“They didn’t know they robbed him [from] our family, … they didn’t know they robbed him [from] this community,” said Michelle Monterrosa, the sister of Sean Monterrosa, the unarmed 22-year-old who was murdered by a Vallejo police officer in 2020.
Family, friends, and community gathered at the Mission bookstore Medicine for Nightmares on Saturday, April 29 to celebrate Sean, also known as Tucan, on what would have been his 25th birthday. A life taken too soon from many, but by no means forgotten.
Sean was killed three years ago by officer Jarrett Tonn, who shot Monterrosa five times outside of a Vallejo Walgreens through the front window of a police vehicle while Monterrosa kneeled with his hands raised during a protest for George Floyd. The case gained national attention in the midst of continued police brutality.
This year, Sean’s sisters, Michelle and Ashley, wanted to celebrate Sean through one of his passions — art.
“It was just an idea … what would it look like to do a Tucan’s pop-up? … In that moment we started pulling all the pieces we had at home, we put a call out for artists if they wanted to submit anything … and it just happened,” Michelle told El Tecolote. “We wanted to bring two worlds together — my brother’s art world and the work we do for him.”
The pop-up showcased not just Sean’s artwork, but that of other community members as well. The pieces reflected their own passions and interpretations of police brutality.
“We humanized who Sean is, ’cause the media doesn’t do that,” Michelle said. “Many times our loved ones are not ever seen as survivors and victims, so it’s our job to humanize.”
During the pop-up Tucan’s World event, the Monterrosa sisters gave speeches discussing Sean’s life and their motivations to create Tucan’s World as a way to represent his legacy. As Sean spent his life volunteering with Latinx youth and community organizations, they also made sure to make space to thank the many organizations and community groups that attended and helped curate the event.
“He meant so much to me — he transformed my life,” said Nancy Abdul-Shakur, who worked closely with Sean at a youth program at Horizons Unlimited, a community-based San Francisco organization. “After his loss, it really focused my energy to continue to be a source of access to resources for young people. And to keep pushing them to be their better selves the way Sean would have wanted … I aspire to continue his legacy.”
Since Sean’s death, the Monterrosa sisters have fought tirelessly against continued police violence against Black and brown folks. Their path has been an arduous one — from speaking on the steps of City Hall, demanding justice and policy reform to getting arrested in front of Governor Newsom’s house. The sisters are the San Francisco chapter coordinators for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, leading a local group circle.
“Sean really guides us to do this work,” Michelle told El Tecolote. “Nothing we do is without him.”
This continued pattern of police violence has motivated a generation to bring about change and care. The Monterrosa sisters have worked with organizations that both create safe spaces for healing and challenge current policies to prevent more lives from being taken.
“We tell our stories … and put our stories into policy changes,” Michelle said. “We know the investments we need in our community to repair the harm and also reimagine what public safety looks like. We don’t want more incarceration. We don’t want more police in our community… [And] we need to support young people because, at the end of the day, young people are the center of every monumental change that we’ve seen,” Michelle said.
Ashley added, “To have the next generation of young people be here and support … it’s really just a labor of love. I know Sean is just proud.”