Houston: Asesinos in Gulfton

The police murder of Pedro Oregón and the people's determination to stop police brutality

Revolutionary Worker #979, October 25, 1998

On the weekend of July 11, 22-year-old Pedro Oregón returned to his apartment in the Gulfton area of Houston. After working all week on a landscaping job in Austin, Pedro was looking forward to spending some time with his family and to a soccer game on Sunday. But at 1:30 a.m. on July 12, someone knocked on Pedro's door. When someone opened the door a bit to see who it was, six uniformed cops from the Houston Police Department's "gang task force" came storming in. They began shouting, hitting, and threatening people in the apartment. The cops kicked down the door to Pedro's bedroom and started shooting. Only moments after the cops came crashing through the door, Pedro Oregón lay bleeding to death on his bedroom floor--shot 12 times, 9 in the back.

The cold-blooded police murder of Pedro Oregón sparked broad outrage in Gulfton and throughout Houston. Two weeks after Pedro's death, 200 angry people marched through Gulfton in 104 degree heat in a demonstration called by La Resistencia, and demonstrations and meetings have continued in Gulfton and throughout the city. On Saturday, September 19, a memorial mass was held for Pedro in a nearby Catholic church. The next day, 200 people again marched through the street. Carrying banners and placards with pictures of Pedro, people chanted "perros asesinos" [murdering dogs] and "La Migra, la policía, la misma porquería," [the migra, the police, the same stinking mess] "Justice for Pedro," and other slogans.

The police version of what happened on July 12--which was parroted in the local media--was quickly exposed as a lie. And several weeks after Pedro died, the District Attorney was forced to send this case to a grand jury. But now, almost three months later, the grand jury is still hearing evidence in this case and no charges have been returned.

Pedro's death touched a deep chord in people. People in Gulfton, like proletarians in cities across the U.S., live under constant police occupation. The youth are all treated like criminals. Most people in Gulfton are immigrants, and are very familiar with Migra raids, border wars waged against the people, and a bureaucratic nightmare called the Immigration and Naturalization Service which tears apart families and chews up lives. Among the people in Gulfton, there is deep determination to continue this struggle for justice for Pedro. One man at a march carried a sign he had made himself which expressed this determination. His sign read, "No more bowed heads."

The Making of a Ghetto

Police and immigration officials have been putting Gulfton in a vice grip for years. In Houston, it is ground zero of the system's "war on drugs" and "war on gangs." Gulfton is the largest barrio of people from Central America in Texas. It is also home to many Mexican immigrants, and some people of other nationalities and origins.

Most of the apartments in Gulfton were built during a real estate boom in Houston in the late '70s and early '80s. Originally the 50,000 apartment units here were designed for young middle class couples and families. But the bottom fell out of this market when the savings and loan scandals of the '80s hit Texas. The owners of the apartment units in Gulfton couldn't pay their debts. Services in the buildings soon began to deteriorate badly. Razor wire fences were thrown around buildings. Windows were boarded up. People moved out as apartment complexes shut down altogether.

Then other capitalist landlords bought the buildings at bargain rates. Few or no repairs were done on the run-down buildings. Advertising for the units was done only in the Spanish media, especially targeting the many Central American and Mexican immigrants moving into the city. Almost overnight, Gulfton became known in the local media as the "Gulfton ghetto." Collapse in the real estate market combined with bourgeois scandal and greed had transformed a middle class district with modest but tidy apartments into acres of broken glass, barbed wire, backed-up sewage and overflowing dumpsters. Political authorities and media hacks blamed the masses who lived in Gulfton for causing a situation which in fact victimized them.

An HPD substation was opened in Gulfton in 1990, and immediately began what the Houston Chronicle then described as "the largest crackdown ever embarked upon by the Houston Police Department." Hundreds of people were arrested, most of them youth busted on petty misdemeanor charges cooked up by the cops. Many people were deported. This marked the beginning of years of constant and intensifying police terror against the people in Gulfton. "Gang task forces" and "drug task forces" were given free rein to run roughshod over the youth. And as some community activists have pointed out, schools, parks, and libraries aren't to be found in this neighborhood. Police repression is the only "service" the city offers the people of Gulfton.

The Fight for Justice vs.
the System's Lies

To many people in the area, the murder of Pedro Oregón is a savage concentration of the mistreatment and brutality continually dished out by the enforcers of this system. People are tired of the constant abuses, the unending police and Migra harassment, the attitude of the authorities that brands any young person living in Gulfton as a criminal.

One man told the newspaper El Dia during the first rally for justice for Pedro Oregón, "We Hispanics come here to work, to look for better opportunities in life. We don't come here so that they can kill us, so they can abuse us without enjoying the privilege of justice. Also, we Hispanics are a force and we can unite ourselves. We are not going to allow the authorities to abuse us for the simple fact that we are Hispanic. We are a force and we are going to show it." People in Gulfton--many of whom fled U.S. sponsored death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala--commonly call the police in the U .S. soldados (soldiers), because they are so much like the soldiers who rampaged through the countryside of their homelands.

