Jessie Hernandez Didn’t Deserve to Die: Teen Latina Lesbian Killed By Police

feature image by Aaron Ontiveroz/ Denver Post 

Jessie Hernandez, a 17-year-old Latina lesbian, was killed by Denver police on Monday morning, sparking outrage from her friends, family and community who are demanding justice for yet another example of unnecessary deadly force by police against a young person of color.

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via Facebook

 

The incident occurred Monday morning around 6:30 a.m. when Denver police responded to a call reporting a “suspicious” vehicle parked in an alley in the Park Hill neighborhood. Police Chief Robert White said the first police officer to arrive on the scene, Gabriel Jordan, ran the license plate and found the car was reported stolen so he called for backup. Hernandez was the driver of the car with four teen passengers. White said as Jordan and the other patrol officer, Daniel Greene, got off their vehicles, Hernandez struck Jordan’s leg with the car, which led to both officers firing several shots at Hernandez. A neighbor’s cell phone captured video showing officers searching Hernandez’s lifeless body, face down on the curb, when finally an EMT arrived. Hernandez’s autopsy shows she was shot multiple times and her death was ruled a homicide.

The Denver Police Department and District Attorney Mitch Morrissey’s office are investigating the shooting. Jordan and Greene are on paid administrative leave. The other teenagers who were in the car are not being charged, White said on Thursday.

via 9news

via 9news

Witnesses and police have conflicting accounts of what happened in the alley that morning. On Wednesday, Hernandez’s friend who was in the car at the time of the shooting, told a local news station Hernandez was shot first and then lost control of the car, which then struck the police officer, breaking his leg.

“When the cops walked up, they were on [Jessica’s] side of the car, and they shot the window and they shot her. That’s when she wrecked, and that’s when the cop got hit.”

White reports the police officers asked the teenagers several times to get out of the car, which they did not. Afterwards the car started moving towards one of the officers, he “feared for his safety” and shot at Hernandez with the other officer also shooting at the her.

This is the fourth police shooting in seven months of people who were said to be using a moving car as a weapon; only one other incident was deadly. Denver’s Independent Monitor, Nick Mitchell, announced Tuesday he is investigating the police department’s practices and policies on firing on moving vehicles. Denver’s Department of Public Safety and Police Department are also conducting their own investigations on their policies, they announced Wednesday. Local news station, 7News found two recent reports by the U.S. Department of Justice stating it is a “poor choice” for officers to shoot at moving vehicles.

“Shooting at vehicles creates an unreasonable risk unless such a real and articulable threat exists. First, it is difficult to shoot at a moving car with accuracy. Missed shots can hit bystanders or others in the vehicle. Second, if the driver is disabled by the shot, the vehicle may become unguided, making it potentially more dangerous.”

One DPD policy states officers can open fire on moving vehicles if they believe the vehicle or suspect pose a threat of death or injury to officers or others and believe there is no other choice.

Jessie was beloved by her friends and family. Friends described Hernandez as funny, outgoing, wild and fun at a vigil held Monday night. They say she was the type of person “to bring you up,” who “made you smile,” and “was never in a bad mood.”

“We shouldn’t have to go through this! We shouldn’t have to… have loss from anything, especially from the people we expect to protect us,” Nickie Garcia, Jessie’s friend said sobbing. “It’s not ok and it needs to stop.”

On Tuesday community activists and protestors, including Hernandez’s family members, went to District Attorney Mitch Morrissey’s office to demand transparency in the investigation and justice for her death. The protestors carried signs that said “Cowards Shoot Girls” and “Justice for Jesse[sic].”

“How would you feel if your kid got killed?” Jose Castaneda, Hernandez’s cousin said to Doug Jackson and Lamar Sims at the DA’s office. “They can fix his [the struck officer’s] leg. What are they going to do to bring her home?”

