In Pasco, shock and anger linger over the fatal shooting of an unarmed man

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Hundreds turned out on Saturday to protest the shooting death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes by Pasco police.

"They killed him like a dog," said Rosa Zambrano.

Standing on the sidewalk in front of a makeshift memorial for her cousin, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, Rosa Zambrano gave voice to the confusion, shock and anger that have washed over Pasco's Latino community since the shooting death of 35-year-old Zambrano-Montes by three Pasco police officers last week.

"He was putting his hands up in surrender," she said in Spanish, fighting back tears. "It's a shame. It's a shame on the government.”

Zambrano-Montes was shot and killed last Tuesday night. Bystander video of the incident quickly went viral, showing Zambrano-Montes running away from the three officers across a crowded intersection. At the video's end, Zambrano-Montes turns, arms outstretched, hands empty — and the pursuing officers open fire. By Friday of that week, officials confirmed Zombrano-Montes was unarmed.

The shooting came two weeks to the day after Latino community members had met with Bob Metzger, Pasco's chief of police, and other city officials to voice their concerns about use of force and police training.

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The sentiment Rosa Zambrano (above) expressed was muted at a Saturday rally in Pasco, where speakers mixed calls for justice with lengthy, repeated requests for calm and order. But in the crowd of some 700, and on the streets afterward, many residents echoed her sentiments.

The day after the rally, at a food truck just off the main street where he had parked his brightly painted custom chopper, Pasco native Philip Zigler said he was trying not to jump to conclusions, but that after seeing the video it was hard not to. "I've watched that video on Youtube a couple of times," he said, the day after the rally. "And all I saw was three guys shoulder-to-shoulder gunning someone down."

Zigler paused before adding: "It's a terrible thing to watch."

While facts about Zambrano's life are hard to pin down, the emerging picture is of a man who, after suffering a workplace injury, became separated from his family and struggled with depression. By all accounts, his fatal encounter with police came at the lowest point in his life.

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Credit: Tom JamesAfter speeches and songs in a park in front of Pasco's domed city hall, Saturday's rally took to the streets in a loud but calm procession along a proscribed route to the intersection where Zambano-Montes was killed. Members of his family marched in front, carrying placards and chanting, and gave short speeches beside Spanish candles set in the shape of a cross. Afterward a small group broke off, and later briefly blocked traffic. But the main protest petered out quickly and without incident.

An official inquiry into the events leading up to Zambano-Montes' death is underway. The city coroner is considering an inquest into the shooting. Meanwhile, another question looms over this community set amidst rolling fields of hay and wheat: Will the shooting turn the city's longstanding cultural and geographic divide into a wedge?

Pasco has always been, at least for as long as most can remember, a city in two parts. East Pasco is its historic heart, built during the boom of a different era. Now, it has become the Latino center, its main street dominated by signs written in Spanish. The bakery in front of which Antonio died specializes in Mexican pastries. Next door is Botanas Locas sells the sweet frozen fruit and ice cream treats that are a staple of lazy afternoons in a homeland to the south. And while the main street bustles, the houses along the route of Saturday’s march, through the heart of East Pasco, are old and the paint is cracked and peeling on the walls of a church. On one building, a window is boarded up. On another, the steps sag.

Two exits down the freeway is West Pasco, also called New Pasco. A strip-mall island in an ocean of fields, West Pasco bristles with signs familiar to many Anglo-Americans: Arby's, Holiday Inn, Sonic Burger, Pita Pit. No taco trucks are in sight, but on the day of the rally a family-style Mexican restaurant advertises a Valentine's Day special: margueritas big enough for two, on a menu written only in English. Beyond the malls, one- and two-car garages face wide streets. One open garage door reveals tall, tidy shelves with an assortment of power tools. Some of the fences that surround the large lawns have been weathered gray by the sun, but the paint on the houses is crisp.

A few locals, like Philip Zigler, don’t believe the shooting will change the community. Although the town has always been mostly white in some parts and in others mostly minority, the divide between East and West Pasco has never been a hard line, said Zigler, insisting that Zambano's death "ain't about race; it was just something that went awry."

But other residents say life in Pasco has already changed.

Brothers Felipe and Mauricio Castaãeda share a house a block from where Zambano died. They work in a meatpacking plant for Tyson foods. People from West Pasco used to come to the neighborhood to shop but not so much anymore, said Mauricio, and people who live in the neighborhood have stopped respecting the police. While he used to be friendly toward officers, said Mauricio, now he wants to curse at them.

Jesus Aguierre, owner of Chuyito's Barbershop, says the shooting definitely changed his view of local law enforcement and how he would speak to them. "It makes me not feel safe with police officers right now," he said, as he worked on a customer. "It just seems like it can happen to anybody."

Still, Aguirre sees the shooting less as a racial issue, and more as a case of police officers not doing their job right. "They chased him down and gunned him down," said Aguirre. "He wasn't a threat to them."

At least one sign of change is already visible in Pasco, in the parking lot of Fiesta Foods, a grocery store and neighborhood institution. After the shooting, investigators cordoned off the surrounding streets, but not Fiesta Foods or its vast parking lot across the intersection from where Zambano was killed. Members of the Zambano family gathered in the parking lot to watch investigators who left the body on the ground for 10 hours after the shooting. The store's owner soon forced the family to leave. In the days that followed, word of his action spread over Facebook and community members called for a boycott of Fiesta Foods.

Salvador Salazar hadn't heard about the boycott. He was wheeling a shopping cart out of the store with his two sons in tow. Salazar did notice that the store was much less crowded than usual. Normally, he said, it would be hard to find a parking spot on a Sunday. That Sunday, the day after the rally to protest the shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, the lot was less than half full.

Rolando Rodriguez was at the January 27th meeting with police chief Bob Metzger and the Pasco city manager Dave Zabell. Rodriguez, who owns a business in downtown Pasco, is a member of Consejo Latino, a group of business owners and community leaders. At the meeting, he and other members expressed concerns about police training, use of force and how police deal with the mentally ill.

Felix Vargas was also at the meeting. "We wanted to make sure we did not have another Ferguson or New York here," he said.

The police chief especially offered reassurances, but Rodriguez said they felt like empty words.

"I walked out of there shaking my head," he said.

When he heard about the death of Zambrano-Montes, he felt shock and grief, but not surprise. Then his thoughts returned to the meeting, and the assurances he and the other community leaders had received.
 His first thought, he said, was "We were telling you that this is going to happen. Maybe you'll listen now."

  

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About the Authors & Contributors

Tom James

Tom James

Tom James is a feature writer and photographer from Kingston, Washington, who has reported from Seattle, Olympia, Guatemala, Jordan, and the Olympic Peninsula on topics ranging from drug use in the Navy to the silent epidemic of PTSD among refugees and what happens when fathers are deported. You can find his contact information at http://www.tom-james.net