November 14, 2006
The last time I saw independent journalist and activist Brad Will was in September in an East Village yoga studio. I turned my head and found him lying on the mat next to me in the darkened room, his pale, flat stomach rising and falling serenely with the rhythm of his breathing. So on October 27, when I saw the photos posted on the Internet showing the 36-year-old Will’s mortally wounded body laid out on a street in Oaxaca, Mexico, I cringed. There was that same pale, flat stomach now punctured by a bullet.
Around the world, activists and friends who knew Will—and many people who didn’t—were having the same visceral reaction. Within hours of his shooting by plainclothes gunmen firing on a group of striking demonstrators, images of his murder ricocheted around the Web. There were photos of Will’s limp body being carried through the streets by frantic demonstrators screaming for help. Equally shocking were the pictures posted by El Universal and other Mexican media showing his alleged killers firing brazenly into the crowd, as if aiming at the cameras. The same gunmen who shot Will also wounded a photographer for the Mexico City daily Milenio, who was at Will’s side.
When images of the shooters aired on Mexican TV, viewers began phoning in to identify the gunmen. They have since been confirmed in the media as the police chief and two officers from Santa Lucia del Camino, the municipality where Will was shot, along with the town councillor for the state governing party, his chief of security, and the former head of a neighboring barrio.
Then came the most horrifying evidence of all: Will’s final videotape, uploaded on the Web the next day. In his zeal to capture the state-backed repression of the popular uprising that has rocked Oaxaca for the last five months, Will succeeded in recording his own murder.
Armed with an HD camera he had picked up on eBay, Will went to Oaxaca to document the broad-based movement of striking teachers, peasants, urban residents, and left-wing forces that had seized control of government offices and taken over the central square to demand the removal of governor Ulises Ruiz.
But by becoming the first American journalist killed in the unrest, Will became a pretext for Mexican president Vicente Fox to send in 4,000 federal police officers to put down the revolt, which Fox characterized as “radical groups, out of control,” who “had put at risk the peace of the citizenry.” Since then at least two more protesters have died in the heavy clashes with federal police, who stormed the barricades with tear gas and water cannons, and more than 80 demonstrators have been arrested as the federales continue to vie for control of the city…