Elder Fernandes’s aunt Leonilde Fernandes speaks to a crowd in Brockton Massachusetts, Oct 12. Liberation Photo.
Fort Hood is a United States military base in Killeen, Texas that has become notorious after the recent deaths of several stationed soldiers. The most recent victim was Elder Fernandes, a 23-year-old Cape Verdean man from Brockton, Massachusetts. Fernandes was found hanging from a tree in Temple, Texas on August 25.
This tragedy came only four months after the brutal killing of Vanessa Guillén on April 22. Guillén was a Mexican-American woman stationed at Fort Hood. Both Guillén and Fernandes were murdered shortly after reporting sexual assaults by superior officers.
Fort Hood has a long history of sexual violence. After the discovery of a major trafficking ring in 2015, many residents have come forward with accounts of sexual assault and misconduct by base residents and officers. One hundred and fifty people, primarily people of color, have been found dead or missing since this injustice was unearthed.
The United States government ignores its victims
After Fernandes went missing, the state released information at a snail’s pace. Fernandes’s mother was never even informed. Without finding a body or conducting any serious investigation, the Temple Police Department ruled Fernandes’s death a suicide with the intent of sweeping it under the rug. But his mother had reason to believe otherwise. Fernandes had been in touch with her daily, and had discussed the sexual abuse he suffered at length with his family. They decided to travel to Fort Hood to investigate for themselves. On arrival, his body was finally discovered 28 miles from the base.
Fernandes’s family refused to accept the suicide ruling. Their attorney came forward on August 27 with a statement that “they don’t know what happened – whether it was suicide or whether murder. But I’m gonna tell you, what they did to him, the blood on their hands: it’s a form of murder.” Seeing the unwillingness of those in charge to pursue justice, Elder’s aunt, Leonilde Fernandes, took it upon herself to bring the case to national attention.
After the story reached national attention and outrage, Congress began an investigation of Fort Hood. Unwilling to trust a purely internal investigation, the family is demanding that an independent agency look as well. “Congress just launched an investigation into Fort Hood but that’s not good enough,” Andira Alves, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation and daughter of Cape Verdean immigrants, argued at a recent protest demanding justice for Fernandes. “This is the same Congress [that] just voted to give the military a $700 billion check for the upcoming year while refusing to give the working class and poor people adequate relief during this pandemic.”
Brockton stands and fights for a lost son
Public awareness of Fernandes’s case has grown steadily in recent months. In his hometown of Brockton, a movement has formed to demand justice. Activists and community members have joined his family in calling for a proper independent investigation. They also call for Fort Hood to be shut down and justice for all its victims.
On Monday October 12, two dozen community members alongside members of the Boston branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation listened to the words of Leonilde Fernandes: “Each one of you are standing here. He could be your nephew. He could be your neighbor. He could be your sister, your brother, anybody. He could be anybody! I don’t want this to happen. Elder Fernandes’s name’s gonna stand up to stop this!” The crowd then marched two miles to Brockton city hall with their demands.
A movement grows
The state response to Fernandes’s death proves the ruling class is not willing to muster even simple reforms to veil the violence of the U.S. war machine — including violence against the working class people they need as soldiers, for whom serving in the military is sold as a noble path out of poverty.
Only when we fight together as working and oppressed people will Elder Fernandes and all victims of racist and sexual violence finally see justice. “We are not going to stop!” Leonilde Fernandes told the crowd, “raining, or shining, we’re gonna be here!”