion and care, not 7 bullets to the body.

He was carrying a crucifix.

Add his name to the ever-growing list of black and brown victims of police shootings. As the the nascent grouping of Latinx activists called the And Brown Collective clearly note , when we speak of police shootings of black and brown unarmed victims that we remember the “and browns,” the names of Franiciso Serna; Rubén García Viallalpando in Grapevine, Texas; Javier Canepa Díaz in Santa Ana, California; José Antonio Rodríguez killed at the border in Nogales, Arizona; Anastacio Hernández Rojas in San Ysidro, California; Jessica Hernández in Denver; Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, Washington.

El Señor Serna was only carrying a crucifix.

De-escalation – why isn’t this the first response when confronting one of our Latino elders who was only carrying a crucifix in his pocket?

Francisco Serna’s death begs the question of when will our police force learn the basics elements of reducing tension and escalation when responding to persons who may be mentally impaired? Instead, we heard yesterday that Officer Reagan Selman acted within Bakersfield Police guidelines and both state and federal norms.

Years ago in New York City, Elenor Bumpers, an 86 year old mentally disturbed African-American woman, resisted eviction from her Bronx apartment and was shot twice by the police and died. She was allegedly armed with a knife. The officer was eventually charged with manslaughter and after a full trial, acquitted. Rudolph Giuliani, the U.S. Attorney at the time, refused to bring federal charges. Nonetheless, the Bumpers case resulted in new procedures enacted to train police on how to confront emotionally disturbed people. That was in 1984.

When will our police learn the skills of de-escalation?

It is now up to the California Department of Justice to complete a separate investigation. This is because the Bakersfield Police Department is already under an investigation for a pattern of police use of unwarranted force. And deservedly, so since Bakersfield has a higher rate of civilian deaths at the hands of its police than other large police departments. So what is clearly needed is a full criminal prosecution, an open trial, transparency and most of all, justice.

Francisco Serna.

Remember his name.

Remember his tragic death.

Remember the crucifix.

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