- Alex Garland
- OSCAR PEREZ GIRON Protesters posted flyers like this one on the light rail station.
Several dozen people gathered on Sunday at the Sodo light rail station, many of them riding the train and making a show of not paying their fares from downtown Seattle, to protest the fatal shooting of Oscar Perez Giron, 23, by King County Sheriff Deputy Malcolm Elliott one week ago.
The demonstrators argued that Giron was profiled and singled out for fare enforcement. Some compared his death to the infamous killing of 22-year-old Oscar Grant on an Oakland BART train in 2009. Unlike in that incident, however, police here allege that Giron turned a gun on law enforcement before he was killed.
For the Sunday rally, a large group of protesters boarded the light rail at Pioneer Square and openly flouted fare requirements. "I have not paid," they chanted, filling the aisles on the train, "you're going to have to shoot me!"
At the Sodo station, they met up with Giron's famiy in the spot near a bench where he died. They took turns speaking into a red bullhorn, and his friends read poetry in his memory.
"A life is worth more than two dollars and fifty cents," said Reverend Harriet Walden of Mothers Against Police Brutality. "We want a humane way of dealing with people without the fare." She called on Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle City Council Member Bruce Harrell to convene a review of how authorities enforce fares. Jay Hollingsworth, who co-led the John T. Williams Organizing Committee, expressed his solidarity with the family and called for strengthening police use of force guidelines.
Michelle Aguilar, Giron's cousin, said her mother had raised the two of them since early childhood as if they were brother and sister, because Giron wasn't able to live with his parents. "Just because of how you dress, you shouldn't be judged," she said, trying to hold back tears. "I will not rest until justice is served. The truth needs to come out."
The only reason she could only imagine Giron resisting arrest, Aguilar said in an interview later, is that he was undocumented and feared being deported to Mexico. He wouldn't know how to get around there because "his Spanish was kind of crappy"—she laughs at that. Her family hails originally from the border city of Mexicali. Businessweek calls the city "the poster child for NAFTA," the North American Free Trade Agreement, which attracted maquiladoras to the area and drove immigration northward.
When Giron turned 18, Aguilar said, she saw Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents milling outside his aunt's home in Shoreline looking for him. He wasn't there at the time, she said, and her aunt told the agents she didn't know where he was.
Giron had a difficult early childhood, Aguilar explained. "Thank God my mom brought him up here," she said. Giron considered himself a Seattleite, planned to stay here, and loved the Seahawks so much that he sported tattoos of their mascot on his head.
Since age 16 he had been a day laborer, often looking to pick up landscape or construction work in the Home Depot parking lots, Aguilar said. He enjoyed that kind of work, but his real goal was to be an auto mechanic. He was the only member of the family, she said, to obtain a high school diploma—and he did so while in juvenile detention for a crime. Aguilar says it was a crime he was blamed for but didn't commit.
- Alex Garland
A central demand of Sunday's protest was the release of surveillance video from the light rail station. Carlos Diaz Nicholas, who was with Giron on the train, pointed to the spot where his friend was killed and, through an interpreter, described what he saw: two security officers holding Giron against the wall and the sheriff's deputy pointing his gun behind one of the officers, shooting Giron from close range. He echoed an account by Marquez Davis, who Q13 Fox described as a witness. Davis told the station, "The sheriff reached around the security guard, who had the man up against the glass of the (transit) shelter…and pulled out his gun and shot the man point-blank range three times in the abdomen."
But SPD spokesman Drew Fowler says the surveillance video "would not reflect well on the persons involved other than the officer." He called it "vindicating" for Deputy Elliot, who is on paid leave pending an investigation. The department is "hoping to release a portion of the video or possibly still frames" from the video, Fowler said, although he's unsure of a timeline for the release.
Twenty-three-year-old Mario Parra is being held on $100,000 bail on investigation for assault and unlawful firearm possession, alleged by police to have been with Giron and Nicholas at the time and to have struggled with Deputy Elliot, according to the Seattle Times. Sound Transit had eight million riders last year, the Times notes, and fare enforcement officers checked roughly 10 percent of fares.
"We charge fares mostly because we don't fund our system well," transit activist Ben Schiendelman told me today in an interview. "That's a failure, and it causes unnecessary confrontations all the time, sometimes provoking needless tragedies like this. We should ask our transit agencies to develop a path to make transit free."
"Justice!!!" read one protester's sign, "from Sodo station to the U.S. border."