Holiday Event Honors Kids Who Lost Parents, Siblings, Loved Ones to Police Violence

Playful shrieks of children filled the gym at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, where parents and older siblings helped the little ones decorate “ugly Christmas sweater” cookies. To one side of the room, kids lined up to get their photos taken with Santa Claus.

At a glance, the seasonal festivities belied the tragedies that brought everyone together for the weekend gathering. The Dec. 15 “Special Christmas From Heaven” aimed to put a smile on the faces of kids who lost loved ones to police use of force.

“These kids are always the kids that are forgotten in our community,” said Laurie Valdez, who spearheaded the event. “The children that are left fatherless because of police violence, nobody wants to acknowledge these children.”

Valdez knows about that particular kind of bereavement all too well. Her longtime partner, Antonio Guzman Lopez, was fatally shot by San Jose State police two blocks from St. Paul’s on Feb. 21, 2014. He was 38 years old. His son, Josiah, was 4 at the time.

Kids busied themselves with arts, crafts and cookie-decorating at the second-annual holiday bash.

To cope with her own grief and to make sense of the tragedy for her young children, Valdez set out to comfort similarly afflicted families. Through “Justice for Josiah,” her son’s namesake, the mother of two and member of civil rights group Silicon Valley De-Bug rallies activists to protest police brutality. She also advocates for expanding civilian oversight of law enforcement—both here in San Jose and throughout the state.

Many of the events hosted by “Justice for Josiah” are neither political nor public, but private affairs for grieving families. Many of them are like the one held over the weekend at San Jose’s St. Paul’s church on 10th Street, where families had a chance to draw strength from each other. Only this one comes during one of the most difficult times to grieve: the holidays, when the pain of loss becomes particularly acute.

The inaugural “Special Christmas From Heaven” was sponsored by Silicon Valley De-Bug, which garnered additional support this season from Mothers Quest and Respect Organ. A service group called Operation Christmas donated bicycles while 100 Black Men of America donated other gifts for each of the half-orphaned kids who participated in the event. Together We Stand, another nonprofit advocacy group, also chipped in to the toy drive, which grew from 32 recipients in 2017 to 72 this year.

The children represented at the holiday event have family members that have been killed by local police since 2014—and at least one since 2009. Valdez lamented the lack of institutional support—from public agencies and non-governmental community organizations—for families fractured by police killings.

“They should start investing in community healing in our schools to get grief counseling,” Valdez said. “These kids are traumatized, and as they get older, trauma does’t go away.”

According to an analysis by the Washington Post, police throughout the U.S. fatally kill something on the order of 1,000 people each year. In all of California, the same newspaper reported that 109 people were killed by police to date by Oct. 1, 2018. That’s 16 more compared to the same time last year.

Nannies Muñoz lost her brother, Jacob Dominguez, on Sept. 15, 2017, when San Jose police shot the 33-year-old to death after a drawn-out cat-and-mouse vehicle pursuit. Officials say he was suspected of criminal activity, including armed robbery and drive-by shootings. According to Muñoz, Dominguez was unarmed and shot in the back with his arms up in surrender.

Laurie Valdez (right) poses for a snapshot with one of the 72 kids who attended the holiday party.

His surviving young children, two sons and daughter, still don’t quite fathom what took their dad from them, Muñoz said. Cindy Chavez, their grandmother, said they explain away his sudden departure by saying that God needed him in heaven. The family of Dominguez said they were happy to find a community that connects them with people who’ve endured similar trauma.

Pastor Jennifer Goto, who welcomed “Justice for Josiah” into her church for the event, offered a prayer for the children and their families. She also exhorted the men and women in law enforcement to commit to a “higher calling” of bringing “peace and not heartache” to the communities they serve.

Against a backdrop of youthful exuberance—presents being unwrapped, pizza being scarfed down by giddy youngsters and photos being posted for to memorialize the happy occasion—Valdez took pause to reflect on memories of her late partner. Guzman was a quiet person with a low-key demeanor who volunteered at the Antioch Baptist Church, a historically black congregation in the heart of San Jose.

“He was the most generous, helpful and giving person,” she said.

Valdez said she hopes that by sharing her grief, she can also share her hope.

“What my son suffers, I know all these kids suffer,” Valdez said.

And what gives him comfort, she added, is to find a place among other kids who understand him. That’s the goal of “Special Christmas From Heaven.”