On Wednesday evening, Denver Freedom Riders, a local anti-racist organization, organized a protest at the District 2 police station where the officers who killed Hernandez are stationed.  Two hundred protestors showed up chanting in English and Spanish, “Jessie’s Life Matters.” Photos of Hernandez were projected onto the side of the police station and someone read a poem she wrote a couple of years ago. A few protestors met with Denver Police Commander Michael Calo inside the station.

By Brent Lewis/ Denver Post

By Brent Lewis/ Denver Post

The investigations may take months to complete; even then, investigations usually favor police officers, so the public probably will never know exactly what happened in that alley. The most important fact to note is that a young Latina lesbian was killed by police. In the wake of a national conversation about police violence and systemic racism that centers around the recent murders of black men, Jessie’s death is an awful reminder that police violence certainly affects [email protected] and LGBT communities.

Numerous studies have found that LGBT youth of color are continuously criminalized and deemed suspicious, especially trans and gender non-conforming women. A recent Lambda Legal study found 73% of LGBT respondents reported having face-to-face contact with a police officer; the study further notes the majority of the respondents felt discriminated and mistreated by law enforcement. Last September, the NAACP released a report on racial profiling by law enforcement called “Born Suspect,” noting the LGBT community faces an even greater profiling risk with police.

“[The LGBT community] faces profiling based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, or HIV status. This discrimination is often multi-layered when LGBT individuals are also people of color, youth, a different nationality or religion, or profiled based on their perceived immigration or socioeconomic status. As the above stories describe, the experience of this community with discriminatory policing tactics are devastating and the fight to end racial profiling must include a conscious effort to end profiling of LGBT communities.”

Jessie’s death is tragic, especially since she was so young and her friends had to witness her being killed. Was it really necessary to shoot and kill a teenage girl? The problem is the ones to evaluate that question work under a system that is unjust to people of color. Jessie didn’t deserve to die, even if she indeed used a stolen car as a weapon. Her life was taken because it was deemed unimportant and disposable because an officer decided his sense of safety was worth more than her life. It’s still very unclear to what extent Jessie posed a danger to the officers, but this situation is one that could have and should have been resolved without loss of life. Law enforcement offices are tasked with figuring out if this shooting was justified but when those same offices and systems repeatedly target and criminalize people of color, especially queer people of color, there leaves little hope that there will be justice for Jessie.

Yvonne S. Marquez is a lesbian journalist and former Autostraddle senior editor living in Dallas, TX. She writes about social justice, politics, activism and other things dear to her queer Latina heart. Yvonne was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter. Read more of her work at yvonnesmarquez.com.

Yvonne has written 205 articles for us.

47 Comments

  1. Its sad a young person died.

    But let’s review the facts:
    She was driving a stolen car that hit a police officer hard enough to break his leg.
    That vehicle was a deadly weapon, he might have had every right to shoot at the driver. One could assume the officer did not decide to shoot because the driver was a Latina lesbian, rather because he was protecting himself……..

    • Police do not have to shoot and kill civilians to protect themselves. The fact that frequent police shootings are normal in the US does not make them acceptable. Please have a look at police shooting statistics in any other Western country, you may start to consider that the US police uses unnecessary force. Also I don’t understand how shooting at a driver would make the car less dangerous? At best, it would just make the driver panic and lose control – and a dead or injured driver is pretty dangerous to everyone around her. (And the fact that the victim was a masculine-presenting POC might have had everything to do with her being shot.)

      • Police do not have to shoot and kill civilians to protect themselves………

        Yes actually they do.

        Police officers aren’t trained to kill helpless citizens. They are trained to stop a threat. A threat is a car being driven straight towards you in an alley, there wad no where for the officer to retreat.

        Officers can’t be trained to turn and retreat when criminals come after them……

    • Yes, one could assume that, if one had been asleep for the last 500+ years of events on this continent.

