Year After Miguel Estrella's Death, Balloons Soar Over Pittsfield in His Honor
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Balloons soared over the downtown on Sunday in remembrance of Miguel Estrella, who was fatally shot by police on March 25, 2022.
His family has spent the last year advocating for better mental health support and police accountability. On Sunday, they marked the year anniversary of his death with a vigil in Persip Park under clear, bright skies.
"Miguel made it nice and sunny for us today," his sister Elina Estrella said.
She said her brother was nice to everyone and was learning to cope with his mental health issues and she urged people to have compassion for others.
"My main thing is just be kind to people. You never know what they're going through," Estrella said.
"Just because someone is having a bad day doesn't mean that they're a bad person and I know he wouldn't want anything that happened to him to happen to anyone else. I know that for a fact. It's just the type of person he was so that's what I would love for people to know. He was just the type of person to be like, 'I got you' and whatever it was, he had your back."
The night of the incident, 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 Estrella was fatally shot after failed taser deployments, with officers alleging that he had charged them 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.
Estrella's brother Corey Johnson said a person in crisis should not be met with aggression.
"Police need to have common sense. It's not hard. It's really not hard. Treat people like people," he said, adding that he is trying to instill compassion in his community.
Estrella commended the implementation of body cameras on Pittsfield officers and though co-responder positions were added to the department last year, she hopes to see an entity that is separate from the police on the job.
With a new administration coming in 2024, as Mayor Linda Tyer announced she will not seek re-election, and a new police chief on the horizon as well, Estrella plans to communicate ways for the authorities to better interact with community members.
"It's not that we're against them or that we hate them," she said. "It's like we'd rather work with you and keep the peace, keep everyone safe and willing to work with each other so I'm looking forward to having those conversations."
She urged attendees to sign a police accountability petition on qualified immunity asking that an independent investigation is required when police use deadly force.
This is a topic in statewide police reform efforts. As part of the Massachusetts Police Reform bill signed into law in 2020, a legislative commission was created to study qualified immunity in the commonwealth.
"Because they have this immunity a lot of families that are impacted by them or killed by them, we can't even get a case made because they just dismiss it," Estrella explained.
"So we feel like that is the first step to kind of make a change for not only Miguel but for other families also impacted and for anyone else who might be a victim in the future because this is an ongoing issue that doesn't seem like it'll stop for a while."
While understanding that police need some level of protection, she believes that the policy should be re-evaluated and adjusted to be more equitable.
Miguel's family is currently working on a civil lawsuit and the qualified immunity has been the biggest hurdle, she said.
Last week, Superintendent Joseph Curtis announced that two additional student resource officers had been assigned to the district's middle and high schools.
Estrella does not believe that there should be police in the city's secondary schools. She pointed to the fact that Pittsfield schools do not have security measures such as metal detectors, as some urban schools with SROs do.
"I mean, maybe a program where they can come out to visit and advocate and give advice and kind of give some type of safety lists for these kids to have something to look up to," she said. "But having them at the school all day, that's kind of intimidating."
Attendees were asked to set good intentions while releasing the balloons into the sky.
"I figured it's like a releasing of energy because your energy never dies," Estrella said.
"So I figured with every person that had a balloon or was able to obtain it a balloon they're essentially, when you touch that helium, it's able to lift because we can't fly so I figured why not release them and kind of release our intention so that hopefully if, whatever people believe in, it reaches him and he can hear our thoughts and prayers with our manifestations and intentions with those balloons."
Miguel's mother, Marisol Estrella, stood in the park with other family and friends holding a mural gifted to her after her son's death. They hope to mount it on the building at the corner of North Street and Columbus Avenue.
Tags: fatal, Pittsfield Police, shooting,