Salinas police killing of a Zapotec man raises questions about language barriers

California
Gerardo Martinez, 19, was fatally shot by a Salinas police officer after brandishing a BB gun. Indigenous advocacy groups have claimed that Martinez, who spoke Zapotec, did not understand the orders police had given him in Spanish.(Courtesey of the Martinez Family via the LA Times)

Gerardo Martinez, 19, was fatally shot by a Salinas police officer after brandishing a BB gun. Indigenous advocacy groups have claimed that Martinez, who spoke Zapotec, did not understand the orders police had given him in Spanish.(Courtesey of the Martinez Family via the LA Times)

After the killing last week of an Indigenous Mexican teen by police in Salinas, advocacy groups are concerned that language barriers may have played a role in the fatal encounter.

Gerardo Martinez, 19, who spoke the Mexican Indigenous language Zapotec, was shot around 8:30 last Friday night when officers responded to his home and tried to communicate with him in Spanish, according to the Monterey County district attorney’s office. Prosecutors contend Martinez also spoke conversational Spanish.

A neighbor called 911 shortly after eight to report that Martinez was “really drunk” and had pointed a black handgun at him, officials said. On the same call, the neighbor later said that the weapon might actually be a BB gun and that he thought Martinez could be under the influence of methamphetamine.

In minutes, officers were at the scene. The officer who ultimately shot Martinez positioned himself with a rifle behind his patrol car, about 50 feet from Martinez’s home, according to the district attorney’s office. Officers unsuccessfully tried to determine Martinez’s phone number.

Read the full story at LATimes.com

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