      And even if the driver had been the wealthiest, most masculine, hetero, white, privileged man ever, I’m pretty sure I would still be horrified, because I do not want to live in a place where police just kill people sometimes, oops. Of course, we’ll probably never get to test my theory, because this just probably isn’t going to happen to a middle aged white man. And if it does, he’ll be a “terrorist” or “mentally ill” or something.

    • Fuck you.

      Remember the MASS MURDER in Aurora? They took in that butcher alive and well. And you believe this bullshit story (which, you’ll note, contradicts itself)?

      Hell no. This was cold blooded murder. They got hit with a car because they MURDERED THE DRIVER. Cars are out of control when you do that! They threatened witnesses who tried to film them.

      These are cold-blooded racist child-murderers. You coding to believe the blatantly fabricated police account rather than the witnesses is a symptom of your own violent racism.

        • “White people get arrested by the cops and tried by the system, people of color get killed by the cops.”

          In 2012, U.S. police shot and killed 123 black people and 326 white people. Source: CDC.

          THIS?

          • Thank god someone’s here to report numbers they heard on the O’Reilly Factor. Can I point out that under the collection methods used in the CDC report, Jessie Hernandez would fall under the category ‘white’?

        • Wrong.

          White people get shot by the cops all the time, it’s just that whites don’t riot and loot every time it happens. Most of the time, blacks are arrested without having to be shot.

      • No, fuck you.

        How is the Aurora shooting even relevant? Totally different set of circumstances.

        There is no reason to doubt the police’s version of events. Absolutely none. If you have any evidence, please show it. The “witnesses”, aka Jessie’s partners in crime, are lying little shits.

    • Actually, witnesses (including people who were in the car) say that the police fired at the car first, destabilizing her and causing her to run into the officer. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/witness-raises-questions-death-jessica-hernandez-17-article-1.2094639

      And can we STOP this pattern of “That’s sad…BUT”? Can we stop suggesting that this cold-blooded murder was somehow excusable? Say it with me: Driving a stolen car does not mean someone deserves to die. That police officer was out of the hospital within a day. Hernandez’s family and friends will never have her back.

      • “Witnesses”? You mean Jessie’s partners in crime? Those lying little shits? You believe them?

        What evidence do you have that this was cold-blooded murder? None whatsoever. Jessie drove the car at the officers. Whether she “deserved” to die isn’t the point. The police still have a right to defend themselves when someone is driving a car at them. If they hadn’t have shot her, they might have never made it out of the hospital again.

        I’m sorry, but Jessie made some stupid decisions and is entirely responsible for her own death.

          • Instead of whining about callousness, how about giving people a reason to care? So she was a “Latina lesbian”, so what? Does that give her the right to run over the police in stolen cars? Does being an “unarmed black male” mean you should be able to commit crimes, and the police should leave you alone?

    • Fuck you.

      Remember the MASS MURDER in Aurora? They took in that butcher alive and well. And you believe this bullshit story (which, you’ll note, contradicts itself)?

      Hell no. This was cold blooded murder. They got hit with a car because they MURDERED THE DRIVER. Cars are out of control when you do that! They threatened witnesses who tried to film them.

      These are cold-blooded racist child-murderers. You coding to believe the blatantly fabricated police account rather than the witnesses is a symptom of your own violent racism.

  2. It’s horrible that this girl died, and so violently.

    But she was fucking driving a stolen car at a police officer. How would anyone here feel if they were in an alleyway and someone was driving a car right at them? Do we know how fast she was going? Sometimes people make split-second decisions for self-defense.

    The police are permitted to shoot if they believe that a life, including their own, is at risk. Eric Garner illegally selling cigarettes did not put anyone’s life at risk. Trayvon Martin wearing a hoodie did not put anyone’s life at risk. Trans women just existing do not put anyone’s life at risk.

    Driving a car at another human being (even if they are a *gasp* police officer) puts someone’s life at risk.