“It’s to bring unity,” Valdez explained, “and to let the kids all meet each other and know that they are not the only kids without a parent.”

Some families brought candles emblazoned with the faces of the loved ones they lost to police use of force.

17 Comments

  1. These kids are actually the unfortunate victims of their fathers’ criminality and poor judgement. If the responsibilities and obligations of fatherhood had meant something to these supposed “victims of police violence,” they’d be alive today.

      • Lol some of these children’s fathers we NOT criminals at all and the police were too hasty in their judgement of a situation … so before u pass judgment on theses men know their stories

  2. Good on Laurie Valdez and her “Justice for Josiah” events. Kids losing their dad is bad enough, but growing up knowing it was due to police violence could cause unique psychological scars that need special attention to heal properly.

    • > Kids losing their dad is bad enough, but growing up knowing it was due to police violence could cause unique psychological scars that need special attention to heal properly.

      So, kids growing knowing it was due to black on black crime, or drug gang criminals who entered the country unlawfully DON’T have unique psychological scars that need special attention to heal properly.

      Where is the rule book that explains all of this. Sometimes, I suspect you’re just making this up.

  3. Hopefully, Valdez’ good intentions have a lasting positive impact on these children. Maybe these surviving partners can discuss amongst each other the poor choices their dead loved ones made that ultimately caused their demise and determine what they can do to keep these children from going down the same road. The reality of it is, in this county, officer involved shootings are thoroughly reviewed by the DA and all officer involved incidents in my memory have been deemed lawful justified shootings. To suggest otherwise infers outlandish conspiracy, and the subsequent rationalizing and minimizing the criminal behavior of their loved ones does these children a disservice.

    Sooner or later these kids are going to be old enough to do their own research into what happened and they are going to learn that their fathers, brothers, etc were actually pretty violent people. Better to tell them the truth now and strive hard like all parents should to instill good values and help them to learn from the mistakes of others. These kids have a lot to overcome and do need the right help.

  4. “Police violence” that is comical and outrageous. Because their dads were involved in the criminal system somehow the police create the violence. What a sad state of affairs. People need to own up to their decisions. So I guess if you go on drive by shootings, carjack and rob people at gunpoint all bets are off if you are killed by the police. Who wrote this garbage story? California is becoming a larger cesspool everyday.

    • Since when do the cops on the street get to decide who gets the death penalty? I agree that if a cop shoots a fleeing, unarmed suspect in the back, that should indeed be considered police violence.

      If you think this story, which is actually about the kids, is garbage, then why are you here? BriteBart and Storm Front are calling you!

      • A little critical thinking goes a long way, unfortunately there are too many useful idiots in the world today for my liking.

      • > Since when do the cops on the street get to decide who gets the death penalty?

        Cops DON’T get to decide this. We live in a constitutional republic governed by the rule of law.

        Some socially isolated people believe that cops have this power because no one has ever explained to them how the rule of law is supposed to work.

        They think that “democracy” means that the majority has voted on every thing that government agents do.

        The majority did not vote for cops to shoot “a fleeing, unarmed suspect in the back”.

        The majority has voted for cops to act constitutionally AND for fleeing, unarmed blacks to act constitutionally, too, which means to obey the orders of cops and let courts decide if the cops were right or wrong.

      • Unarmed and fleeing? I’m not sure who you’re talking about, but if you’re at all interested in the truth about how Antonio Guzman Lopez died, you can read the DA’s report here:

        https://www.sccgov.org/sites/da/newsroom/newsreleases/Documents/Guzman%20Report%20(DAJR).pdf

        To sum up, police were called because Lopez was walking through the SJSU campus, acting strangely and swinging a foot long blade. When they contacted him, he ignored their commands, had no reaction to the use of a taser, and then charged at one of the officers, blade still in hand. When he got to within three feet of that officer, he was shot by another officer. Both methamphetamine and amphetamine were found in his system. He wasn’t the victim of anything.

  5. Can someone explain the “psychological scars” caused by this actual incident that happened to a police officer I know well.

