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Author’s Note:  This post was written prior to attending the “Million Hoodie March”, organized by the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.  The author does not condone some of the behavior that took place during the protests, and will be posting commentary on that shortly.  

January 1, 2008; Orlando, FL- Teenagers are often known for being sullen, obnoxious, and fickle creatures who prefer to stay as far away from home and their families as possible.  At 15 years old, Luis Rivera Ortega wasn’t like that all.  A happy go lucky kid who was always smiling and always had a joke for everyone, he dreamed of being a professional basketball player and worked hard in school to get good grades so he could go on to college.  An extremely hard worker, like his mother Lisa Ortega, Luis even found jobs to do for neighbors and family members to earn money; not so he could buy things for himself, but so he could get Christmas gifts for his mother and younger siblings.

On January 1, 2008, all of that was taken away from us. 

Luis and Hector Ruiz Ortega (cousin) decided to go play basketball.  In a split second, the world we once knew was forever changed.  As Luis and Hector made their way to the basketball court, Luis on his bike, an out of control Dodge Neon came flying out of nowhere, hitting Luis and killing him.  The driver of the Dodge Neon was Robert Roedell, a notorious street racer, who was street racing down Forsyth Road, a two lane road.  Troopers estimated that he was going double the speed limit, if not more.  His car was equipped for racing, with illegal racing slick tires and a roll cage.

Robert Roedell claimed that he wasn’t racing and that he swerved to avoid a “Puerto Rican b—-“ who swerved out in front of him; he said that Luis was “on drugs and high” and “bikes don’t belong on the sidewalk”.

Luis was neither drunk nor high, and cars do not belong on the sidewalk.  Even if Roedell wasn’t racing, he still shouldn’t have been doing double or more the speed limit, let alone on a two lane road.   The witness testimonies and Roedell’s car lead our family to believe that Robert Roedell was racing.  On February 29, 2012, four years after the “accident”- rather the murder- of my cousin, a jury agreed with us, finding Robert Roedell guilty of vehicular homicide.  He will be sentenced next month and the maximum sentence that he can receive is 15 years- a year for every year of Luis’ young life; although he should be getting a life sentence, because that is what our family has gotten.

Even if Robert Roedell does receive the maximum sentence of 15 years, which I hope that he does, he knows one day he’ll get out.  He knows he’ll see the light of day again and he’ll have a second chance, realistically, a third one.  But us, we have no ending in sight.  There is never going to be a day for us that the warden comes and unlocks the prison of grief, sadness, and pain, and says “Hey, you did your time, you’re free!”

I see so many similarities between the Trayvon Martin case and the case of Luis Rivera Ortega:  similarities in the blatantly racist remarks made about Luis and Trayvon, similarities in the behaviors of the killers, similarities in the victim blaming by the killers, and similarities in the policies and procedures of the State of Florida that nearly allowed Roedell to roam free, and threaten to allow George Zimmerman to remain a free man as well.

Initially, Robert Roedell wasn’t arrested and police were investigating.  We were shocked and outraged, as day after day went by, and there was still no arrest; especially since Roedell has been involved in a fatal street racing accident before.  In 2003, he was investigated for racing a car that crashed into a steamroller, killing the driver of the steamroller.  He was never charged, and allowed to go free.

He killed again.

In the meantime, Googling any information about the case brought me to tears- not just because it told the story of Luis’ death sentence in black and white, but because of some of the horrible comments that were made- not just by the killer, but the public as well.

Like a young, black, Trayvon Martin wearing a hoodie is the poster child of a criminal in the minds of America, the name Luis Rivera Ortega was a poster child for an illegal immigrant; a “Puerto Rican b—-“, who shouldn’t be in America, the same way Robert Roedell thought a bike shouldn’t be on the sidewalk.  Luis, who not only was of Puerto Rican descent, making him a citizen regardless, was also born here.  He was not a hoodlum, not on drugs, and not high; like Trayvon Martin, he was a good student who had never been in trouble in school or with the law, and was well liked by his teachers and peers.

Like Robert Roedell, George Zimmerman had a long history of displaying troubling behaviors and warning signs before committing murder.  As a mental health professional, I find both of these men to exhibit a dangerous sense of narcissism, evidenced through their statements and reinforced by their behaviors, that allows them to think they are above the law; this grandiose sense of self becomes even more dangerous after their delusions of grandeur are validated by being allowed to commit outright homicides and walk free.  Is this whom we want to empower?  Is this the message that law enforcement and policy officials want to send to the public?

In the case of Luis, although the Florida Highway Patrol recommended charges to be filed, the State did not immediately pursue these charges.  The State was also incredibly lenient on Zimmerman on multiple occasions when he displayed aggressive, violent, and anti-social behaviors.

The Sanford Police Department was also lenient on an officer who failed to arrest Justin Collison, the son of a Sanford Police officer who feloniously assaulted a homeless man- on tape- in 2010.  This officer is one of the same officers who responded to the execution of Trayvon Martin.

