Thursday, November 02, 2006

Brad Will, Critical Mass Documentarian

November 2, 2006--New Yorkers and Critical Mass cyclists are mourning the death of reporter Brad Will who was shot in Oaxaca, Mexico on October 27.

The independent video documentarian, whose real name was William Bradley Roland was videotaping a fracas when he was shot by armed gunmen who were allegedly hired by Oaxaca Governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, to fire against demonstrators in the neighborhood of Santa Lucia del Camino, on the fringe of Oaxaca city. His dramatic, last minute videotaped account of his own death has been posted on the Internet by Salon Chingon. He was 36 years old.

Mr. Will was well known as a documentarian among cyclists who participated regularly in the Critical Mass events that took place at the end of every month in Manhattan.

Oaxaca is also a well known area in Mexico for mountain biking, and has a significant local community of mountain and road cyclists. Benepe's Bike Blog has long been reporting on the area as a draw for cyclists because of its great mountain trails, historic significance, and low cost training advantages. Celestino Bautizo Lazo, a student there, has been the subject of a fundraiser by BBB to purchase a mountain bike for him.

Four other people have been reported killed in the ongoing struggle between Oaxaquenos and the local government since last Friday, which started very early in 2006 when teachers and administrators of the Autonomous University Benito Juarez of Oaxaca, UABJO, went out on strike for better salaries. Since the beginning of the strike, the movement has been joined by several other groups including the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, APPO, who have been demanding the resignation of Oaxaca governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.

Mr. Will was a documentarian for Indymedia, a group that has been a strong supporter of the monthly Critical Mass events held by cyclists around the city. According to cyclist Jym Dyer, Indymedia was instrumental in providing videotaped evidence for cyclists who were arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention and accused of breaking the law.

Videotaped testimony provided by Indymedia helped release the cyclists who were shown on tape to be defending themselves against police actions instead of instigating violence, according to several who are familiar with the court case.

Several demonstrators protesting the death of Mr. Will outside of the Mexican Embassy in New York on October 29 were arrested by New York Police officers, and photographers and videographers from the press were pushed and shoved, and their cameras seized by members of the NYPD.

Photo by Mike Pidel

And during the October 27 Critical Mass held in Manhattan, police officers were documented videotaping and photographing cyclists from a black SUV.

President Vicente Fox of Mexico ordered federal troops into Oaxaca on Saturday to bring order to the small town which has long been a tourism hotspot for Americans and Europeans because of its ancient cobbled streets and historic sites.

Residents of Oaxaca who include previous Mexican cycling champion, Pedro Martinez, who owns a bicycle touring company there, have seen their incomes disappear as the city has become engulfed in the fight with the local government.

But no Oaxaqueno is likely to support governor Ortiz who has long been viewed as someone who stole the election, and who provides lucrative government contracts to his pals, while ordinary Oaxaquenos face increasing costs and stagnant salaries. Many cite his repaving of the historic town square, the Zocalo, with flat stones more reminiscent of a mall in California, which destroyed the town's historic character, as a symbolic and literal example of his failed governorship.

The parallels between the two towns of Manhattan in the United States, and Oaxaca in Mexico are not lost on observers. As members of the NYPD sought to prevent the press from documenting police action on October 30, governor Ortiz sent paid men to shut down the local newspaper, Las Noticias, in Oaxaca in late 2005: members of the paper have been working out of makeshift location several blocks away ever since. Governor Ortiz also reportedly shut off the electricity to the local radio station at UABJO that was providing ongoing information on the showdown with the government.

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