Hispanics plan Mejia protests, want reforms

From the Portland Tribune, April 27, 2001

Dozens of local Hispanics threw 20 cents into a cardboard box at the end of a lengthy Wednesday night meeting to symbolize their commitment to pursuing justice for Jose Santos Victor Mejia Poot.

The meeting was called to speak out against the death of the Mexican farm worker who was shot and killed by Portland police in the BHC-Pacific Gateway Hospital on April 1.

Speakers included Mejia Poot’s uncle, Benito Pablo Mejia Duran, who said his family does not understand why his nephew was killed.

“We have all these questions,” said Mejia Duran. “We want to know if there will be justice, or if the case will just slip away.”

Also speaking was Roger Yah, who witnessed Mejia being arrested on the morning of March 30 after a 20-cent fare dispute with a Tri-Met bus driver.

Several hours before coming to the meeting, Yah testified before a Multnomah County grand jury that police used excessive force during the arrest.

“I’m very proud of all of you for being here,” Yah told the crowd.

More than 100 people attended the meeting, which was held in the community center at St. Andrew’s Church, 4940 N.E. Eighth Ave. It was organized by a coalition of Hispanic, labor and human rights organizations, including the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Genaccion, CAUSA, PCUN, MECHA, El Programa Hispano, Portland Cop Watch and Police Accountability Campaign.

The meeting began with a line of Hispanics sharing personal stories of harassment and brutality by the police. The speakers objected to being racially profiled by law enforcement officials who assume they are in the country illegally, unemployed or driving without insurance. Several complained that their tax money goes to fund the police who mistreat them.

Most of the speakers also expressed disbelief that a 20-cent fare dispute led to Mejia’s death.

“I’m going to make sure that I’m never 20 cents short because I don’t know what will happen to me if I am,” said one young Hispanic who declined to give his name.

After listening to the stories, those attending the meeting broke into small groups and drew up lists of reforms they hope will grow out of the controversy surrounding Mejia’s arrest and death. The list included more Spanish-speaking bus drivers and police officers, a stronger civilian police review system and a new Portland police chief.

Moderator Marco Mejia (no relation to Jose Mejia), of the American Friends Service Committee, announced that the recommendations would be presented at a press conference scheduled for 11 a.m. today outside the Multnomah County Courthouse.

Marco Mejia said the coalition is planning two other events as well.

The first is a protest march on Mexican Independence Day, May 5. It is tentatively scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. with a rally in the North Park Blocks. The march will proceed through Saturday market to Waterfront Park, where a large commercial Cinco del Mayo celebration already is scheduled.

The second event is a vigil set for 6:30 p.m. on May 12 outside the Villa de Clara Vista apartments, at 6706 N.E. Killingsworth St., where Jose Mejia lived with his father and two brothers.

Marco Mejia said he hoped that these events will help galvanize the local Hispanic community to hold Tri-Met, the police and BHC-Pacific Gateway Hospital responsible for Jose Mejia’s death.