Officers who act in a negligent manner and fail to serve and protect are not worthy of the great responsibility or the great honor that being an officer- a public servant- upholds.  Perhaps the Sanford Police Department sees it differently; perhaps they believe that they were serving and protecting.  My questions to them, is exactly who were you serving and protecting?  One of your own?

I respect the underlying idea of camaraderie and unity that lies behind the “good old boy” system; however, we need to extend that respect and camaraderie to all human beings, not just those that we immediately identify as similar to ourselves.  We need to cultivate an acceptance for others that are different from ourselves, so that we don’t have to accept the horrible tragedies that occur because of a perceived difference- so be it age, sexual preference, skin color, legal status or country of origin- so be it anything.

The Captain of the Sanford Police Department at the time of the Collison scandal was Jerry Hargrett, who said “We’re not out to protect anyone’s child,” denying allegations that the investigation was handled improperly.

Two years later, the words of Hargrett are hauntingly true in the case of Trayvon Martin, fading into silence, just as Trayvon’s final pleas for help before George Zimmerman fired the single shot that ended his life, in what I believe to be cold blood.

Who was being protected?  George Zimmerman, the aspiring police officer; or Trayvon Martin, a young black man from Miami in a hoodie?

George Zimmerman should not have been carrying a weapon while serving as the community’s neighborhood watch, nor should he have given pursuit.  He should have been educated about giving pursuit by law enforcement officers the multiple times that he has been documented doing so in the past.  Much the way law enforcement officers have laws that govern their ability to give chase, there should be guidelines for civilians as well.

Zimmerman was advised not to pursue by the 911 dispatcher.  However, he did it anyway, which tells me that he was not in fear for his life, therefore, as far as I am concerned, his claim of self defense under the “Stand Your Ground” law becomes null and void.

The only self defense I see here on behalf of George Zimmerman is the defense of his ego, sense of superiority, need to have the last word, and abuse of power; things that are often at play in the characteristics of domestic violence perpetrators and has played out consistently in Zimmerman’s history, right down to filing his own restraining order against a woman who filed one against him, alleging domestic violence, and his pursuit of another driver during a road rage incident, in which the other driver referred to Zimmerman as “irate”.

I implore the State of Florida, public officials, law enforcement officials, and citizens to examine these infrastructures that have allowed the senseless slayings of Luis Rivera Ortega and Trayvon Martin to happen, and I urge that what is best practice be put into immediate action.  Taking the passive road in prosecuting criminal action in the state of Florida has done nothing but allow two dangerous men, Robert Roedell and George Zimmerman, to remain armed and dangerous, on the roads and in the streets with our children.  Luis Rivera Ortega or Trayvon Martin could easily be your sons; your daughters.  Take action as if they are your sons, because as the old saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child”.  We need to take back our communities, not with violence, but with a show of solidarity; a unity.

A proactive, nonviolent approach and a sense of unity perpetuated change within our community after Luis was murdered.  We held rallies against street racing at the scene of the crime.  Concerned citizens like Eric Vey reached out to us out of the goodness of their hearts and helped keep Luis in the news.  Representative Darren Soto sponsored an amendment to Senate Bill 1992, advocating for more stringent penalties on street racing, which passed overwhelmingly in both the House and the Senate, and was ultimately signed into law.  Although we now have a “Luis Rivera Ortega Law”, we would much rather have our Luis.

It took a year before Robert Roedell was arrested, and four years to bring him to trial.  We have fought for this and we will fight this fight again for Trayvon Martin and his family.

We did not give up, even when it seemed hopeless; eventually our pleas for justice were answered with the arrest of Robert Roedell and a conviction; now hopefully with a maximum sentence.  With Trayvon’s case garnering national scrutiny and far more media attention than Luis’ case has received collectively, I remain hopeful that Zimmerman is arrested soon, because I truly believe in my heart and as a mental health professional that he is a dangerous man, who if given the opportunity, will kill again.

I ask the State of Florida if they want an even more dangerous Robert Roedell, version 2.0, with a gun, a concealed weapons permit, and a license to kill, on their hands.  I ask the State if they want the blood of Trayvon Martin, that was spilled out into their residential streets, on their hands.

I ask the same of the Sanford Police Department, who continues to stand by their claim that they handled their investigation correctly.

Our family and community did not let the State forget Luis Rivera, and the nation will not let the State forget Trayvon Martin.

On behalf of the family and friends of Luis Rivera Ortega, I offer our support and encouragement to the Martin family, as well as everyone who is rallying together to support them in a call for action.  Continue to handle this with such grace, strength, courage, and class, as you have.  We are with you.

Tonight, in New York City, there will be a million of us with hoodies on, in a “Million Hoodie March”.  I will be carrying a picture of Luis in his hoodie with me, and we will be over a million strong.

And we have two angels with us to bring the count to over a million and two:  Luis Rivera Ortega, and Trayvon Martin, who now wear wings- perhaps even hoodies.

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