Sunday, February 21, 2016
On February 13, presidential candidate Donald Trump, who last night won the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, released a television ad that attacks "illegal" immigration. Trump uses on the 2008 shooting of 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw, a black high schools student, by an undocumented gang member to arouse anti-immigrant sentiment and develop support from the black population in South Carolina, where the ad was aired. “A wonderful young man, Jamiel Shaw Jr., whose father has become a friend of mine, was shot in the face for no reason by an illegal immigrant,” Trump said in a statement accompanying the ad.
The report from the Los Angeles Police Department says that Shaw was walking home at 8:40PM when two Latino men jumped out of a car and approached him. They asked him what gang he belonged to, and when he did not respond they shot him. Pedro Espinoza, a 23-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico, was convicted of first-degree murder of Shaw. He was sentenced to death in 2012. Espinoza was released from Los Angeles County Jail the day before he killed Shaw, and the Shaw family blames in large part the “sanctuary city” policies followed by Los Angeles for Shaw’s death.
The ad, which gives a brief summary of the shooting before broadcasting general anti-immigrant and pro-Trump rhetoric through the voice of Jamiel Shaw’s father, seems to convey that 1) Espinoza embodies the criminal disposition that all or most undocumented immigrants bring with them to the United States 2) the shooting of Shaw was random, or at best possibly race-related, and 3) the sanctuary city policies of Los Angeles facilitated Shaw’s death and will continue to allow violence by undocumented immigrants. However, the ad is misleading, if not outright mistaken, on all three of these messages.
First, Espinoza’s life and immigration history cuts against the argument Trump attempts to make in his ad – that immigrants, including Espinoza, come into the United States illegally to commit crimes, and commit crimes at a higher rate than American citizens. In fact, the opposite is true. Espinoza was not someone who entered the United States a year or two before committing a crime. He did not re-enter the United States after being deported or held in prison. Rather, he came to the United States by the will of his parents when he was three years old and has remained in the country since he entered twenty years ago. He grew up in the United States - his involvement with gang activity originated here. His perceived need to inflict harm on another person developed while he was raised, went to school, and associated with people in the United States. Further, a study from the Immigrant Policy Center found that “incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants,” according to the report. This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population.” Thus, the generalization Trump attempts to make about Espinoza and all illegal immigrants is unsupported.
Second, though at the time of the trial the prosecution and many others maintained that the shooting was motivated by race, now many are altering that original conclusion. Much evidence exists that Shaw was targeted for gang related reasons, that his death was not a random act of racial hatred. At trial, the prosecution was successful in suppressing evidence that linked Shaw to a street gang. This evidence includes information from his cell phone, pictures, social media posts, and clothing that Shaw was wearing when he was killed. And, information from ear witness Chrystale Miles, who was on the phone with Shaw at the time of the shooting, indicates that there were gang references made in the conversation between Shaw and Espinoza. According to this evidence and other sources, Shaw was in fact a Blood gang member and the shooting was the result of a gang rivalry between Espinoza’s and Shaw’s neighborhoods.
Notably, gang expert Alex Alonso, along with Project Hope’s Najee Ali and LA Times reporter Annette Stark, all people who researched extensively into the circumstances surrounding the shooting, believe that Shaw’s murder was purely gang related - that he was shot because the shooter believed he was a member of the Rollin 20′’s Neighborhood Bloods, a Blood subset that was in great tension with 18th Street, the gang to which Espinoza belonged.
Third, the status of Los Angeles as a "sanctuary city" likely had less to do with Shaw’s death than proposed by the Shaw family and Trump. The term “sanctuary city” generally refers to cities in the United States that restrict the use of funds or resources to enforce the federal immigration laws. Under such laws and policies, police officers in some jurisdictions will not ask people they come into contact with about their immigration status. A sanctuary city also might decline to hold an arrested undocumented immigrant to be turned over to Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The Shaw family contends that Special Order 40 resulted in Espinoza being out on the street and able to kill Shaw. Special Order 40 is a police mandate implemented in 1979 by the Los Angeles Police Department. It prevents officers from questioning people for the sole purpose of determining their immigration status. The Shaw family reasons that under Special Order40, Espinoza was not questioned about his immigration status, but rather released from county jail despite his status, the day before he killed Shaw. However, this reasoning is misguided. Espinoza had been arrested by Culver City police and then later released by the Los Angeles County Jail. Those two jurisdictions are separate from the City of Los Angeles and therefore were not subject to Special Order 40. Although it is unclear why Espinoza was released despite his undocumented status, no formal sanctuary city policy provides an explanation.
In 2015, the Los Angeles Police Department announced changes it would make to its policies related to undocumented immigrants, largely in response to the killing of Kate Steinle by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco. Under the changes, local officials will collaborate with ICE agents to identify immigrants suspected to be in the U.S. illegally and honor detainer notifications.
While the facts surrounding the shooting of Jamiel Shaw are still not completely certain, it is very clear that Donald Trump’s ad encapsulating the event as an anti-illegal immigrant message is both unfounded and misleading.
Nicole Zanardi is a law student at UC Davis School of Law.