    I’m a black and gender nonconforming lesbian but I’ve noticed a trend in social justice communities where simply because someone is part of a minority group they are automatically deemed right in all words and deeds.

    Just because someone is a trans woman, a queer person, a POC, or any combination of these identities does not make them automatically right in every situation. There are times when trans women, queer people, and POC fuck up, (and in the case of flagrantly violating the law and putting lives at risk, fuck up majorly) and they should be held accountable just like everyone else.

    I don’t want to be infantilized as a black person, a lesbian, or a gender nonconformist, being treated like I cannot be held accountable for my actions and every time something unpleasant happens to me it is someone else’s fault entirely, and neither should any other member of a minority.

    Of course there are times when people in positions of power are racist, sexist, or anti-LGBT, but I don’t believe this is one of those cases.

    • Excellent comment Katie. I think you would agree with this article that explicitly argues that the Jessie Hernandez case was not one of excessive police brutality, precisely because of the right to self-defence. It also outlines the problems of further dividing the police and marginalized communities in the long-run by instantly blaming police whenever a marginalized individual is involved.

      http://bottom3billion.com/2015/01/30/we-should-think-first-before-we-cry-police-brutality/

      • Fuck you.

        Remember the MASS MURDER in Aurora? They took in that butcher alive and well. And you believe this bullshit story (which, you’ll note, contradicts itself)?

        Hell no. This was cold blooded murder. They got hit with a car because they MURDERED THE DRIVER. Cars are out of control when you do that! They threatened witnesses who tried to film them.

        These are cold-blooded racist child-murderers. You coding to believe the blatantly fabricated police account rather than the witnesses is a symptom of your own violent racism.

    • Fuck you.

      Remember the MASS MURDER in Aurora? They took in that butcher alive and well. And you believe this bullshit story (which, you’ll note, contradicts itself)?

      Hell no. This was cold blooded murder. They got hit with a car because they MURDERED THE DRIVER. Cars are out of control when you do that! They threatened witnesses who tried to film them.

      These are cold-blooded racist child-murderers. You coding to believe the blatantly fabricated police account rather than the witnesses is a symptom of your own violent racism.

      • I get your point, and I certainly believe there were racist structures and attitudes that lead to Jessie’s death and her treatment by the police. But seriously? Your language comes off as patronizing and, well, a bit colonialist. A white person accusing a black person of “violent racism,” when a POC inherently has a more intimate grasp of its effects than a white person ever will, just smacks of white arrogance and the very supremacist structures you purport to be condemning. Needless to say, the “fuck you” only cements that. It reads as “white-person-yelling-at-a-black-person-about-what-racism-really-is,” regardless of wether or not that was your intention.

        I understand that you are coming from a place of valid, visceral anger at the injustice of Jessie’s death and the reality of bigoted police brutality and systemic apathy. But this is not the way to express it to another POC who has vocalized their experiences. Check your privilege.

          • White people can explain whatever they want to you. If you find it patronizing, that’s just too bad. You don’t get to tell white people what to do and what is acceptable.

        • How does a “POC” have a more intimate grasp of “violent racism” than a white person? Most violent racism is directed at whites.

          This white man certainly won’t check his privilege. I will express myself to you however I see fit, and you’ll just deal with it, ok?

    • “I don’t want to be infantilized as a black person, a lesbian, or a gender nonconformist, being treated like I cannot be held accountable for my actions and every time something unpleasant happens to me it is someone else’s fault entirely, and neither should any other member of a minority. ”

      As a fellow queer woman of color I have to say, THANK YOU for being a voice of reason!

  3. Anyone else notice that the police claims directly contradict themselves?

    White said as Jordan and the other patrol officer, Daniel Greene, got off their vehicles, Hernandez struck Jordan’s leg with the car, which led to both officers firing several shots at Hernandez.

    White reports the police officers asked the teenagers several times to get out of the car, which they did not. Afterwards the car started moving towards one of the officers, he “feared for his safety” and shot at Hernandez with the other officer also shooting at the her.

