Leaders in the Des Moines Latino community called for more resources, more attention, and more support for the community during a Friday press conference to discuss a shooting that happened outside of East High School Monday afternoon.
Six teenagers have been arrested in connection to the shooting that killed 15-year-old Jose David Lopez, and left two girls, a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old, hospitalized.
Friday’s press conference was hosted by the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa (LULAC).
“We must recognize that the root causes of violence is inequity, and communities like ours have been impacted by inequity and trauma for generations,” said Executive Director of Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence Dr. Maria Corona.
“There’s a history of exclusion, intentional marginalization, and legal violence inflicted upon the Latino community and other BIPOC communities. These systems that have been supposedly set up to support families and to act as a safety net for families and communities have failed us. They failed the families involved in this tragedy. The government leaders in the state have failed this family by ignoring the needs of the Latino community.”
Corona also called out the underfunding of public schools and attempts by the Legislature to support and promote private schools over public schools.
Other guests at the event included Forward Latino, Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Al Exito, Iowa Migrant Movement for Justices, the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement, and Iowa Coalition for Collective Change.
Orlando Fuentes of Al Exito said more mental health counselors and better representation for the community are the best way to begin tackling issues that lead to events such as Monday’s shooting.
“The lack of representation that is here in Des Moines Public Schools, the lack of support that is out there for Latino students is one of the biggest factors to this issue,” he said.
Too often Latino students are overlooked and they need Latinx staff to support them, Fuentes said.
“Getting the school board to learn, to prioritize how to hire staff that reflect the demographics of the students, that is something that needs to happen and that’s something that’s been overlooked for far too long,” he said.
Jalesha Johnson of the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement said that calls for putting resource officers back in the schools was the wrong call. A student-led movement persuaded the Des Moines School District to end its school resource officer contract with the Des Moines Police Department.
“It’s going to inflict more anxiety and more fear into the community,” Johnson said. “And we know that when a community is filled with anxiousness and fear that is when more violence occurs. Like people have been saying it’s an understaffed issue. It’s an impoverished issue. And we know that when young people are not being supported in the way that is necessary for a child to learn and grow. Then they often do things that hurt other people.”
The shooting happened Monday during a shift change. Des Moines police said that helped them respond quickly to the situation and get the school locked down.
Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz, an organizer for Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice and a candidate for Iowa Senate, said he’s glad important conversations are happening but wishes it didn’t always happen after a tragedy.
“We have every opportunity to create these spaces and to be with each other, to invite families, invite families that maybe don’t speak English, to be a part of the process to be a part of the conversation, to be a part of these solutions,” he said. “But what we’re hearing is that a lot of these families don’t feel like they are a part of the community they don’t feel like they’re part of that conversation.”
Corona said having four of the six shooters, all teenagers, be charged with first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder as adults is not the solution and it won’t bring the healing the community needs. The cases against the youngest two will start in juvenile court but could move up to adult court.
“How do we address violence in our communities when our communities are under-resourced, when our Latinx youth are ignored, when our families are struggling to make their rent, to stay afloat, struggling to find affordable housing, struggling to have access to health care, struggling to have a livable wage?” she asked.
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