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Brad Will, the New York Journalist who Fell during Oaxaca’s Popular Revolt

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by Nañí Pinto

translated by David Milan

William Bradley Roland, better known as Brad Will, was an independent journalist, cameraman, documentarian, and anarchist militant. He worked as part of Indymedia in New York, Bolivia, and Brazil. In the beginning of October 2006 he traveled to Oaxaca, his goal to document one of the first revolts of the new millennium in Latin America. This would be Brad’s final trip.

Almost five months had passed since the beginning of the popular revolt in the state of Oaxaca when Brad arrived with his newly acquired camera. It had all begun with an eviction order from then-governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz against teachers from the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), who were on strike in the central plaza and the main streets of the touristy city of Oaxaca. After fierce repression against the teachers, hundreds of neighbors and social organizations poured out into the streets to support them, until the revolt generalized and people mobilized en masse, this time to demand the governor’s removal from office.

Brad arrived to a city gripped by the uprising. After accompanying part of “The Other Campaign,” an initiative by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) that crossed the length of the country, he hired a motorcycle driver and began to explore the different areas where barricades had been erected. These barriers were created as an act of defense against paramilitary groups armed with military weapons and plainclothes police officers shooting at men, women, children, and elderly people who had joined the “popular insurrection.”

After more than 20 days in Oaxaca, the US journalist started to be identified as the “güero,” or white-skinned person, and the residents gave him access to every corner of Oaxaca where there was a driving checkpoint, maintained mostly at night. The city was completely paralyzed and only a few vehicles were able to drive through, dodging sticks, rocks, tires, and other obstacles scattered in the streets. Brad counted 3,000 barricades, not just in the city but also the working class neighborhoods and the communities closest to the city.

Brad’s Last Day

On October 27, those on the barricades sought to completely paralyze the city for at least 24 hours. That was the feeling as the sun came up on “Calicanto” barricade in the municipality of Santa Lucia del Camino, bordering the small city limits of Oaxaca proper. Commercial trucks passed among the sticks, tires, and other objects, and were intercepted as they drove through the streets.

Neighbors say that it was early in the morning when Santa Lucia municipal authorities got out of an SUV and without a word “opened fire on the demonstrators, and then we all ran and looked for shelter,” as a neighbor who identified herself as Soledad Martínez remembers.

Ms. Martínez said that a few minutes later the demonstrators reorganized themselves, but so did the authorities, along with the municipal police. “We advanced again with big fireworks and rocks, and then they ran. Then when we got close to the vehicle, a few comrades lit it on fire and there was a thundering noise. It was the bullets inside of the SUV,” said Martínez.

14 years after these events, we now know that the man who gave the order to use these weapons was the nephew of Santa Lucia’s municipal president at the time, Manuel Martínez Feria.

Brad was there that day. In the first images he took, one can see that the SUV was already almost burnt to a crisp. In the distance there are people firing on protesters. “Brad was taking cover behind truck tires while he filmed,” said Javier Santis.

The confrontation lasted for hours, until the armed people began to withdraw towards the city hall. “All of a sudden, you hear the comrade say ‘I’m hit, I’m hit,’” said Javier.

Several protesters carried him and the search began for a doctor and a car. On the way, one of his colleagues grabbed the camera that was falling out of his hands. A neighbor picked up one of his shoes which, months later, would be delivered to Brad’s mother.

Minutes later, they put him in a Volkswagen that had sat for days without being driven, with little gas left in the tank. Desperately they tried to dodge the barricades, sticks, and stones. They kept speaking to Brad so that he wouldn’t lose consciousness. Suddenly the car stopped. It had run out of gas.

The people who had decided to help the journalist, despairing, asked a passing pickup driver for help while they stood stranded. After several minutes of explanation, “he decided to carry him, but it was already too late,” said Jazmín López.

Justice

Moments after the murder, several of the armed actors from the municipality were intercepted in the ADO bus terminal, but they were released a short time later.

That day, Ruiz Ortiz’s government used police officers and several groups of armed civilians known as the “death squad” to carry out operations to take back control of the city.

Brad’s death was used to justify the deployment of the Military Police in the eyes of the media, primarily the international press. At that time, this meant the Federal Preventive Police (PFP), who indiscriminately attacked demonstrators to retake Oaxaca.

According to the International Civilian Commission for Human Rights Observation (CCIODH), 26 people were murdered during the conflict, including Brad Will.

The state and federal agencies charged with bringing justice framed three innocent people and took them prisoner with baseless accusations. Meanwhile the police officers who appear on film shooting directly towards Brad, as well as other demonstrators who were murdered, were not held responsible for anything.

But this is nothing new. Oaxacan society knows that these agencies don’t work, because they are both judge and judged. Brad’s murder still has not been settled; on the contrary, it has been joined by countless other cases of activists and journalists murdered in Mexico with impunity.

Brad, a Shining Light

After he was murdered, his photography, along with that of others who fell in this “popular insurrection,” was featured on an altar with offerings, to be celebrated and remembered by loved ones on the Day of the Dead. This symbolic offering was set up at one of the last barricades left standing, at the Cinco Señores intersection, which protected University Radio. The PFP had already taken back most of the city, but hundreds of people from all over gathered around the offering and defended it, reducing the power of the police.

Since then, Brad’s image continues to figure on the altars of many Oaxacan families. But his memory also lives on with young people who practice independent journalism. Behind many cameras, audio recorders, and pens lies the figure of Brad Will. And so, in memoriam, from Avispa Midia, the second class of the School of Independent Communicators for Indigenous and Neighborhood Youth, commencing in 2021, has been named “Segunda Generación Brad Will.”

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