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Portland Cinco de Mayo march

Justice for José Mejía Poot!

By Elijah 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 Mexico.

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 Poot."

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 communities."

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 life.

"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 civilian board.

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 communities.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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