Neighbors mourn slain boy, are mad at cops

Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Residents of the East Oakland neighborhood where police shot and killed a 15-year-old boy who allegedly aimed a rifle at them last week are mourning the youth while trying to reconcile their distrust of the police with their desire for them to end the street violence.

Relatives and friends insist that Jose Luis Buenrostro, who was shot and killed about noon last Wednesday at the corner of 79th Avenue and Rudsdale Street, was no danger to the three members of the Oakland police gang unit who shot him. They said they resent that the aviation-school student was handcuffed after being shot and question whether the officers needed to shoot to kill.

“It’s just frustrating. It makes us mad. He didn’t do anything,” said Bianca Quintero, 16, standing at a makeshift memorial for Buenrostro on Tuesday. She wore a black hoodie with Buenrostro’s picture on the front and “F— Da Police” written on the back. Similar epithets were scrawled on a couch left in the boy’s honor at the street corner.

Police said the officers, clad in blue jeans and raid jackets emblazoned with “Oakland Police” in bright yellow lettering, had no choice but to defend themselves when Buenrostro pulled a sawed-off rifle from his sweatpants and pointed it at them. The teenager had ties to a street gang, said police, who took the unusual step of showing a picture of the rifle they said the boy had been carrying.

As police defended their actions, other officers were kept busy with two incidents involving mourners. Police arrested two men early Sunday at a makeshift memorial for Buenrostro for being in possession of AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifles. On Monday night, a 13-year-old boy attending a rosary for the slain teenager was shot in the foot outside St. Anthony’s Church on 16th Avenue, in an Oakland neighborhood miles away.

Those responsible for the church shooting were believed to be gang members upset that the mourners, many of them members of a rival gang, were in their territory, said Officer Roland Holmgren, Oakland police spokesman.

The shooting occurred as many of the 200 mourners milled about outside the church, drinking alcoholic beverages and wearing T-shirts advocating the killing of police officers, Holmgren said.

“These are not idle threats,” he said.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Jesus Nieto-Ruiz, deplored the recent bloodshed, saying it was the outgrowth of a dysfunctional society.

“More than ever, kids and parents everybody need to work together,” he said. “Hatred just builds more hatred. Violence builds more violence.”

In an effort to avoid more violence, a scheduled memorial at the church Tuesday morning was canceled, as was a Tuesday afternoon protest and march that had been organized by community members outraged by the police shooting.

“It was terrible,” said Margo Sanders, 55, who lives in the neighborhood. “It didn’t have to go down like that. That kid didn’t have to die.”

The pain was evident Tuesday on the face of Jose Luis Buenrostro, who declined to comment about his son’s death while surrounded by relatives and friends at his home on 77th Avenue, just around the corner from where the shooting occurred.

Holmgren said police understand the community’s feelings but questioned whether the community understands the realities of the situation.

“We certainly understand the validity of the emotional damage, the hurt that happens not only to a family, but friends, neighbors and the community when a situation like this occurs, ” Holmgren said of Buenrostro’s shooting. “And it’s an unfortunate, tragic event that we were forced into by a young man’s bad decision.

“I think a small, emotionally attached and charged group of family members and maybe misguided youth don’t want to come to the realization that the 15-year-old was keeping (company) with some bad apples.”

Holmgren said he believed a poll of residents across the city would show that most people understood the difficulties the officers faced. Police have increased patrols throughout the city to “act in a preventative way and be a visible presence to quell any possible violence and to try to dislodge any ill feelings or any retaliatory strikes,” he said.

On Tuesday, a line of motorcycle officers rode past the spot where Buenrostro was killed, and an Oakland police helicopter hovered overhead.

Dottie Harrell, 72, who knew Buenrostro and whose home is at the corner where he was shot, said many people remain suspicious of the police and don’t trust them. “They are trained to shoot regardless of whatever you do.”

She said of Buenrostro’s death: “That was wrong.”

Henry Medina, 50, the stepfather of Buenrostro’s ex-girlfriend, agreed. “Jose was a good kid.”

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