Who killed Brad Will?

And why has the murder of an American journalist in Mexico gone unpunished?
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photo by Raul Estrella for El Universal

news@sfbg.com

Oaxaca, Mexico — Those of us who report from the front lines of the social-justice movement in Latin America share an understanding that there's always a bullet out there with our name on it. Brad Will traveled 2,500 miles, from New York to this violence-torn Mexican town, to find his.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2006, the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca was on fire. Death squads, the pistoleros of a despised governor, rolled through the cobblestoned streets of this colonial capital, peppering with automatic weapon fire the flimsy barricades erected by masked rebels. Hundreds were killed, wounded, or imprisoned.

Will, a New York Indymedia videojournalist, felt he had to be there. Xenophobia was palpable on the ground when Will touched down. Foreign journalists were attacked as terrorists by the governor's sycophants in the media: "Si ves un gringo con cámara, matanlo!" the radio chattered — if you see a gringo with a camera, kill him!

For much of the afternoon of Oct. 27, Will had been filming armed confrontations on the barricades just outside the city. He was trapped in the middle of a narrow street while gunshots boomed all around him, but he kept filming, looking for the money shot.

And he found it: on his final bits of tape, two clearly identifiable killers are perfectly framed, their guns firing. You hear the fatal shot and experience Brad's shudder of dismay as the camera finally tumbles from his hands and bounces along the sidewalk.

By all visible evidence, Brad Will filmed his own murder. But this is Mexico, where justice is spelled impunity — and Will's apparent killers continue to ride the streets of Oaxaca, free and, it seems, untouchable.

Curiously, this egregious murder of a US reporter in Mexico has drawn minimal response from US Ambassador Tony Garza, an old crony of President George W. Bush. Why this lack of interest? Can it be that Washington has another agenda that conflicts with justice for Will — the impending privatization of Mexican oil?

HEADING SOUTH

Will was once a fire-breathing urban legend on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Whether perched atop the Fifth Street squat where he had lived for years and waving his long arms like Big Bird as the wrecking ball swung in, or being dragged out of City Hall dressed as a sunflower while trying to rescue the neighborhood's community gardens, this child of privilege from Chicago's wealthy North Shore was a legitimate street hero in the years before the World Trade Center towers collapsed and the social-change movement in New York City went into deep freeze.

Will hosted an incendiary weekly show on the New York pirate station Steal This Radio and was an early part of Indymedia, the Web publishing experiment born during the "Battle of Seattle," the World Trade Organization protests that rocked that city in 1999.

With his long hair neatly tied back and parted down the middle, with his granny glasses and fringe beard, and with his fierce commitment to building community, Will seemed to have emerged whole from a more utopian time in America.

He was an independent journalist, one of the growing number of people, such as Josh Wolf in San Francisco, who use the Internet and their video cameras to track and report on social moments and injustice. He wore no credential from any major news organization.