A protest held in Pasco on Saturday over the police killing of a Mexican-born apple picker had the air of a mournful family picnic.
About 500 people gathered at a park to protest the death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, who was killed on Tuesday last week after three officers chased him through a busy intersection with their guns drawn. As he turned to face them, raising his arms, he was felled by their bullets.
According to police reports, Zambrano-Montes had been throwing rocks at cars and officers.
His death was caught on video by a bystander and the footage has been widely disseminated on social media, fueling anger among the mainly Hispanic population of this quiet agricultural hub in the southern US state of Washington and drawing comparisons to the shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri.
“What happened could have happened to any family, to my family,” said Maria de los Angeles Perez, 42, who had come from nearby Kennewick to show her support. She began to cry softly as she signaled to her two sons, Santiago and Samuel.
Zambrano-Montes’ family has settled in the region — many families came here more than a decade ago to gather apples and asparagus in local fields. Dozens of cousins, aunts and neighbors attended the event.
“We cannot count on a just government,” a cousin, Rosa Cisneros-Zambrano, 50, said in an interview before the protest. “Only on a just God.”
Supporters held signs in English and Spanish, urging officers to “use your training not your guns” and calling for “protection, not intimidation.”
One man, taking the microphone, shouted into the crowd “We are all Antonio.”
However, the protest held less vitriol than those that rocked Ferguson in the days after Brown’s death. Protest leaders in Pasco called for peace and demanded that protesters remove masks. The event was capped by a performance from Fermin Cruz, 42, who strummed a guitar and sang a song called El Inmigrante, about a man who wished he were a tree, so he would never have had to leave his homeland. As he sang, many women held each other.
Also at the protest was a group of four people who had come to show support for the Pasco police and set up folding chairs at the edge of the gathering.
The group included Kenneth Taylor, 60, a retired police officer whose partner was killed during a traffic stop.
“Social media has the tendency to incite people,” he said, adding that people should wait until a full investigation has been conducted before drawing conclusions about whether the shooting was lawful.
“What’s upset me is the immediate conviction,” he said.
Police departments in the area have been involved in four other fatal shootings in the last seven months, and this one has drawn national attention to police practices in the Tri-Cities area, a group of municipalities with a population of about 250,000.
The Pasco Police Department, in conjunction with neighboring departments, is set to conduct an investigation to determine whether charges should be brought against the officers. They have been placed on leave, pending the outcome.
The Franklin County coroner said he would order an inquest into the killing, a rare move that would allow a jury of six to determine whether the killing was justified.
City officials chose not to participate in the demonstration — they did, however, listen to the protesters.
During the protest, Pasco City Manager Dave Zabell was standing at the border of the gathering, dressed in khaki colors. He could hear voices booming over the microphone — and he commended residents for their measured response to the killing.
“They’re trusting the process,” Zabell said.
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