By Erik Galicia
Calls for racial justice and defunding the police returned to the streets of downtown Riverside in light of county sheriff’s deputies’ controversial arrest of a Jurupa Valley man who died in their custody.
Ernie Teddy Serrano, 33, stopped breathing in a Rubidoux Stater Bros. on Dec. 15 shortly after a struggle with the market’s security guard and Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies. Although preliminary autopsy findings indicate he died as a result of a methamphetamine overdose, the Serrano family’s attorneys called his death a murder as a result of positional asphyxiation at the hands of police.
Family members, attorneys and dozens of demonstrators gathered Dec. 27 outside the Stater Bros. where the incident occured, calling for justice for Serrano and a boycott of the market.
“We’re asking that the County of Riverside be held accountable for what they did,” said Stephen A. King, attorney with the Justice X law firm. “We’re asking that the charges be pursued for murder.”
Demonstrators confronted Stater Bros. security at one of the market’s entrances, calling for those involved in the incident with Serrano to exit the store and apologize to the Serrano family.
According to Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, Serrano attempted to grab the guard’s firearm during their struggle. That claim has been disputed by the family and attorneys.
“He didn’t do anything to you,” Justice X attorney Humberto Guizar told security guards. “If they had any dignity, they would come out and apologize. We know you can hear us.”
Protesters caravanned to Fairmount Park before marching through downtown Riverside, making stops at the Riverside County District Attorney’s office and the Robert Presley Detention Center.
Mary Valdemar, a representative of the Chicano Indigenous Community for Culturally Conscious Advocacy and Action, stopped on Mission Inn Avenue and pointed toward Riverside’s landmark hotel and spa as Native American battle cries rang behind her.
“That building there, the Mission Inn, represents all the colonization and all the police brutality that we have experienced as brown, Black and indigenous people,” she said. “It is our duty to make sure that brutality and genocide against our people stops for the future generations.”
Family members and protestors echoed the idea of righteous anger in their calls for “justice for Ernie” and responded to social media comments calling Serrano a drug addict who brought his death on himself.
Sammie Martinez, 54, who described herself as a Serrano family friend, said that if Serrano’s drug issues were to be brought up, so should the issues of policing.
“You are criminals,” she screamed toward officers on standby outside the hotel. “You have beaten and killed people and you have gotten away with it. No more.”
Family members said they will not stop fighting until they reach justice for Serrano.
“Justice lies in us,” said Serrano’s uncle Serafin Serrano. “This is familiar to us. This has been happening to us. What are we gonna do with that righteous rage?”
Serafin Serrano called for young people to plan for a future in law enforcement and careers in the justice system. He said this strategy is essential to achieving long-term change.
“We have to think ‘long haul’ for the young ones,” he said. “Let them produce a more just tomorrow.”
Police presence was minimal. Guizar plans to demand the prosecution of the deputies involved outside the Riverside County District Attorney’s office Dec. 30.