Portland Cinco de Mayo march
Justice for José Mejía Poot!
Crane Portland, Ore.
More than 1,000 activists from the Latino community and
their supporters rallied and marched here May 5 in a militant
Cinco de Mayo demonstration to demand justice for José
Victor Santos Mejía Poot.
Portland police shot Mejía Poot to death on April
1. The 29-year-old immigrant was from the Yucatán in
The voices of demonstrators echoed through the crowded
city streets. Signs carried along the route read "20 cents,
the price of life" and "Justice for José Mejía
Other demands made by the militant, multinational crowd
included the implementation of a civilian review board to
investigate police brutality, community control of the cops,
a voucher program to assist bus passengers with insufficient
fare, and bilingual bus drivers or translators.
Two days before he was killed, Mejía Poot boarded a
Tri-Met bus and deposited his fare. He was 20 cents short.
The bus driver did not speak Spanish and Mejía Poot
could not understand what the driver was trying to tell him.
His only response, according to witnesses, was a smile as he
waited to be nodded on to a seat on the bus.
The driver flagged down the police. Witnesses said two
officers beat Mejía Poot repeatedly over the head and
arrested him. After arriving at the police station he was
reportedly beaten again.
After his release Mejía Poot, who was epileptic,
was found lying on the sidewalk. A Portland cop brought him
to Providence Triage. They assumed he was mentally ill and
sent him to Gateway Psychiatric Hospital.
Poot was resistant at the psychiatric hospital and the
police were called. When the same officer who had assaulted
Mejía Poot on the bus advanced on him with pepper
spray and a beanbag gun, Poot took a metal bar in hand.
Officer Jeffrey Bell fired two shots: one in Mejía
Poot's head and one in his chest.
Mejía Poot fell to the ground and died. Bell
reported that he had been "neutralized."
As a Latina protester pointed out, Poot's "response was
that of a sane man put in a psychiatric ward" who was killed
as "the result of the system's inability to address diverse
Had it not been for the language barrier and rabid racism
that thrives in police departments across the U.S.,
José Mejía Poot would be alive today.
The Portland police are known to practice a shoot-to-kill
policy. Less than three weeks after the killing, Bell was
exonerated of any charges of misconduct for the legal
lynching of Mejía Poot. An investigation of the
beating on the bus is continuing.
Maria Castillo, a friend of the Mejía Poot family
who came up from the Yucatán, spoke to the crowd in
her native Mayan language. She expressed great sorrow over
the killing of Poot and outrage over the disregard for his
"We are here today because our communities are united,"
another woman told the crowd. "We are here today to demand
justice for our brother José Mejía Poot. We are
here today to call for an end to police brutality."
The march stopped and rallied at several points in
downtown Portland. At City Hall Samuel Davila, a march
organizer, encouraged everyone present to attend a City
Council vote on the review board to voice support for the
At the Multnomah County Court House, Alfonso Melendez of
Portland State University told the crowd, "The next time a
police officer wants to shoot someone, why not hand them a
gun so they can fight equally?"
Dave Mazza, editor of the Alliance newspaper, told
protesters, "We need an independent police review board to
put an end to brothers and sisters being abused by cops
because of the color of their skin, the language they speak
or how much money they make."
Groups and individuals in attendance included the Radical
Cheerleaders, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán
(MECHA), the Latino Network, Cop Watch, the Asian Pacific
Organization of Oregon, county chair candidate JoAnn Bowman,
and representatives from the Catholic and Jewish
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