On July 27, over 60 members of the Los Angeles community gathered outside the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to celebrate the life of Anthony Daniel Vargas, who would have been celebrating his 22nd birthday that day. His mother, twin brother, and a score of family members carried on the torch of his life with powerful words and chants.

Those present could feel the living energy of Anthony’s memory when his mother, activist, and human trafficking case manager, Lisa Vargas, brought the group together to sing happy birthday to her beloved son. Her vocal involvement in the Civilian Oversight Commission meetings and organizing civil disobedience have helped make her into a dedicated warrior for justice for those slain by killer cops.

Anthony Vargas was killed by Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies Jonathan Rojas and Nikolis Perez on Aug. 12, 2018. Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacy has refused to indict the killer officers despite autopsy results showing that Anthony was shot 13 times in the back.

Lisa Vargas stated that she strongly believes that the Banditos, a brutal gang of deputies within the East LA Sheriff’s Department, was involved in her son’s murder. They proudly wear tattoos of a skeleton holding a pistol and wearing a sombrero, and conduct their own initiation rites, their activities tolerated by the Department. According to ABC7, several senior deputies even beat, punched, and choked unconscious several rookie deputies at a Kennedy Hall police party in East LA.

These actions prompted the FBI to open an investigation into the Banditos, demonstrating the LAPD’s inaction in rooting out extremist groups within its own ranks. This only further demonstrates the truth of the common phrase of the cops being the “biggest gang in the city.”

Vargas added that as soon as her son passed away, at least 10 mothers whose children were killed or brutalized by the East LA Sheriffs came to her to show solidarity and support. According to her, the mothers told her that “we can’t say anything because when they come to do an investigation, the first thing they’re asking is ‘What is your immigration status?’”

A pandemic of losses

The threats of deportation and family separation for whistleblowers only fueled Vargas’s determination to tell the stories of her community’s losses: “We want people to remember. This is not just one single incident, this is an ongoing thing that is happening — it’s become a pandemic.”

Community and activist groups present included the grassroots Justice for Anthony Vargas group, the Party for Socialism and Liberation — Los Angeles, Black Lives Matter LA, Centro CSO (Community Service Organization), Brown Berets, White People 4 Black Lives, and Harmony Peacekeepers.

Akili, an organizer with Black Lives Matter LA, gave a rousing speech of solidarity with the Vargas family and with all victims of LAPD police brutality. He added that “without accountability, responsibility and consequence, the message goes out that it’s alright to kill us.” When asked for specific demands, he said, “We want accountability, we want these police fired, we want them prosecuted, and we want action taken against them.”

Sol Marquez, an activist with Centro CSO, added her voice and support in the demand for justice. Her spirits were uplifted by the event, and she said: “The fight isn’t over, it’s just starting, but it’s important to note that this is not an isolated case. Attacks on Black and Brown people are happening constantly, every day, and this country is well known for its oppression of us.”

This deeply moving demonstration was a testament to the power of the organized masses. With no fear and boundless determination, the community mobilized in large numbers nearly a year after Anthony’s murder at the hands of the East LA Sheriff’s Department.

The struggle for liberation from America’s inherently brutal police system will only be won with people’s power, built by working-class people demanding the right to live freely and keep their communities safe from the threat of police violence.

The East LA community made its statement loud and clear: jail killer cops now!