Latino leaders say bold action needed after East High School shooting
Leaders of Des Moines’ Latino community said they grieve for all the families affected by Monday’s fatal shooting outside East High School.
That includes the families of Jose Lopez, who was shot at age 15 in what police say was a targeted drive-by shooting. The two East High School students fighting for their lives in the hospital after being caught in the gunfire.
It also includes the pain of the six teenagers charged with murder.
“We must recognize that the root cause of violence is inequality. And communities like ours have been affected by inequality and trauma for generations,” said Marina Corona, leader of the anti-violence movement of Iowa and executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, at a press conference outside East High School Friday morning.
Continued: Victim identified, 6 teenagers charged with murder in fatal shooting outside East High School
Of those affected by the shooting, most are Latinos, including Lopez and some of the suspects in her murder, community members said.
Des Moines’ Latino community ‘survives on the fringes’
According to state data, 15.6% of Des Moines’ population is Latino or Hispanic.
Although Latinos make up the city’s largest minority population, Corona said her community is often ignored. Persistent inequalities have left her community “surviving on the margins”, she said.
“How can we fight violence in our communities when our communities are under-resourced, when our young Latinx people are being ignored, when our families are struggling to pay rent, to stay afloat, to find affordable housing, to have access to health care, struggling to earn a living wage? How can we fight violence when our community is surviving in these conditions?” says Corona.
An estimated 60% of Latinos in Des Moines have earned at least a high school diploma in Des Moines, compared to nearly 88% of the city’s total population, according to state data. And only 7.7% of Latino adults in Des Moines have at least a bachelor’s degree, while about 27% overall of all adults in Des Moines have at least a bachelor’s degree.
In 2021, Latinos or Hispanics had the lowest Des Moines public school graduation rate among racial and ethnic groups in the district at 69.6%. The district-wide graduation rate was 75.2%.
Continued: Iowa’s 2021 high school graduation rate is dropping. Here’s how to find rates for your district.
Economically, the average income for Latinos in the city is $47,183, compared to $53,859 citywide. And 16% of the city’s Latino population live below the poverty line, compared to 15.5% below the city’s total population living below the poverty line.
“There is a history of exclusion, intentional marginalization and legal violence inflicted on the Latino community. These systems that were supposedly put in place to support families and serve as safety nets for families and communities failed us. They failed the families involved in this tragedy. The leaders of the state government failed this family by ignoring the needs of the Latino community,” Corona said.
Latino community: Investing in policies that allow young people and families to thrive
Other speakers at the press conference included community organizer Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz, Joe Henry of the United Latin American Citizens League of Iowa, Orlando Fuentes of Al Éxito and Jalesha Johnson of the Black Liberation Movement. from Des Moines.
Each underscored the need for bold action and leadership to restrict access to guns and the need for policies that address the inequalities faced by Latin American communities. They said public schools need mental health resources and advocacy and cultural resources within the district, especially East High School, where nearly half of its student population is Latino or Hispanic.
And they all spoke of empathy for the six local teenagers who are each charged with murder and attempted murder: Octavio Lopez, 17; Nyang Chamdual, 14; Manuel Buezo, 16; Romeo Perdomo, 16; Alex Perdomo, 15; and Henry Valladares-Amaya, 17.
“You can’t put out fire with fire. You can’t solve gun violence with more guns. You can’t save lives by taking lives. Blaming six teenagers as adults takes lives and rights and freedoms,” Johnson said, reading from a statement prepared by Des Moines. BLM and the school district’s Racial Equity and Justice Team.
Continued: Six teens acted ‘in concert’ to shoot 15-year-old outside East High in Des Moines, criminal complaints allege
Police said Jose Lopez was not a student at East High at the time of his death, and district officials said they could not confirm if he had ever been enrolled, due to privacy laws .
As for the suspects, Chamdual is a freshman and Buezo is a junior at Hoover High School. Romeo Perdomo had attended North High School and Valladares-Amaya had attended Hoover, but are no longer enrolled, according to the district. Octaevio Lopez is not registered in the district and Alex Perdomo’s status in the district could not be confirmed, according to district spokeswoman Amanda Lewis.
Endí Montalvo-Martinez, who graduated from East High School last year, told the Des Moines Register that he saw the need for better policy within the district that emphasizes meeting the needs of the district’s growing Latino population. But it’s not just about schools, he said.
“Gun violence is very complicated,” Montalvo-Martinez said. “Where has the school system failed (the six suspects)? But also where has the state dropped them? Why did they have access to these weapons? Where did the city drop their parents so they could take care of their children?
These issues need to be addressed and the voices of the Latino community — including young Latinos — need to be heard, Montalvo-Martinez said.