On April 27, Los Angeles police officer Frank Hernandez punched a resident of Boyle Heights named Richard over a dozen times in front of the Church of God of the Prophecy on Houston Street. On May 4, the disturbing video surfaced on social media, prompting outcry from the community. Hernandez had previously shot and killed an Indigenous Guatemalan day laborer in 2010 and shot an unarmed bystander in the leg in 2008.

The video shows Richard complying with a police order before being repeatedly punched by Hernandez on his head and body. He ducks away from the physical attack but does not fight back. Hernandez also appears to spit on him. The police officer’s partner watches and at one point uses her radio but does not intervene to stop the beating. A later part of the video depicts a witness describing Richard as “the most friendly guy,” to which the police officer responds by saying, “He’s the most friendly guy? He [expletive] attacked me,” even though the video shows the exact opposite. Witnesses to the beating state that Richard is houseless, is known around the neighborhood, and has been continually harrassed by the police for his housing status.

A press release from the LAPD states that Hernandez is a member of the Hollenbeck division and that “the officer has been assigned home pending further investigation.” The police did not release their statement about the use of force until after the video was released on social media. LAPD has not released body worn video footage from the assault. Hernandez punched Richard so hard that, according to LAPD, Hernandez “[received] minor injuries to his hand,” while Richard “had abrasions to his head and face but refused medical attention.” According to LAPD, the Boyle Heights resident was released and not booked on any suspicion of a crime.

LAPD’s assertion that it “closely scrutinizes all uses of force, as we hold every officer to our high standards,” rings false when this very officer has shot three other people while on duty and is still working for the LAPD. Previous internal investigations by LAPD’s Force Investigation Division have found this very officer to have “acted lawfully” when he killed Manuel Jamines.”

Sept. 8, 2010, protest | Photo: Bethany Malmgren

In September 2010, Frank Hernandez shot and killed Manuel Jamines, an indigenous Guatemalan day laborer, at point-blank range. Jamines was allegedly drunk in public and allegedly had a knife. LAPD gave Jamines orders in English and Spanish, but Jamines spoke Kʼicheʼ, a language spoken by indigenous Guatemalans. While the LAPD is supposedly highly trained in non-lethal tactics, Hernandez’ response was to shoot Jamines twice in the head. The shooting sparked several days of protests in Westlake where the cops beat over 20 protesters and fired concussion grenades and rubber bullets into the crowds, leaving many littered on the ground. Instead of jailing Hernandez, or even firing him for the killing of Jamines, LAPD’s investigation found Hernandez, “acted properly.” Instead of any consequences for the police officer, the LAPD attacked protesters angry at police violence.

In December of 2008, Hernandez shot Joseph Wolfe, an unarmed bystander, in the leg from behind. LAPD lied and tried to blame Wolfe for police actions. They tried to prosecute Wolfe, claiming he had a weapon, to cover up Hernandez’s use of force, but the case against Wolfe was dismissed. The Police Commission found the shooting of Wolfe to be “in policy,” however, they found that Hernandez’s actions “substantially and unjustifiably deviated from department training.” By LAPD’s own admission, Hernandez has a history of unnecessary violence perpetrated against the people of Los Angeles, but these actions are within LAPD policy.

A pattern of terror

Hernandez’s violent behavior on April 27 is part of a pattern of terror against the people of Los Angeles. After each use of force against community members, Hernandez was not jailed, or even fired. He was merely moved into a different community each time. Hernandez’s behavior has not changed. He was known in Westlake for harassing residents and street vendors. In his current post in Boyle Heights, he continues this behavior and is well known for harassing community members. This behavior is common in the Los Angeles Police Department, which has been sued for many other instances of police brutality, violence against the houseless, and racist policing.

The beating of Richard shows that like police departments across the country, LAPD does not “protect and serve” but instead inflicts pain and fear on people, communities of color, and the working class. This is not an accident, or even the actions of a few bad cops but part of LAPD policy. The police must not be allowed to continuously brutalize our communities without facing consequences. Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey must indict Hernandez.

The community will not stand for the actions of Frank Hernandez or the LAPD. Centro Community Service Organization, a group that organizes for equality and social justice for Chicano people, has organized a petition calling for the firing of Hernandez that gathered over 500 signatures in 24 hours. On May 6, community members and organizations like Centro CSO and Serve the People Los Angeles attended a protest at Hollenbeck Police Station.

On May 7, the community and local organizations, including the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Todos Somos Uno gathered again at the station to demand the firing and jailing of Hernandez. Community members spoke about Hernandez’s history of violence, and the history of LAPD violence in the area. Maria Zaragoza, a community member at the protest who has known the victim of the assault his whole life told Liberation News, “I have done a lot for the police and I have always respected them, but when the police started attacking my community and people I love, I had to join the protest to stand up for them.” As the protest ended, people chanted, “We’ll be back,” signaling to the police that the community will continue to fight against police brutality.

The community of Boyle Heights is mobilizing because they realize that LAPD is not built to protect them. Los Angeles’ and the United States’ police system is built to enforce the oppression of the poor and working class and only protects the interests of business and capitalism. The only way to end this reign of terror is through an organized movement of working people demanding their right to live free from violence.

All progressive people should support the Boyle Heights community to demand justice for Richard!

We will mobilize again alongside Centro CSO and others on May 15 at 5 PM at the Hollenbeck Police Station in Boyle Heights. Join us!