Oakland resident, father, and caretaker Mario Gonzalez died in Alameda Police custody on April 18 and his family and supporters are demanding answers.
Gonzalez, 26, died in Alameda Police custody last Monday morning on the 800 block of Oak St near South Shore Mall. Family members held a vigil last week to tell the world about their brother and son.
Mario Gonzalez a ‘Family man,’ brothers, mother says
We need justice because we lost someone who was indispensable to our family,Edith Arenales, mother of Mario Gonzalez
His mother, Edith Arenales said, “We need justice because we lost someone who was indispensable to our family,” She said Mario was committed as a father to Mario Jr. and as a caretaker of his 22-year-old autistic brother Efrain. He didn’t deserve to be killed, she said.
His younger brother, Gerardo Gonzalez said he came back from college out of state to celebrate his mother’s birthday. Now he’s mourning Mario. Gerardo said Efrain hasn’t eaten and has trouble sleeping since his older brother’s death. Family members launched a Gofundme to support funeral expenses, costs for an autopsy, care for Efrain, and support for Mario’s family while they fight for justice for Mario.
The family demanded the release of Gonzalez’ body for an independent autopsy, to know the names of the officers involved in his death, and to have body camera footage released. They also demanded an independent investigation into the murder of Mario Gonzalez.
Also present at the vigil was Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project and attorney John Burris.
Police: Gonzalez died after ‘scuffle’
In an initial statement last week, Alameda Police claimed Gonzalez was a “suspect in a possible theft.” Police attempted to detain him and a “physical altercation ensued” and Gonzalez had a “medical emergency.” Police said he later died at a hospital. A second release from the City said Gonzalez died after a “scuffle.”
Community members critiqued the narrative being pushed by Alameda Police. “How do you take a healthy person into custody, who has no health problems and then they mysteriously die?“ asked George Galvis, executive director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Restorative Justice. Galvis noted the press release by Alameda Police was similar to “medical incident” statement published by Minneapolis Police following the murder of George Floyd. “He was murdered by Alameda Police and they will be held accountable.” Galvis added that the portrayal was part of a pattern to criminalize people of color.
“We know that there’s a pattern here in Alameda. There’s a pattern of not holding police accountable in Alameda,” Galvis said.
Alameda Police Racist Reputation
Last May, Alameda Police arrested Mali Watkins for “dancing in the street.” The arrest and “cover up” at the same time as the George Floyd protests later led the City of Alameda to explore Police Reform and Racial Equity. Last month, the City Council heard recommendations from a committee that met for over six months, but did not take action.
The arrest of Watkins also echoed complaints from three decades earlier of racist policing in Alameda. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’malley offered training for the officers after declining to charge Wakins. At the vigil, O’malley, an Alameda resident, was criticized for her office’s hesitancy to charge cops for killing civilians and for implying Oakland residents would bring crime to Alameda in 2013.
Alameda Police lack oversight, accountability
On April 20, Alameda called Gonzalez’ death a “tragic incident” and said the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office will conduct the primary criminal investigation. The City will also contract an outside investigator for an “administrative investigation,” the release said. The City hired an independent investigator after Watkins’ arrest, but the findings were not public.
Alameda Police have still not released the body camera footage and said they are coordinating with the investigating agencies and will release the video after interviews are completed.
Alameda City Councilwoman Malia Vella called for an emergency meeting of the City Council to consider the City’s 911 responses, use of force policy, create an alternative response to mental health related calls, and create a civilian police oversight board.
“The protection of human life is our primary duty as police officers. The loss of Mr. Gonzalez is a terrible tragedy and our thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones,” stated Interim Police Chief Randy Fenn.
Update: The family is hosting a press conference at Noon on Tuesday, April 27, outside the Alameda Police station at Noon.