PASCO, Washington — Over the last week, news outlets around the world have been paying very close attention to this small city. It's where, on Feb. 10, a Mexican national was shot and killed by police after throwing rocks at cars and officers.
A disturbing video of the shooting went viral, leading many people, even a local official, to look at the facts of the situation and wonder if it had the makings of "another Ferguson." Some facts seemed to line up: an unarmed member a politically underrepresented community, killed by cops in the city's fourth police-involved shooting since July. (Officers were cleared of wrongdoing in the three previous shootings; the ones involved in this one are on leave pending a review.)
The Mexican government expressed dismay. "Will Antonio Zambrano-Montes be the new Michael Brown?" we wondered.
But on the ground here, the city is strangely quiet. Business as usual.
Which leaves a perplexing question, given the very real tensions that have been building in this community: Why isn't Pasco the new Ferguson?
"A lot of [Pasco's] Hispanic community is withdrawn because there are rumors going around that immigration is here, ready to take anybody who wants to speak up back to Mexico," Lorain Reavely, a local activist, told me in front of City Hall. "To me it's just rumors, but that affects everything whether it's true or not."
"And we've had raids here, too, so it's not that crazy for that to scare people," a friend chips in over her shoulder.
There's no indication of any truth to that rumor. But if the city's Hispanic community is really "withdrawn," it wouldn't be too hard to see why.
Pasco is about 57 percent Hispanic. And an estimated 20 percent of that population here is undocumented, according to David Cortinas, publisher of local Hispanic newspaper La Voz.
“Mexicans in the United States cannot react like African Americans did in Ferguson,” Mexican political pundit and Univision anchor Léon Krauze told Fusion yesterday. “There are many who are not protected by the law. And when you protest and face a cop as an undocumented person, the consequences are infinitely higher.”
So, to a fair amount of the community that might have been close to Zambrano (he was undocumented), a run-in with the cops over a protest might mean deportation.
When that's the case, people learn to shut up.
Tuesday night's city council meeting, the first held after Antonio Zambrano-Montes' death, drew an estimated 30 attendees in a city of 68,000 residents. Zambrano-Montes' memorial site in front of a new bakery is left alone for most of the day, save for the occasional reporter, the store owner told me.
The few protesters around, who have pledged that they will picket against police brutality in front of Pasco City Hall every day for the foreseeable future, are well aware that their group is miniature in size.
"Our main group is about 5 or 6 of us," Reavely said.
Remember, this is a story that has made international headlines. "Five or six of us."
Lack of buy-in from the family
I saw Marta Zambrano fixing flowers and lighting the candles at the memorial for her nephew around 6 p.m. on Ash Wednesday. A few people I spoke to around town told me that was the time the memorial was the place to be, and that the family had been gathering there almost every night.
In total, there were about 20 people, mostly family, present at the scene. They gathered to pray the rosary for Zambrano-Montes.
When I asked Zambrano (the aunt) about protesting and social activism following the death of her nephew, she told me frankly that the family is not very interested in getting involved in an extended campaign of some sort.
"We did what we wanted to do on Saturday [where 700 people showed up], and it was very peaceful like how we wanted," she said. "But as far as anything else, we are concerned with trying to get his body, and praying the rosary right now. I don't think we're going to get into those other things because that's what the investigation is about."
The rising political influence of Hispanics
Pasco city manager Dave Zabell told me he is "very proud of how the community has reacted," and he
draws a line from the lack of social unrest to what he says is the rising political power of Hispanics in the city.
"The shooting has galvanized the Hispanic community, and it will lead to further engagement with the community in general," he said.
Zabell also says that many members of the Hispanic community are aware of a coming political power shift that will favor their community, a fact that may be discouraging intense street protests.
"We are in the middle of redistricting, and two new Latino majority districts are being drawn up," he said. "We only have one Latino councilmember now, and that could change very quickly once this process is over."
Everything is moving slowly
"The only thing we have so far is that video," city manager Zabell told me in our conversation.
And according to everyone else I spoke to, it looks to be that way for a while.
Dan Blasdel, the Franklin County coroner, finished up the autopsy on Zambrano-Montes' body last Friday, he told me. But that report won't come out till "probably two months from now," he estimated, and that is only if the next of kin decides to share the report with the public.
He has to wait to finish a coroner's inquest, a rarely used jury-like process that recommends whether to press charges to the county prosecutor. Only after that process is done will the autopsy and other material from the inquest be made public.
Separately, there is an independent Special Investigations Unit from the Tri-Cities area conducting an investigation. (A briefing is set to happen on Thursday).
And lastly: the question of Zambrano-Montes' body. Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant told me he has been "waiting to hear back from the attorney general and the FBI" before giving the body to the family, who will likely take him back to Mexico for burial.
"We know this is a case that interests both state and federal officials, and the worst thing to do would be to release the body and then have to get it back for a separate autopsy or something," he said.
You know what they say: some fathers only fully realize they are becoming a parent when they see their child. The same thing might be said, in a perversely reverse fashion, for family members when they see the dead body of a loved one.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.