LONG BEACH - On Jan. 7, Long Beach police shot and injured a burglary suspect named Hor Sokha. It took 10 days before family was allowed to see the 22-year-old man in the hospital.
This has angered many in the community who believe the city’s police department is prone to excessive force.
Protesters on Sunday gathered outside St. Mary Medical Center, where Hor Sokha is in critical condition.
They gathered to demand clear answers about what happened the night of the shooting. And to demand better treatment of suspects by the police. They stood on the street corner outside the hospital, chanting slogans and cheering as passing cars honked in support.
“As of right now, especially with this case, we’ve seen just the inhumane way that they treat the Cambodian community and most of the communities of color in Long Beach,” Stevie Merino, a community organizer with Answer LA, told VOA Khmer. “And I think there’s very little respect,” she said. “They automatically criminalize people in our community—they call them gangsters or criminals or thugs—and with the family they didn’t let them see him for 10 days, and when they first found out that he was shot, they said, ‘We’ll let you know when he dies.’”
The Long Beach Police Department said in a statement detectives discovered Hor Sokha during a search for burglary suspects in an alley near Cambodia Town on the evening of Jan. 7. As police approached, they saw he was carrying a gun, and he was then shot, according to the statement. Hor Sokha will be charged with burglary and weapons charges, the department said.
Long Beach police officers were involved in seven shootings in 2012, according to department statistics. There have been two officer-involved shootings in Long Beach in the past two weeks.
Police say they are now investigating the latest shooting. But the demonstrators said Sunday the numbers are too high. And they say the police are not sensitive to the families of victims.
Hor Sokha’s mother, Yorn Eang, told VOA Khmer that police did not let her see him for 10 days after he was shot.
“I was running around like crazy,” she said on the sidelines of Sunday’s demonstration. “I didn’t want to live. Alive or dead, I wanted to know. You shot my son, and you don’t tell me where he went or what’s happening to him.”
Yorn Eang said now she can only visit her son once a week, for a maximum 30 minutes. She said she hopes the police will allow her to see him more often. And she said she hopes the police learn something from this incident.
“Don’t shoot like that,” she said. “Just shoot the legs or arms, and then prosecute them according to what they’ve done. Don’t shoot to kill. I hope this helps the next person after my son.”