This week's Sunday Long Read is from the relatively new Seattle Met site, covering SeaTac and Washington State, and the story reminds us that it's not always black men and women who are being killed by police, but Hispanic people as well. One such moment happened February in Pasco, Washington, where Antonio Zambrano-Montes, a Mexican field worker, was gunned down by police.
WHEN THE RUNNING MAN suddenly disappeared from her view, Modesta Carillo’s brain offered a quick explanation: He had simply stepped from the sidewalk into Vinny’s Cafe and Bakery, a panadería where you can buy roasted pork sandwiches and sugar cookies with jelly smiles.
It wasn’t altogether a rational thought. She’d heard the gunshots, she had seen the three police officers chase him across the intersection of 10th and Lewis with their guns drawn, had seen him put his hands up. This wasn’t an errand like the one she was on, buying groceries for the week at Fiesta Foods, one of Pasco’s two large Mexican markets. But everything happened so quickly, and it was too improbable, at first, to think that she’d just watched a man die—here, at a crowded intersection during rush hour on a Tuesday, her hands on a cart in a supermarket parking lot.
The truth lay before her. The running man did not go into the bakery. He crumpled on the sidewalk in front of it, hit, according to an ongoing investigation, by five to seven of the 17 bullets that three officers fired.
In the silence after the shots, a man in a fluorescent work shirt walked into the street in front of the bakery, threading his way around the cars that had stopped for the red light. “Oye,” he said to the police, in Spanish. “He only had a rock!” Another man called out, in heavily accented English, “This is wrong.” He repeated himself, as if processing the realization: “This is wrong.” The running man was still now, a lone dark shape on the sidewalk, and the police huddled in conversation before finally walking over to him, checking his pulse, and then handcuffing him. More people filtered uncertainly into the street, speaking to each other in Spanish about what they’d just seen. A man interrupted himself—“It was just a rock, he didn’t have a gun, hijo de la chingada”—to say, unbelieving, “and now they’re going to cuff him?” In English, another yelled to the police: “He is already dead!”
A crowd streamed into the parking lot, catty-corner across the intersection from the bakery. At first, many who hadn’t seen what happened thought that perhaps there’d been a gang shooting, and they milled about, watching, talking, wondering. But within minutes, a video—recorded by a young auto parts store employee behind the wheel of a car at the stoplight—began to spread across their Facebook feeds, and people crowded around phones to watch it.
They saw a blurry figure throw something at a parked patrol car, then run to the crosswalk, out of the frame. They saw two police officers raise their guns toward the intersection, heard six shots sound. They watched three officers chase the man across the street, to the sidewalk in front of Vinny’s, and watched the man turn toward them, his hands up in front of him. They heard another spurt of gunfire and watched the man fall to the ground and lie still. The video was short and baffling, so they watched it again and again. Many of them came to the same angry conclusion: They didn’t need to shoot him.
In the days and weeks that followed, the cell phone video would be watched over two million times. The running man would be identified as Antonio Zambrano-Montes, an unemployed, unarmed, 35-year-old orchard worker from Michoacán, Mexico, who had lived in the area for 10 years, and Pasco residents trying to make sense of his life and his death would accuse each other of unfairly casting him as either a saint or a villain.
Hundreds of people—many of whom either also worked in “el field,” like Zambrano-Montes, or whose family members had once crossed the border to work there—would fill the streets of Pasco, the seat of Franklin County, which is a magnet for seasonal farmworkers, especially from Mexico, and which in 2006 became the first county in the Northwest to become more than half Latino: a “minority majority,” as people here often say.
The shooting would draw international media coverage, the condemnation of Mexico’s president, and the involvement of a federal mediator from the Department of Justice. Zambrano-Montes’s family would retain the same attorney who represented the families of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Tamir Rice. The New York Times, pointing out the underrepresentation of Latinos on the city’s police force, school board, and city council, would call what happened a “ ‘Ferguson’ moment for Hispanics.” In Pasco and the surrounding region, people would heatedly debate what they might have in common with a Missouri town they’d never been to and what the shooting and its victim revealed—if anything—about their own city.
But on that night, February, 10, 2015, in the parking lot, Modesta Carillo found she could only think about the running man’s mother, wherever she was, about what it would be like for her when she found out. She stayed where she was, trembling, as the streets filled with flashing lights and crowds of people. She listened to the people around her talking and yelling, but couldn’t think of anything to say. Still, it felt wrong to go home. “You stay,” she explained later, in Spanish, “because you don’t know what to do.”
I admit I hadn't heard of the shooting in Pasco, or of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, but the more I look into this story, the sadder it gets. As always, do read the whole thing.