Photos by Henrietta J. Burroughs
These photos from left show the start of the march on Bay Road, Sioreli's mother
in the center photo in red between two women who are weeping and Mayor Carlos
Romero and East Palo Alto Police Chief Ron Davis listening to the chants of the
marchers. Click each image to enlarge the photo.
Hundreds of people filled the pews of the St. Francis of Assisi Church in East Palo Alto this past Monday to say farewell to 6-year-old Sioreli Torres Zamora. Sioreli was struck by a car and killed on Wednesday, September 28, as she attempted to cross Bay Road at the intersection of Gloria Way, while walking to school.
But Sioreli’s sad and somber funeral service masked the underlying discontent and dismay that is being expressed by many East Palo Alto residents.
This discontent was very visible when concerned members of the Latino community marched from Gloria Way and Bay Road to the East Palo Alto Police Department last Friday to demand that there be justice for Sioreli, who was killed while walking just a few feet in front of her mother and her two younger sisters.
Before their march began, community members gathered along the sideway at the very spot where Sioreli was killed. They stood in front of the small display that was arranged to commemorate her young life. As they waited for others to join them, some of the marchers discussed the details of the accident.
They expressed their dismay that Alisha Whiteparker, the driver who struck the child, was not arrested immediately after the accident. They wanted to know why she was not given any tests to determine whether she was under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. They mentioned the traffic citations that she had been given for past driving violations and they voiced their suspicions that she was being protected by at least one officer that she knew in the East Palo Alto Police Department because she is a school teacher, who also resides and teaches in the city.
These questions and similar concerns only added to the anger that was felt by those who had gathered in front of Sioreli’s memorial display. By the time the march actually got underway, many in the crowd were determined that they would get answers from the East Palo Alto Police to explain why there seemed to be an apparent miscarriage of justice.
What many in the crowd might not have known was that, while they were making preparations to march, Davis and Carlos Romero, East Palo Alto’s Mayor, were meeting with the Zamora family to express their condolences and to let the family know that an investigation into the fatal accident was underway.
It didn’t seem to matter to those who were organizing the march that they had not obtained a permit from the city or from the police to conduct their march. Nevertheless, the crowd lined up in front of a row of cars that halted to observe the stop sign at Gloria Way. The marchers seemed unmindful that the traffic had begun to back up behind them as they completely blocked all traffic headed towards University Avenue.
Some of them carried posters with Sioreli’s picture and fliers that said, “Please help us…We want justice for this little angel." The marchers included parents who were holding the hands of their children. They walked along Bay Road past University Avenue.
On their way to the East Palo Alto Police Department, which is located on Demeter Street, they even passed the apartment where the Zamora family lived. They chanted all the way that they wanted Justice for Sioreli. Once in front of the police department, the chanting intensified as the crowd demanded to speak with Ron Davis, East Palo Alto’s Chief of Police, who was not at the scene.
Marcia Perez, an East Palo Alto resident, who is an immigration attorney, demanded that Sgt. R. Rhodes, who arrived on the scene, speak for the police department in apologizing to Sioreli’s mother and to the crowd for the child’s death. Rhodes said that he could not speak for the department and he told those who gathered around him that Davis was on his way.
Both Davis and Romero arrived within the half hour and were met by the chants and all of the concerns that were expressed on the street in front of the memorial before the march began.
Given the emotionally heated scene, Davis said that he could not hold a public forum on the spot to answer the questions that were being raised. He said that he would speak privately to a handful of the marchers inside the police department.
Davis then went inside the building, where he was joined by Romero, Sioreli’s mother Guadelope Zamora, Perez, several other marchers and three local pastors who had arrived on the scene: Rev. Paul Bains, Rev. Joe Prado and Rev. Shereen Champion. Members of the media were excluded from the meeting.
But when it was over, those who attended the meeting joined hands in front of the railing at the top of the stairs leading to the building. They faced the crowd in a show of unity during which Davis assured everyone that there would be a complete investigation.
Perez said that the show of unity was orchestrated and she said that she refused to hold hands.
Later, when asked about the group’s complaints, Davis said that his department is conducting a proper investigation. He said that the car involved in the accident was properly processed with measurements taken to determine the rate or level of impact, the damage to the car, the car’s position and speed. He said that his department is continuing to interview witnesses and once all of the evidence is collected, it will be turned over to the district attorney who will determine if any charges will be filed.
As to the march, Romero said that the community has every right to voice its concerns in a legitimate way. But, he said, “This is way too early to pass judgment on whether the investigation was properly carried out.”
Little Sioreli will be buried this week, but the questions surrounding her death remain. The community must now await the results of the police investigation examining the circumstances of her death.
In the meantime, the East Palo Alto City Council will hear a report on the traffic patterns on Bay Road at its next meeting on October 4. The meeting is scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m. in the council chambers at 2415 University Avenue in East Palo Alto.