As emergency protests were erupting outside San Antonio Police Department Headquarters, SAPD announced that aggravated assault charges had been brought against Officer James Brennand. A video from Brennand’s bodycam on Oct. 2 shows the cop approaching the car of 17-year-old Erik Cantu, who was sharing a meal with another youth in a McDonald’s parking lot and immediately firing ten times into the car without provocation.
Brennand claimed to be handling a disturbance call unrelated to Cantu’s presence. He claimed that he approached Cantu’s vehicle because he suspected without confirmation that the vehicle was stolen.
Without knocking or identifying himself in any way, Brennand opened the vehicle’s door and said “get out of the car.” As Cantu appeared to say “what” while chewing his food, he put his vehicle in reverse. Brennand immediately pulled out his gun and fired five times into the car.
Brennand then yelled “shots fired!” three times into his walkie-talkie without mentioning that he himself was the one who fired all the shots. Cantu, having been shot, tried to drive away, and Brennand fired five more times again yelling “shots fired” into his walkie-talkie.
According to Erik Cantu’s lawyer, Brian Powers, the shooting resulted in the teenager having to undergo multiple surgeries to repair some of his major organs. He is on a life support system to keep his lungs operating. However, Cantu’s family and friends remain optimistic. Even with Cantu’s critical condition, given his age, recovery is still possible.
After being detained, Cantu was rushed to the hospital in critical condition, where he was charged with “evading arrest” and “aggravated assault.” The Bexar County District Attorney only dropped the charges against Cantu after five days as the teen fought for his life in the hospital.
Brennand’s brutal assault on the unarmed teenager went viral, making national headlines. Millions of people across the United States witnessed this act of brutality on their TVs, their phones and their computers. Yet, even with the evidence widely visible, SAPD moved slowly on arresting and charging James Brennand.
George Ramos, Cantu’s best friend of eight years first saw the viral video at school. He told Liberation News that he was “so heartbroken [he] broke down in tears.” Ramos commented that Brennand was acting “more like he was at war” and that, given Brennand’s military training, he was “shooting to kill.” Ramos said he was “horrified and disgusted” by Brennand’s brutality. He is thankful that Cantu is still alive and asks everyone to pray and fight for him.
“In reality, Erik is just an everyday teenager,” said Ramos. “[H]e’s ambitious, hardworking, and generous.” Cantu graduated early from high school, while working multiple jobs so he could buy his own car. “He was an inspiration to all of his friends,” commented Ramos. Cantu often pays for his friends’ meals and gives his clothes to his friends who need them.
The Party for Socialism and Liberation and Act4SA organized a protest on Oct. 11 in front of SAPD headquarters, joining Erik Cantu’s close friends in demanding Brennand’s immediate arrest. Liberation News spoke to attendees.
The family of AJ Hernandez, a 13-year-old who was killed by San Antonio police earlier this summer, came to the protest in solidarity. AJ’s aunt, Stephanie Hernandez, told Liberation News, “I pray for Erik, his family and for the officer to be charged.” AJ’s killer, Stephen Ramos, still remains employed by SAPD and has not faced any charges.
“These cops just terrorize our community,” PSL organizer Dominique Renterria said. “[O]fficers go on too long going unconvicted while people who are innocent rot in jail.”
Cantu’s friend George Ramos spoke at the protest to say, “I know who I am and what my brother would want: He would want justice.” He added that “Erik would do the same thing for me if the roles were reversed.” Another friend, Odessa, spoke after Ramos: “It is disturbing, I wish this upon no one. Everyone here today needs to know how good Erik is and how he deserves justice. Everyone who is a victim [of police brutality] deserves justice.”
With the protest winding down, news broke that Brennand turned himself in on two charges of aggravated assault by a public official. Ramos immediately responded, “It isn’t enough.” For Ramos, Brennand should be charged with attempted murder given that he appeared to Ramos to be shooting to kill.
The arrest is a victory won through the widespread exposure of police violence and the pressure of people all across the country to jail killer cops. It is no coincidence that Brennand was charged while protests were erupting outside SAPD. But George Ramos is right — the fight for true justice is not over.