On any given day over the last two weeks in Pasco, Washington, a small group of protesters has gathered in front of city hall to protest the police shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, a Mexican orchard worker who was throwing rocks at cars and police before he was killed.
Quite small: Recent trips to the building, the new epicenter of activism in Washington’s Tri-Cities region, have seen as few as three protesters at a time.
But even with numbers lower than activists would like—and regardless of the many obstacles the movement faces, such as the hesitance of the region’s undocumented population to risk arrest by protesting—the small group has succeeded in keeping the attention of local officials, federal agencies, and even the international press.
“Things slow down over the weekdays,” said Jeremy Peterson, leader of the group Occupy Tri-Cities, because of the working-class nature of the city. But weekends allow the small group to expand its base and amplify its message.
This Saturday night, a group of about 50 protesters shut down a bridge connecting Pasco to neighboring city Kennewick, across the Columbia River. Earlier in the day, a protest of about 100 people—the second largest since the shooting—took place in the city.
“You’ve got to understand, for activism in the Tri-Cities, this is an unbelievable turnout. We’re seeing activism and conversations on all sides of this issue,” Peterson told Fusion.
Saturday’s moves drew renewed attention to Zambrano-Montes’ death at a moment when things seemed to be quieting down. Zambrano-Montes was the fourth person in this city to be shot and killed by police officers in the last year. Cell phone video of the shooting quickly went viral and sparked international outrage.
“This is not good. It’s not a good sign. It affects us all,” Fard Mohammed, a 65-year old activist who drove to the protest from Tacoma, Washington, told the Tri-City Herald. “The whole town should be out here from what I saw on that video.”
Felix Vargas, a Hispanic community leader and advisor to Zambrano-Montes’ family, has been working to ensure that despite the relatively low number of local activists, that the shooting is given its share of airtime and scrutiny from national authorities.
“I’ve spoken to about 50 media outlets over the last few days,” he told Fusion outside a recent press briefing by investigators. “And we’ve also reached out to several people at the federal and state governments to look into this, because we are very skeptical about leaving this to local investigators.”
An official from the Department of Justice came to Pasco on Sunday to speak to residents about the case at Vargas’ urging.
The case is currently being investigated by the Tri-Cities Special Investigations Unit, comprised of 15 officers from neighboring municipalities. No Pasco police officers are involved, though the unit’s spokesperson Ken Lattin has acknowledged the group has a “close” relationship with the Pasco Police Department.
Investigators have spoken to the majority of witnesses, Lattin said, and the state crime lab has placed lab work associated with the case as a “top priority.”
Back at Pasco City Hall, Peterson, the leader of Occupy Tri-Cities, says it’s important his group keeps an everyday presence in the city—small as it might be—in order to achieve justice for Zambrano-Montes, and affect policy changes like reviewing the department’s protocol for using lethal force. The group is asking Franklin County prosecutor Shawn Sant to indict the three officers involved with the shooting, who have been placed on administrative leave pending review.
“The fact that we have a few people out here every day, it’s an important thing,” he said. “Because if you’re coming in to do whatever you have to do at city hall, you can’t avoid us. Like it or not, we’re making sure our that [Zambrano-Montes’] death wasn’t in vain.”