October 27th marked seven years of Brad Will living in the memory of Oaxacans, as well as those other fallen 26 from 2006. It marks seven years of demanding justice for them all. Every year hundreds of people mobilize and leave flowers and offerings at the Calicanto barricade. Some people bring food, coffee and bread to share with those participating in the activities and to the rhythm of son de la barricada [a popular protest song of the uprising].
William Bradley Roland, aka Brad Will, an independent journalist from Indymedia New York went to the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca in 2006. Like many other alternative or independent media producers, Will sought to break the media siege that the mass media had created, which downplayed or reduced the number of people mobilized in the more than five month uprising that shook the state in 2006. This uprising saw an actual number of more than two million people with over 3,000 barricades erected. Thus, on October 27, 2006, while conducting his work, a bullet from state-hired thugs, snatched his life.
“We will never forget compañero Brad because he is in our hearts and in our history, like the other 26 compañeros that were murdered by the state.” expressed Mrs. Carmen Martinez, who prepared for a march and rally that is organized annually by the residents and groups in the Calicanto barricade that remembers Brad Will and demands justice for him and the other 26 other protesters that were killed and who have yet to receive justice.
It all started when the former governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz, said he would not allow any march, protest, or social discontent to take place. Those methods are the only options for a people that are, according to the official statistics, the third poorest in Mexico. Thus, as a response to the first protest of his term, when teachers took the main plaza of Oaxaca City, Ruiz sent police to repress and evict them on the morning of June 14, 2006.
Following this, everything heated up and peaked to the point that over 2 million people took to the streets, occupying government agencies, official vehicles, the TV channel and at least a dozen radio stations that would become the voice, ears and eyes of the people. The media became a point of connection for Oaxacans who shared their discontent about the government. The authorities quickly realized that this was a strategic tool for the citizen’s struggle. Thus, the State quickly sought ways to retake control of communication spaces by using the support of police and plain clothes military personnel as well as hired thugs and paramilitary groups, which formed the so-called ‘death caravans’.
“The State used thugs and paramilitaries to attack us and to do the dirty work, later several of them would be killed by the State, because they knew too much. Others now have positions in the government or continue to coordinate paramilitary groups,” expressed an activist who requested to remain anonymous.
It’s been seven years since mega-marches erupted throughout the state, but for the people of Oaxaca who lived and shared the experiences behind the barricades, in broadcasting, in the massive demonstrations, festive protests, over cups of coffee, and threats of wooden clubs (the weapons of violent groups), it all feels very recent, like yesterday. These events remain fresh in the minds of people, who retreated with dignity to their homes and families, with a clarity that there will be no change in the state and its institutions and thus to expect nothing from them.
“We were more than two million citizens who took to the streets to demand that the spurious Ulises Ruiz step down, but instead we were repressed, imprisoned and killed” expresses furiously Mrs. Martinez who emphasizes that the movement was always legal and peaceful. “We were not doing anything illegal, it is in the Mexican Constitution in Article 39, which says that we can change the rulers whenever we want, but here we see that there is no democracy and that laws are only respected when it’s in their benefit.”
It seems that the 3,500 military and militarized police elements (Federal Preventive Police) were waiting for the justifiable order to make an incursion and use extreme violence. Since it was a year of federal elections and a case for change was being made, they could not act in a way contrary to the discourse of democracy. Thus the murder of journalist Brad Will was used as a pretext to give the order and to criminalize the protests, bringing a sum of 27 murders, and more than 500 detainees, disappeared, tortured and persecuted.
“We were just sitting around until someone got out of a truck and opened fire, the neighbors became outraged and burned the vehicle.” Says a witness who was present at the October 27 clash. The individual who declined to give their name for safety reasons also mentioned that when Will arrived more gunmen had gathered. “Later in a municipality truck more people arrived who began shooting and the video of Brad shows them. This municipality has always been Priista – of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) – and many of us neighbors know that those who shot at us were part of the caravans of death.”
It is evident in the video shot by Brad Will, the images of several individuals with red shirts firing shots. Four of them were detained shortly afterward as they attempted to flee. They were identified as Abel Santiago Zarate, security councilor of the municipality of Santa Lucia del Camino; Orlando Manuel Aguilar Coello, chief of staff; Juan Carlos Soriano Velasco, aka the “grasshopper”; and Hilario Hernandez, local commander. In their statements they admit that they fired shots, but only into the ‘air’. However, in photos and videos it is clear that they were aiming their shots directly at demonstrators. In the end, judge Victoriano Barroso Rojas said that with the expert reports and witness statements, there was no evidence to hold two of the men who were still detained, Abel Santiago Zarate and Orlando Manuel Coello. They were thus released on November 28, 2006, due to a process so “efficient” that lasted only a month in a context where Oaxaca was in chaos.
“Brad Will traveled almost all the barricades looking to document the actions of the caravan of death and in the barricades we got to know and respect him because he was risking his life like us to report on our movement,” another witness reported. “Many residents of Santa Lucia know that people of the municipality were part of the caravan of death, because they were PRI and Ulises Ruiz supporters. It was they who killed our compañero Brad and the other 26.”
After several years, the case of Brad Will has stagnated, and most people believe that the individual finally arrested is a scapegoat and that not one of the other 26 killed will receive justice.
October 27th marked seven years of Brad Will living in the memory of Oaxacans, as well as those other fallen 26 from 2006. It marks seven years of demanding justice for them all. Brad, as well as the other 26 protesters killed during the months of revolt, are regarded as heroes. Every October 27th hundreds of people mobilize and leave flowers and offerings at the Calicanto barricade. Some people bring food, coffee and bread to share with those participating in the activities and to the rhythm of son de la barricada [a popular protest song of the uprising]. They dance and remember their brothers and sisters who risked their lives fighting to change the lives of Oaxacans.
This year a group of young people took the initiative to give continuity to these annual activities held every to remember Brad Will, they called the anniversary “because the color of blood is never forgotten”. They held a march, a forum for discussion and transmitted the activities with rudimentary radio equipment. They produced programs dedicated to the role of free and independent media and gave memory to the conviction that Brad had for his work.
One of the youth concluded in the program saying “on this radio and in many other spaces, Brad Will is here among us and making noise, because it is his duty and because he lives.”