The fatal shooting of an unarmed Mexican migrant by police in Washington state has stirred renewed attention south of the border on the use of deadly force by U.S. law enforcement agencies. The February 10 shooting of Antonio Zambrano Montes by police in Pasco, Washington, is getting prominent coverage in both the print and electronic media in Mexico.
The Zambrano killing, which was captured on video and widely transmitted in cyberspace, has also drawn the involvement of all three levels of the Mexican government. President Enrique Pena Nieto, the Secretariat of Foreign Relations (SRE) and the Michoacan state government all condemned the shooting, while the official National Human Rights Commission urged the SRE to provide financial support, attention and guidance to Zambrano’s family. In a statement, the SRE not only criticized Zamrano’s violent death, but also called attention to “incidents in which disproportionate force is used, even more so when it results in the loss of civilians.”
An apple industry worker, Zambrano was shot and killed by Pasco police officers after he was reported throwing rocks at cars. According to police accounts, the 35-year-old man also threw rocks at officers before he was killed. Some eyewitnesses, however, said Zambrano had his hands up when he was shot. Zambrano’s mother, Acapita Montes Rivera, was granted a U.S. humanitarian visa this past weekend so she could travel from the family home in Michoacan to recover her son’s remains in Washington state. Montes said her travel and legal expenses were covered by the municipal government of Aquila, Michoacan. “He is my son, and he was always a good boy,” Montes was quoted. “He never forgot about us and always helped us out.” Antonio Zambrano’s body was expected to be shipped back to Mexico this week.
In another communique, the SRE reiterated its disposition to provide all the necessary support to the slain man’s family. On Sunday, February 15, Eduardo Baca, Mexican consul in Seattle, met with Zambrano’s relatives. In rapid fashion, Zambrano’s family took the initial steps in an expected $25 million lawsuit against the City of Pasco for Antonio’s death. Cited by the Mexican press, Washington state media were credited for reporting that one of the officers involved in the deadly confrontation, Ryan Flanagan, was accused of excessive force and racism by a 30-year-old Latina woman in 2009, but escaped further consequences when a $100,000 settlement was reached with the complaintant.
Similar to Albuquerque, Ferguson and many other U.S. communities, the Zambrano shooting sparked mass protests against police violence.
On Valentine’s Day 2015, hundreds of demonstrators led by Zambrano’s family marched in Pasco chanting “Justice for Antonio.” Felix Vargas, chair of Pasco’s Consejo Latino, demanded a federal investigation of the shooting. Prior to the march, Vargas said he was “very perturbed” by an encounter that did not justify “even a single shot.” On Facebook, activists are publicizing a Seattle rally for Zambrano and against police brutality set for Westlake Park on Wednesday, February 18.
Four people have been killed by Pasco police since last summer. About half of the estimated 68,000 inhabitants of the city are Latinos. Don Blasdel, the local county coroner, took the unusual step of ordering a public inquest into Zambrano’s death. The inquest, Blasdel said, would ensure an independent and transparent investigation.
“I don’t want the situation to end up as another Ferguson,” the Franklin County official said.
In Mexico, Zambrano’s death recast the spotlight on the broader treatment of migrants by U.S. law enforcement officials.
According to the SRE, 74 Mexican nationals have been killed by the Border Patrol and other U.S. law enforcement agencies since 2006. Of the 74 deaths, 26 of them occurred at the hands of the Border Patrol, with the remaining 48 attributed to altercations with municipal, county and state police forces.
More than half the cases, or 47, produced no consequences for the involved agencies, while 9 yielded some reparations of damages for family members. In addition to death by firearm, the fatalities were caused by electric shocks, drowining and crushing injury by a horse, according to the SRE.
In 2014, the Border Patrol instituted new policies that put some restrictions on its agents from employing gunfire during rock-throwing incidents.
Reina Torres, general director of the SRE’s department dedicated to the protection of Mexicans abroad, expressed optimism that the Zambrano killing would produce accoutability.
“In the case of Antonio, we are confident there could be difference,” Torres told the Mexican daily El Universal. “There are a lot of witnesses and a video that is very clear.”
Torres vowed the Mexican government will pursue legal follow-ups on all the outstanding cases involving police violence against Mexican nationals in the U.S. Michoacan state lawmaker Noe Bernadino said the local legislature would pass a resolution during its next session requesting that the federal congress demand greater respect for the civil rights of Mexican nationals in the U.S.
In the bigger scheme of things, Zambrano’s death has further propelled allegations of excessive use of force by U.S. police agencies into an increasingly thorny issue on the world stage.
Sources: Cnnenespanol, February 16, 2015. La Jornada, February 15 and 16, 2015. Articles by Fernando Camacho, Gabriela Martinez, Antonio Heras, Juan Carlos Flores, Ciro Perez Silva, and editorial staff. La Jornada (Michoacan edition), February 16, 2015. Article by Francisco Torres.
SeattlePI.com, February 15, 2015. Associated Press, February 15, 2015. El Diario de Juarez/El Universal, February 14, 2015. Proceso/Apro, February 13 and 14, 2015. Articles by Mathieu Tourliere and editorial staff. Lapolaka.com, February 14, 2015. Milenio, February 14, 2015.