LOS ANGELES—Artist Patrick Martinez wants Angelenos to remember the young men who were killed by police this year. And what better way to do that than by honoring their memories with a Day of Dead altar.
“America is being de-sensitized to these killings,” the L.A.-based artist told me after participating in a Día de los Muertos exhibit at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Organizers of the event commissioned Martinez’s altar along with others honoring Black Lives Matter and three unknown female migrants who died during their journey north.
Martinez’s altar allowed people to get up close to three of the young men killed by police this year. It featured a neon frame that gave his subjects an angelic glow. Neon signs are a telltale signature of Martinez’s artwork, which he says is inspired by storefronts across Southern California.
Martinez says he used neon on his Day of the Dead altar to attract people’s attention to the lives of his subjects, similar to how a shopkeeper would use neon to attract attention to their window displays.
The altar pays tribute to the lives of Jesse Romero, 14, killed by police in Boyle Heights in August; Jose Mendez, 16, killed by police in Boyle Heights in February; and Reginald Thomas, 35, who died after Pasadena Police officers tasered him in September.
“I’m just trying to show compassion,” Martinez said.
LAPD officers claim they shot the two teens because they were carrying weapons, while Pasadena cops say they tasered Thomas because he didn’t comply with orders.
Martinez says the most important thing is to humanize the victims, so that they aren’t dismissed as “gang members” or “troublemakers” who “deserved to die.”
“When you paint a portrait a 14-year-old, he looks like a 14-year-old,” Martinez said.
Local activists call the LAPD the most murderous police force in the country. In 2015 the LAPD killed 21 people—that’s more people any other law enforcement agency in the United States. Twelve of the people killed were Latino, four were black, four were white and one individual was Asian, according to data compiled by the LAPD.