Photos by Asia Morris.
The mural Too Many Names, by renowned graffiti artist Saber, on view at the Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA) depicts the names of the 500-plus people killed by police in the United States since January 2015. Painted over a gray, barely visible U.S. flag, the seemingly quickly scrawled black writing on the wall blends as a layer behind the name, “Hector,” painted boldly in blue.
“I had an affinity toward Hector because he was killed tagging,” artist Saber told the Post. He said even though they’d never met, “That could have happened to me and it has almost happened to me and it has happened to my friends. So we had that bond in the sense that we did something that we loved and got killed doing it."
The LBPD officer-involved shooting of 19-year-old Hector Morejon on April 23 is an incident that composes just a fraction of a fraction of those affected by police violence nationwide, but on Friday, July 31, a small gathering, including activists and family members of Hector, Donte Jordan and Feras Morad, all three victims of police shootings, announced at Bluff Park the official launch of Families for Justice, an organization founded to support “families who have experienced murder, violence or harassment by the Long Beach Police Department.”
Too Many Names, part of the LBMA’s current exhibition Vitality and Verve: Transforming the Urban Landscape, may just be the loudest piece in the room. So loud and so big, in fact, that those viewing it are at risk of walking by without wondering what it's really about, or even realizing that Hector's name is front and center. But Ruben Morejon, Hector's brother, described the piece easily.
"When you're up front you can't see it... until you step back,” he said. “It symbolizes something big because this is something that happens in society nowadays. People tend to make it a statistic and they are not aware that they're taking someone's life. This is a way to bring awareness that this is something that needs to change, that we are all human beings.”
Activists and family members who gathered at the LBMA for the viewing of Saber’s work, walked the few blocks to Bluff Park to announce the organization’s inception because museum officials requested that interviews be held outside the institution's walls.
A museum employee passed out a statement to the press emphasizing that the release issued July 31 that announced the gathering of families outside the museum was not approved by the LBMA and does not reflect the museum's views.
"However, like all cultural organizations, we respect the right of freedom of expression," the release states. "We are proud of our exhibition Vitality & Verve: Transforming the Urban Landscape and the contributions of all the participating artists including the artist Saber. LBMA respects all artists in their visual and artistic expression.”
Families for Justice was founded by Pamela Fields (mother of Donte Jordan), Ruben Morejon and Kareem Morad (cousin of Feras Morad). The new organization held its first event on Saturday, June 13, 2015 with a planned demonstration in downtown Long Beach, where supporters of Feras Morad and Hector Morejon confronted Long Beach Police officers on Pine Avenue.
Fields, whose son, Donte Jordan, was killed by police gunfire in November 2013 and who spoke out passionately at a January 2015 town Hall Meeting with LBPD regarding her son’s death, spoke to the Post about Too Many Names.
“It means a lot to me that my son’s name is up there, too. I don’t know how long it’s going to be there, but I wish it would stay so that I could go and spend some time [there] instead of going over where my son was murdered with those bullet holes[...]" She said. Her opinion was that the work was a good thing, "A great way to start."
“It’s about families supporting families and us being at the forefront because we're the ones who are affected the most, the families," she said. "No justice, no peace.”
Ruben Morejon became understandably emotional when describing his brother’s passing, saying.
“My brother was unarmed, he was just a teenager, 19 years old, you know, just trying to live life,” he said. He described Saber’s mural as just one small piece of the larger discussion that needs to happen, that is currently happening.
Saber said his artistic background has given him a voice. For example, instead of using his work to show off just how talented a creative he can be, he'd rather use his work as a platform to discuss the greater issues.
"Writing on an abandoned building doesn't merit killing somebody, taking their life," Saber said. "I think the way the laws are structured and the way the system is structured it's not—there's no empathy, there's no room for empathy."
Regardless of race, creed, or economic situation, Saber believes killing in the aforementioned situations isn't right, "plain and simple."
"We want to have a good relationship with the police force community because they're supposed to protect and serve and keep us from the bad guys," Saber said. He believes that if empathy and de-escalation were better implemented in police training programs “a lot of this wouldn’t have happened.”
LBPD spokeswoman Marlene Arrona emailed the Post when the department was asked to comment on the situation.
The LBPD continues to investigate both the Morejon and Morad incidents, according to Arrona’s email, while both the officers who were involved with each shooting are working full duty and are currently assigned to the Investigations Bureau.
“Every use of force has an impact on everyone involved," the email stated. "Officers are regularly de-escalating volatile situations, many of which do not involve use of force. Training in this, and many other law enforcement topics, is conducted regularly and additional training is proposed in the FY16 budget.”
According to this June 2015 article written by the Post’s Public Safety Reporter, Stephanie Rivera, other steps are also being taken by the LBPD to reduce the number of “use-of-force” incidents, including implementing body-worn camera equipment for officers.
Ruben Morejon stood with his son at Bluff Park, surrounded by friends, families, activists and reporters. He said it was not only as an attempt to justify his brother's passing, but also to “give strength and show solidarity for all the families that have lost a loved one due to police brutality."
“The people united will never be divided, you know," he said. "We stand strong.”
For more information about Families for Justice, click here.