BARSTOW, Calif. — “I knew Diante, knew the family. He was a good kid. The police had him, he couldn’t go anywhere. There was no need to do anything. They shot to kill,” Marcella Ezpinosa told members of the Socialist Workers Party when they knocked on her door April 21. “That’s happening with the police all over the country.”
Diante Yarber drove with his cousin and two friends to Walmart in the morning April 5. The Barstow Police Department says they got a report of a “suspicious vehicle” and honed in on Yarber’s Mustang. When they were through, they had fired some 30 shots into the car, killing Yarber and seriously wounding his friend Mariana Tafoya. Yarber, 26, was a father of three young girls, ages 9, 7 and 1.
An autopsy shows Yarber died of asphyxiation, choking on his own blood, Lee Merritt, his family’s attorney, told a press conference April 23. Witnesses in the parking lot told Merritt, he said, that “at no time did they see law enforcement attempt to render aid or resuscitate or help Diante Yarber at all.”
The police claimed he rammed two of the police cars that were surrounding his, but family members and their attorney say a video since released by a bystander shows the car was moving slowly, backing up, when the cops opened fire. When his car was returned to the family, it had no dents or other evidence it had hit anything. The shooting and video have garnered national attention for this Mohave Desert town, where Blacks are 14.6 percent of the population. Yarber was African-American.
“This could have been my son or grandchildren,” said Ezpinoza. She said that was why she joined 100 of Yarber’s family members, friends and others who marched to the Barstow Police station April 10, carrying homemade signs saying, “We need answers” and “Justice for Butchie.”
Tressle White, a 24-year-old warehouse worker and former neighbor and friend of Yarber, said in a phone interview that she helped organize the march. “You hear about these things every day, but to hear that happened to him, and how everything went down, I felt I needed to do something and the march is a step to demand justice,” she said. “The police aren’t saying anything, not releasing footage, won’t talk to anybody about what happened. Walmart won’t release the footage they have. They gave it to the police but won’t give it to the attorneys for the families.”
White said she was preparing for another march April 25 from Walmart to the police station.
In what has become standard operating procedure for the cops, they went on a campaign to smear Yarber. They released his record and said he was a suspect in a stolen vehicle case and had a long history of crime.
“My son and Butchie were best friends. He called me the night before the shooting, knowing I was sick, to wish me well,” Felecia Taylor said. “People here are outraged that they left the body in the car for seven hours. This keeps happening and cops get away with it. This is way out of control.”
“The things people are being killed for are minor, a broken tail light, having a cellphone in your hand and not dropping it,” Essie Jackson, a longtime civil rights and NAACP activist, told the Militant. “But if the police say, ‘we feared for our life,’ it’s OK.”
The San Bernardino County sheriff’s department, which is responsible for investigating deaths caused by cops here, has a record that speaks for itself. In November 2015 Nathaniel Pickett II was shot and killed by one of their sheriffs. Jackson was one of those who fought for charges to be filed against Kyle Woods, the cop who shot him.
Although the district attorney refused to indict Woods, claiming the shooting was justified, a jury in a civil case filed by his parents found the facts of the case so egregious it awarded $33.5 million in punitive and compensatory damages to them.
“My son did not commit a crime. He was not armed. He was 100 feet from his front door. All he wanted to do was go home,” Pickett’s mother, Dominic Archibald, told the media. “Woods, a deputy with less than two years on the force, beat him and then shot him, claiming later he had hopped a fence, fled, and assaulted the officer.”
But video evidence and testimony gave lie to all that, ABC-TV Channel 7 said, including proving Woods’ claim that Pickett was high on methamphetamine to be false.
The sheriff’s department has also paid out nearly $4 million in federal lawsuits and settled a class action lawsuit in the last several years stemming from abuse of prisoners at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.