A group of about 50 demonstrators in Santa Ana Thursday night marched in support of Miguel Edgar Vargas and protested his beating by city police and later immigration detention as he was on his way to court.
“[Vargas’] detention represents a realization of many of our fears, a real fear of the conditions we’re living under,” said Abraham Medina, 26, the director of Santa Ana Boys and Men of Color and a member of RAIZ, a youth group organizing against detentions and deportations. “This is not an isolated incident, it’s a practice, and even witnesses are scared to part of this process.”
Marchers held signs and banners with the messages “peace” and “end police brutality” while shouting popular resistance chants, "El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido" (the people united will never be defeated) and “La migra, la policia, la misma porquería” (immigration, the police, the same old dirty work).
(Click here to view a photo gallery of the march.)
The protestors began their two-block march at the steps of the Santa Ana Police Department and ended at the gates of the Sheriff’s Department where Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE detainees are put in vehicles for deportation.
Vargas, who is undocumented, is being held as an ICE detainee at Theo Lacy Jail in Orange and faces deportation proceedings. He could be sent to Mexico.
His arrest Monday by ICE came during a time of heightened scrutiny of police use of force following nights of rioting and demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., where unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by police.
ICE agents took Vargas into custody as he was on his way to Orange County Superior Court to defend himself against charges he resisted arrest June 20 and assaulted a Santa Ana police officer. A video of Santa Ana police apparently beating Vargas during that arrest became public a few weeks later, drawing widespread public examination of the officers’ actions.
Family members said they were driving Vargas to court Monday to defend himself on the Santa Ana charges when the family vehicle was stopped by an unmarked car and officials, who only identified themselves as being with ICE while driving away, arrested Vargas without explanation.
“We are protesting so ICE could set him free to fight his criminal case,” said Vargas' sister, Sareth Vargas, 24.
According to records, between 2005 and 2010 Vargas was arrested and convicted four times for different felony charges, including possession of a controlled substance, buying or receiving a stolen vehicle, theft and receiving stolen property.
Vargas’ family told reporters he was addicted to methamphetamine, contributing to the drug possession charges, and that one of the theft charges was for stealing his parents’ car.
Sareth Vargas, the sister, said Vargas had been “doing well” since making bail, and has been working in recent months to obtain his high school diploma equivalency at Santa Ana College.
After the beating incident with police in June, he started to relapse, she said. She said neither ICE nor the police department has contacted the family about Vargas’ detention, although his mother was able to visit with him Thursday morning.
According to the city police department, officers had been chasing Vargas after a burglary call from a nearby house.
Several of Thursday night’s marchers said Vargas’ beating by police and subsequent arrest speaks to a pattern of mistreatment and abuse of power by police and immigration officials.
“It’s discrimination. Because we are poor, we are Latino, because we are dark-skinned,” shouted one woman from the crowd.
At the end of the march, demonstrators gathered to share their experiences with the police and deportation procedures and the impact of arrests and violence on young people and their communities.
"We want to redefine public safety. It's about proper resources and job opportunities," said Medina. "How much money actually goes toward educational, culturally relevant, trauma-informed programs? Being tough on crime isn't being smart on crime."
Miriam Grajales, who saw Vargas' beating from her front porch, said she was followed and harassed by city police after speaking out. She said in spite of attempts by new police Chief Carlos Rojas to change the relationship between residents and officers, families still feel helpless.
“Chief Rojas has a saying, 'if you see something, say something.'” said Grajales.
But, she asked, “How can you help someone, when it’s the police? Who are you supposed to call?”
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