    I mean the second one reads as directly admitting that the witness accounts are true.

    Aurora cops can confront James Holmes, literally a bloodthirsty mass-murderer, armed to the teeth, who had literally just slaughtered people – and bring him in unscathed and alive. Yet we’re supposed to believe Denver cops “feared for their lives” because of an unarmed teenager?

    Fuck no. These are racist child-murderers.

    • Imagine that you are in an alleyway and someone driving a stolen car is headed straight for you. Would you not fear for your life, and the lives of other passersby, regardless if the driver was a straight white cis male or a black trans woman? Most honest and reasonable people would say that they would be afraid regardless of what demographics the driver belonged to.

      And regarding the Aurora shootings, the police might have managed to apprehend Holmes without shooting him. They arrived on the scene after he started his rampage so unfortunately the police were unable to prevent casualties from occurring. You would probably have to read the official timeline of the Aurora shootings to make a better comparison.

      The police are trained to shoot as an absolute last resort to prevent the alleged criminal from doing any further harm.

      There are too many real incidents where perfectly innocent POC/LGBT people are brutalized/killed by the police. This is not one of them.

    • “Aurora police officer Jason Oviatt arrested Holmes a few minutes later, after finding him outside, standing with his hands on top of his car. Oviatt said Holmes was ‘completely compliant’ when told to surrender.”

      Compliance quiz: Hands on the car, or driving your car at the arresting officer?

      It’s a super easy quiz, but be warned: Incorrect answers may result in your death, regardless of age, race, or sexuality.

    • James Holmes was arrested when they found him standing next to his car with his hands on the roof, and was completely compliant they they took him into custody. Jessie Hernandez was shot while apparently driving a vehicle into a police officer. They’re not comparable at all, and trying to link them together is stupid.

  4. I find these kind of stories sad enough without seeing any possible discussion about the larger social implications of these stories reduced to mere anecdotes and cheap ad hominem attacks.

  5. I’m from Denver and this has been verified as a fundraiser that goes directly to Jessie’s family:

    http://www.gofundme.com/l0iqyc

    If you feel compassion for her grieving parents and sisters, please donate.

    Side note: I have a cousin in prison in NM for a few things, but one of them is car theft. He fled from police in a car and resisted arrest, and I am so glad he is still alive. He broke laws, he was a drug addict, and he is not innocent and he is serving time for it, but he is my family, was my babysitter when I was a tot, and I love him. We have a criminal justice system for a reason, and that is for a shot at fair justice. I’m grateful he lived through his encounter with police to stand trial. It’s his right. I feel so much grief for Jessie’s family.

  6. I am from Denver and have been involved in solidarity efforts protesting Jessie’s death. Jessie did not deserve to die. Period. We have a horrible problem in Denver/Aurora with racist policing which includes rampant racial profiling, police brutality, and killing, and we know this is yet one more example. We will fight until this ends.

    I also want to note that we learned from her friends that Jessie identified with they/them pronouns so I would ask the authors to correct the article in this respect. I have also only heard them referred to as queer, not lesbian. I am double-checking this to be sure but wanted to alert you. Thanks.

  7. I have very mixed feelings on this. The cops didn’t know she was hispanic. They didn’t know she was gay.

    She was driving a stolen car.

    So she was no angel. However, failure to immediately comply with a LEO’s order is not justification for him to shoot you.

    This takes me back to something my dad told me when I was a teenager. If you don’t want trouble, don’t do stupid things in stupid places with stupid people. She failed this common sense approach and deserves to be punished. I just think that the death penalty is a bit harsh.

  8. If a car is coming at you and you don’t want to be hit by it, how is firing at the driver going to help you? Wouldn’t you fire at the tires or something to disable the vehicle?

    Also, there are some seriously callous & rude commenters in this thread. Let’s be a bit more self reflexive people.

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