10 Years Later, Family Still Fighting Pain of Dante Pomar’s Death
10 Years Later, Family Still Fighting Pain of Dante Pomar’s Death
This profile is part of an ongoing series of narratives focused on men and women who have been killed by the police. It is an attempt to counteract media bias, which often vilifies these men, women, boys and girls. These stories have been captured through the voices of the victims’ family members. I have been fortunate to meet the families through my activism in the Black Lives Matter movement and through work in various organizations.
Dante Pomar was killed on July 29, 2004, at the age of 19, 10 years before Eric Garner was killed. Gloria Leiva has fought for justice for her son, Dante, since then. She constantly talks about what a wonderful young man he was.
“Dante was a smart kid. He used to love mechanic things. He was always breaking toys and putting them back together to see how it works. I think at 12 he was already fixing cars,” Gloria explains. Dante’s father is a “jack of all trades” and from him, Dante learned to fix things at a very young age. He was very independent, and because both of his parents worked, Dante was frequently left at home on his own.
“When Dante was growing up, we had difficulty within the marriage so we separated. So I had to give [Dante] the key. He was alone after school,” Gloria says. Despite the separation of Gloria and Hector Pomar, Dante’s father, Hector was still very involved in Dante’s life. It was from his father that Dante learned to love and excel in mechanics.
The young Latino man also achieved in school and was always an A and B student, but above all, Gloria remembers his love.
“He was so loving. He was a great little guy. He would come and hug me, [unlike] the older one,” Gloria laughs. Gloria is very petite, her presence warm and her voice sweet. She frequently laughs when she talks about Dante and recalls how much joy he brought her. Yet, she regrets that both she and Dante’s father had to work so much, leaving Dante at home. His older brother, eight years his senior, was already out of the home when Dante became a latchkey kid.
“This is part of the problem with the youth — that they are unsupervised,” Gloria says. Dante was fine left at home through most of his childhood, but as he became a better mechanic, he started to get into trouble with some of his friends.
“[Dante] stole car parts with his friends. They were breaking into cars. He got arrested one time because I think the police knew what he was doing, and they put a bait car, and his friends and him broke into the car,” Gloria says.
Dante was the only person out of his group caught by the police. Gloria believes he was already known by the police; he then spent a few days in jail. In response, Gloria took Dante’s car away from him because she was worried it would lead him to more trouble, and he would have a police record, which would affect his promising future.
“He was in school for mechanical work, so he could become a mechanic. He was excellent. Dealerships, Mercedes Benz and all that, were already asking him to work,” Gloria explains. She had originally given her son the car to help with his work, but she realized he was building his car into a race car, from the stolen parts or the money obtained from selling the parts, and out of safety concerns, she took the car away.
“I took the car away because I was nervous…So he got a little motorcycle — at the time they were called pocket bikes — to move around,” Gloria says.
Tragically, it was on the pocket bike that Dante lost his life. One night as Dante was leaving a friend’s house in his neighborhood, Flushing, Queens, an unmarked police car began chasing him. One of Dante’s friends, a young Black man, saw the pursuit from his bicycle. Dante went down an alley to get away from the unmarked car, which he may or may not have known to be a police car. Dante’s friend tried to see what had happened, but the police officers made him leave.
“After the chase, Dante [was] seen laying on the ground, motionless and in handcuffs,” Gloria says. The police later pursued the young Black witness, and then threatened another witness who had seen the incident from a window.
“I don’t think it was a collision. I think they ran him over, but his friend didn’t see that because they wouldn’t let him see. They blocked him off,” she continues. Gloria believes that her son was run over because of how his body looked after the incident. The top of his head was cracked open; there were lacerations to his left arm, torso and leg. The family has pictures of the incident, but Gloria could not bring herself to look at her beautiful child at the time.
“When we reached the scene, I didn’t even see because I didn’t want to remember my son like that, so I didn’t see. The police said, ‘We found him like that.’ Then they said, ‘He went through a pothole and he flew.’ There was so much inconsistency,” she says.
Gloria had trusted the police and the system prior to Dante’s death. She had even sided with them when he had first gotten in trouble for stealing the car parts. However, she lost that faith in the system the moment her son was killed.
“We called for an investigation. They yelled at us ‘how can you do this?’ ‘This is an accident.’ They treated us bad,” Gloria explains about her efforts to try to get the police to investigate the tragedy.
Many victims of police brutality have trust in the police before police terror destroys their families. “If I knew what I know now about the system, how the police work, perhaps I would have protected him more. I lost total faith in the system,” Gloria says. She is now always concerned about the police, about what they could do to her eldest son and her two grandchildren, ages 12 and 15.
“Actually we made a decision since my husband works as an independent worker, for him to stay home and do some work, so he can take care of my grandchildren after school. It’s an economic sacrifice, but we made that decision to protect them because we are afraid of the system,” she says. Gloria has since gotten back together with her husband, Dante’s father, who fights daily for his son, too.
“To this day, anybody who will listen, no matter who it is, [Hector] will tell them the story over and over. The whole community knows him,” Gloria says of her husband and his commitment to seeking justice for his son. There has been no justice, though. The family was fortunate enough to convince a judge to help them in the case, but the judge became sick and died.
“Dante’s case is open. … I don’t have any money to open a case,” Gloria says. She knows the police officers involved in Dante’s killing, but there hasn’t been an investigation into their involvement in his death. The police department did not even hesitate to give the grieving family their information.
“I called and when I asked who they are, she told me like it was nothing. They told me just like that, like it’s nothing, like nothing is going to happen,” Gloria says with a biting grin of frustration. Like so many mothers in her position, Gloria has become an activist and a fighter for justice. She and her husband have a lot of strength, but their family’s wounds have not and may never heal.
“Our lives and our family are totally different now. We are always feeling sad, we are always talking about what happened to him and the ills of the system. I always tell my grandchildren about their uncle,” Gloria says. “They know what can happen to them as young Latino boys,” Gloria continues. Her grandchildren were too young to remember their uncle, Dante, who was so popular, so beloved, and so helpful to all in his community.
“It took me three years to open his room. I left it. I didn’t want to let the smell go. His room was all cars, music — a typical teenager room,” Gloria sighs. Her husband, Hector, has suffered from depression since Dante’s death.
“My husband has pictures of him all over, and he talks to him every day. It took an effect on him,” Gloria says. The two men were going to start a mechanics business together.
Dante grew up in Flushing, a diverse neighborhood, which does not have the problems of a lot of inner city communities, which the police frequently target. Thus, once they had arrested Dante, he was known to the police.
“It’s not a bad neighborhood. I don’t think the police had too much to do. They picked on him,” Gloria says of the police’s relationship to her son. Dante was a Boy Scout as a child, who loved music and had an aptitude for mechanics. He loved going to the park with his family to barbecue, a favorite of his Argentine father and Ecuadorian mother. Hector Pomar and Gloria Leiva have spent the past 10 years fighting not only for Dante’s justice but also for systemic change to what they see as a broken and unequal system.
I ask Gloria how long she intends to keep fighting. She smiles. “Until forever.”
Tess Raser, originally from Chicago, is a teacher in Brooklyn and an active member of the growing Black Lives Matter movement. She works with various groups, including We the People and the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.