On the morning of April 23, protesters in about 20 vehicles organized a motorcade in support of Nicolas Chavez. Nicolas, a young Latino man, was killed by police officers on his hands and knees in Houston, Texas, in April 2020. The protest was led by the Chavez family and passed throughout downtown Houston, including directly in front of the Houston Police Department. It was called in response to the recent decision to reinstate the four police officers who brutally killed Chavez two years ago.
Houston police respond to mental health crisis with lethal force
On the night of April 21, 2020, Houston PD received a call about an alleged “suicide in progress.” A man who was visibly in distress was reportedly running in and out of traffic and attempting to harm himself. Officers arrived to find Nicolas at the scene experiencing a mental health crisis. Instead of assisting him, body cam footage shows that four officers tased Chavez, shot him with bean bag rounds, and fired 24 bullets at him while he was on his hands and knees.
Activists and family members fought relentlessly for five months to secure the release of the footage of the killing, which finally happened in September 2020. Hours before the release of the video, then-Chief of Police Art Acevedo announced the indefinite suspension of the four officers responsible: Sergeant Benjamin LeBlanc and officers Luis Alvarado, Omar Tapia and Patrick Rubio.
This occurred amid the national uprising against racist police brutality, when the pressure to fire and jail killer cops across the country was immense. Acevedo postured publicly as a friend to anti-police brutality protesters while less visibly supporting the most brutal practices of police under his jurisdictions. It was the pressure of the uprising — not any altruism on Acevedo’s part — that led him to correctly describe the officers’ actions as indefensible.
Two years later, still no justice for Nicolas Chavez
Immediately after their indefinite suspensions were announced, each of the officers appealed the decision. The Houston Police Officers’ Union meanwhile called the suspensions “unjust and deplorable.”
While it appeared for a moment that the cops who killed Chavez would remain off the police force, the quest for justice was struck a significant blow a year later on Sept. 27, 2021, when a grand jury decided that none of the officers would face any criminal charges for their actions the night Nicolas’ life was taken.
On March 14, 2022, the Houston Police Officers’ Union outrageously announced that all four cops would be reinstated with seniority and back-pay to compensate for all of the time they were unemployed. Houston Police Chief Troy Finner stated that the officers’ reinstatement was based on the decision of an independent hearing examiner, who determined that the city had failed to prove that the officers violated the rules and policies of the department before their indefinite suspensions. No one from the city reached out to the Chavez family before this outrageous decision was announced.
Motorcade demands killer cops be held accountable
Demonstrators began decorating their vehicles with signs and paint on the morning of April 23 before lining up for the motorcade. One signs on a car read: “What’s his name? Nicolas Chavez. How did he die? Unarmed and on his knees. Who killed him? H.P.D.” Another read “Justice for Nicolas Chavez. 8/25/92 – 4/21/20” and another read simply, “HPD killed my daddy.”
The motorcade began near downtown Guadalupe Plaza Park and from there drove through the city until reaching the Houston Police Department. Once there, demonstrators pulled alongside the building, laid on their car horns, and used megaphones to exclaim, “Justice for Nicolas Chavez! He was shot over 20 times by cops on his hands and knees!”
The motorcade then traveled about 6 miles to northeast Houston to the very spot where Nicolas was gunned down to pay their respects. On the way, several pedestrians raised their fists in a show of solidarity. Once they reached their destination, participants of the motorcade exited their vehicles and laid flowers at the roadside memorial that has been erected in honor of Nicolas.
All throughout the United States, the cops murder working-class people of color with sickening brutality. A huge number of people killed by police are experiencing a mental health crisis when they are murdered. We must create a system that expands mental health services for those who are suffering, instead of responding to mental health crises with armed agents of the state who take the lives of those they are supposedly sworn to protect.