Community Marches on 6-Month Anniversary of Miguel Estrella Killing
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Six months after the fatal police shooting of Miguel Estrella, family and community members marched on North Street and demanded change.
Since his death, there has been a call for improved mental health support and alternatives to policing.
"I've lost a sibling, but I've gained a community who sees exactly what I see: a need for change, a change that Miguel deserved a change that we deserve," his sister Elina Estrella said during a rally at Park Square.
"This march may not mean much to many, but it means so much for us, for the people who showed up, for the people who will be impacted in the future. It saddens me that we're here because of a death but it also enlightens me because we're trying to bring change and we're trying to make a difference in this small, small, small little world."
She added that six months later, one would think it gets easier but it doesn't. On Friday, Estrella would have been 23.
On March 25, police responded to the 22-year-old's home after a 911 call reporting that he was harming himself. After another 911 call, police returned and Officer Nicholas Sondrini fatally shot Estrella after failed taser deployments, alleging that he had charged him with a knife.
A preliminary investigation by the PPD reported that the responding officers acted in compliance and an independent investigation by the Berkshire County District Attorney's office exonerated Sondrini.
The PPD's report said Estrella did not meet the criteria for a person in crisis yet the DA said "many systems failed" Estrella and that he did not receive the mental health services that he needed.
His cousin, Cintia Polanco said what happened to Estrella is tragic and is, unfortunately, occurring all over the United States.
"People all over get murdered, brutally attacked, simply because they are misunderstood or because the police are afraid of them because they look different," she said.
"These people have access to armored military vehicles, entire armories of machine guns and they are the ones that are supposed to be protecting us. But why do they have access to weapons of mass destruction? You are supposed to be protecting me but you have an AK 47 In your police precinct. What are you ever going to need that for?"
Polanco has observed that the police are getting millions of dollars while homeless people are dying on the street. The Pittsfield police's FY22 budget was more than $11 million.
"This is the craziest thing I have ever witnessed in my whole life," she said.
"But I never ever in a million years would have ever imagined that something like this would have happened here in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, would I have ever imagined I would have witnessed or even experienced police brutality."
Polanco added that growing up, she was told to trust the police because they were there to help. She reported being the victim of police brutality at 11 years old and urged people to stop telling children that police are there to help.
The event was held by a number of community organizations to demand change and accountability in the police and the city as a whole. Meg Bossong of Invest in Pittsfield explained that it was also a day to mourn Estrella and celebrate his life.
"We are in a conversation with each other about change. We are in a conversation with each other so that we can remember all the people we have lost in our city. We have lost Miguel, we lost Danny Gillis to a similar killing," she said.
"We have also lost our friends and our neighbors and our family members to addiction, homelessness, to the slow-moving violence that has happened in our city for generations. And so we mourn also the loss of the futures that we could have had with them. And we are here for change. We are here for possibility. We are here to imagine together the futures we can build for the people in Pittsfield we have not met yet.
"We are here to talk about what is possible when we build the structures that we need for safety, for justice for health."
The Department of Public Works led a crowd of about 30 from Persip Park to Park Square and blocked off Bank Row in front of Patrick's Pub for the rally. This was intended to showcase alternatives to policing.
"Policing steals our people. And it also steals our imagination about what is possible," Bossong said.
"We don't have to wait for grants. We don't have to wait for programs. We don't have to wait for the city to tell us what's possible. We care for each other. We know how to care for each other."
Gonzalo Bermudez of the Manos Unidas Cooperative also emphasized that the incident was not an isolated case and it repeats across the country.
He said the officer killed the dream of a better future for thousands of young Latino people and students because they now live in fear that they will be next.
"The saying goes, to add insult to injury, the Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington has exonerated a criminal officer by justifying the shooting officer as an act of self-defense," Bermudez said.
"It seems to me that police officers use this excuse in the whole country to unnecessarily kill people when they decide to, knowing that the upper authorities will support them. This is exactly what happened in Miguel's killing."
Last week, the Ordinances and Rules subcommittee approved the creation of a co-responder position in the Police Department and two social worker positions, one in the PPD and one in the health department.
Elina Estrella recognized the effort but said the goal is to secure mental health responses that are separate from the police.
"I think that what we're actually trying to do is not have police involved at all because clearly in the (Daniel Gillis) incident and now my brother's five years later, it just doesn't seem to work. They're not trained specifically to de-escalate people in mental health crisis so I mean, I see the effort in them trying to do something about it, but I really feel like that has to be its own entity," she said, adding that she could see police responding to a person in distress with a gun but not for a 15-year-old having a bad day.
She still feels that police shouldn't respond to mental health calls even with a trained person.
"Half the time, they're going to have their own system of judging whether or not they should come out anyway because of the safety," Estrella said.
"So I just still feel like it's not really gonna do what they hope in theory it's going to do. Hopefully, it does work. I'm very optimistic and I'm happy that they're trying to do something and make some change."