    A validated prison gang member, on parole for armed robbery and drug sales and just released after doing a 1 year parole violation for fighting with the police on a previous stop, threatens to kill the mother of his 9 year old daughter. The 9 year old, having seen domestic violence many times before, calls the police and reports that her daddy is going to kill her mommy. The police arrive, the parolee flees on foot and when the officer catches up to him, the parolee stops, turns, draws a weapon and tries to stab the officer who tries to back up, is unsuccessful in preventing the parolee from closing to within stabbing distance and the police officer shoots the suspect. First aid is immediately administered, the parolee is taken to the hospital but dies. (Grand Jury found the officer had acted appropriately)

    Twelve years later, the 9 year old daughter applies to be a police dispatcher for that same police department that caused the “scarring”. Oh, and did I mention that “daddy” was a suspect in the molestation of the 9 year old? What do psychological scars look like anyway? May I show you a mug shot?

  6. Having been stopped at gun point twice by armed Police I found they wont usually shoot you if you don’t do stupid things like pull a knife or gun or throw bottle and rocks. They also don’t much like it when you run away, makes them think you might have done something really bad and are going to get a weapon.

    To many dead cops families (Like 187 this year, last count) are also celebrating Christmas without mommies and daddies that were shot, stabbed, slashed, beaten, and run over by those people your celebrating. Sorry for there families but not them! But who fault was that?

  7. Mr. MT. Gunn,

    Stop. You must now immediately banish yourself to the “Land or Politically Incorrect Reality”.

    Police work is a profession that defies perfection. Officers are thrust into situations generally not of their own choosing, where the problem itself, much less the solution, is not always, even usually, clear, and where perfect solutions don’t exist, regardless of what police executives and police training and equipment vendors might try to convince the public there are. Are mistakes sometimes made? Of course, as is the case with any endeavor engaged in by imperfect, fallible human beings. However, I have little doubt that the incidence of error in police work is no greater, and may even be less, than that of doctors and lawyers for malpractice, welders and plumbers who don’t get things quite right and every other profession. The difference is, doctors and lawyers don’t wear body-cams and welders and plumbers don’t have Al Sharpton and LaDoris Cordell breathing down their necks.

    Show me any other profession where a person’s actions are reviewed by their peers, and their immediate supervisor, and their chain of command, and their Department Head, and an Internal Affairs Unit, and a Chief Executive (like and mayor and/or city manager), and multiple outside law enforcement agencies, like the District Attorney’s Office, and a State and/or local Grand Jury, and the State DOJ, and a Federal Grand Jury, and the Federal DOJ (Civil Rights Division), and the FBI, and one or more ” independant oversight” agencies with obvious political bias and/or agenda, and not to mention the Local, State, National and maybe even International News media army of investigative reporters who are unaccountable for their anonymous-sourced information, unverified facts and sloppy possibly even deliberate mischaracterizations, as well as, panic reviews by politicians puddling themselves in the face of angry mobs (torches and pitchforks?) and their screeching outrage without facts.

    Add to this the fact that all these entities can take an almost unlimited amount of time to examine, dissect and evaluate a decision that an officer had only a split second to make under conditions of extreme, often life-threatening stress. It’s almost a miracle that so few mistakes are made by the police. However, lets be clear, even those the few mistakes that do occur still amount to tragedies.

    Wouldn’t it be fun to put a body cam on Sam Liccardo, or anyone on the City Council, or the IPA or any of these other so-called transparency hypocrites, as well as recording and reviewing their every phone call, radio transmission, text message and (required) written report they made in a week? Oh, and Sam or Mr. Activist, while you are wearing all these monitoring devices, I may attack you without warning and try to kill you… or I might not. Just make sure you make the right decision if I do, or if I don’t. Remember, you only have one chance to make the right split second decision…or not. Have you ever written a eulogy for a friend who was murdered just because he went to work and was doing his job, my guess is, not.

    • I have Mr. Robillard,
      I’m enjoying the commonality with my new neighbors. From here it looks like California is being eaten by vermin.

  8. I am not surprised by the lack of compassion for our children. It was mentioned about the children of officers that have been killed, and they’re also without a parent. Yeah , but not without support. Free psychological support for officers’ families. The violent death of a loved one has an adverse affect on those left behind, but that fact is not acknowledged if that death came from the bullets of officers. The grief is real, for both sides. Those of us on the other side of the gun have never denied that. In fact we share more in common with killed officers’ families than many of the commenters. We are supporting our children because we love them, we have been bonded in our grief. A bond that cannot be broken, not even by your hate.

  9. Yet while we have been chit-chatting yet another officer has be gunned down. That officer an immigrant with a wife and 5 month old child that will never remember his father.

    Report was he was shot by another illegal immigrant on the run. Time to swallow the sanctuary city crow, and build the wall.

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