Many of the people who have stepped forward to protest the murder of Pedro Oregón have a lot of experience themselves with brutalizing, murdering cops, and an unjust court system that backs them up. And they have joined with others like members of the Nation of Islam, University of Houston professors and students, and La Resistencia to fight police brutality. A coalition has formed around the slogans "Justice for Pedro Oregón, Jail the Murdering Police for Life!"

The police and the system they serve have been exposed and put on the defensive by the struggle of the people. But they are lashing back, in ways that are both open and not so obvious.

The lies the police concocted to try to justify the murder of Pedro Oregón have a familiar ring to oppressed people in Houston and throughout the country. The first words the Houston Chronicle used to describe Pedro were "drug suspect." Police also said Pedro was a "suspected drug dealer" and claimed he pointed a gun at them and then "shots were fired"--which killed Pedro and winged one of the killer cops in the shoulder.

But the lies of the official story soon began falling apart. There were no drugs found in Pedro's apartment. An autopsy revealed there wasn't a trace of drugs or alcohol in Pedro. The cop who was shot was wounded by one of his fellow pigs when they blasted off over 30 rounds at Pedro. A gun Pedro had to protect himself and his family was never fired. And the cops even violated several of the regulations of Houston Police Department policy. They had no search warrant authorizing them to go into Pedro's apartment, and they had no arrest warrant for Pedro. The snitch who supposedly told them drugs were dealt from Pedro's apartment was not a "registered informant" with HPD, as is required by department policy.

Johnny Holmes, the Harris County District Attorney in charge of presenting cases to grand juries in Houston, has been responsible for sending more people to the execution chamber than any other prosecutor in the country. He fought and maneuvered for years to keep Ricardo Aldape Guerra on death row for killing a Houston cop, even though all the evidence showed that Ricardo was innocent and that the legal case against him was a racist frame-up from beginning to end.

Holmes quickly defended the cops who shot Pedro Oregón. Even though he admitted the cops didn't have any authority to enter the house, Holmes said the cops didn't violate Texas homicide laws. His argument is basically that even if everything the cops did before they shot Pedro was a violation of the system's own laws and the HPD's own policies, the police were legally justified to shoot Pedro--because any attempt to resist police officers is illegal.

Holmes also seems to be trying to drag out the grand jury presentation as long as possible, hoping peoples' anger will cool down by the time the jury comes back with a decision. A leaflet put out by the Pedro Oregón Justice Coalition said, "District Attorney Johnny Holmes will present this case to the grand jury without charges. He is trying to justify the murder of Pedro Oregón. He does not want to charge the police. He says that if Pedro had a pistol then the police had the right to kill him. What an idiot. Like a gang or a death squad in the night, the police brutally broke into Pedro's apartment. The murder of Pedro Oregón cannot be justified. We demand justice. Jail the murdering police for life. We are not afraid. Continue fighting. We will fight until the truth comes out."

The System Lashes Out

Meanwhile, the police have threatened and tried to intimidate the people fighting for justice, especially those who live in Gulfton. At the marches and rallies, the cops have kept paddy wagons in the vicinity preparing for mass arrests, and dozens of cops have been mobilized for "traffic control."

The authorities are clearly worried about this struggle getting "out of control," and some dirty tricks and suspicious activities have been aimed at the struggle and at known political leaders and organizers.

Within a week after the murder of Pedro, plainclothes police went through the Gulfton apartments where Pedro had lived. In a cruel and sinister act they went door-to-door, asking for Pedro Oregón, saying they had an arrest warrant for him. In another incident at a demonstration, a woman active in many struggles in Houston said she was approached by a well-dressed woman she suspected was a plainclothes cop. The woman said "Give Travis Morales a message for me. Tell him to rest in peace." Travis Morales is well known in Houston as a supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Party and a spokesperson for La Resistencia.

Then, a few days before the mass and march for justice for Pedro, a suspicious article appeared in the newspaper El Dia. There have been several articles in El Dia sympathetic to the struggle for justice for Pedro Oregón. But this article was very sinister. It claimed to be based on a conversation with an activist in the coalition involved in this struggle. Its headline said that "violence was foreseen" in the struggle for justice for Pedro. The article claimed some people in the coalition were talking about taking violent measures if the decision reached by the grand jury was not considered favorable. The article didn't name any names, but pointedly referred to the Moody Park Rebellion of 20 years ago, when people on Houston's Northside rose up in righteous rebellion one year after the police murder of Jose Campos Torres. The article claims that an activist in the coalition told the paper, "We know that there are members of our organization who participated in the Moody Park Rebellion 17 years ago and who have mentioned the use of violence in case the Grand Jury doesn't formally accuse the officers." The article further states that plans for "violent reactions" have been part of discussions within meetings of the Justice for Pedro Oregón Coalition.

Everyone in Houston knows that Travis Morales is the one person most associated with the Moody Park Rebellion. He was deeply involved in the year-long battle to win justice for Joe Torres. After people rose up and rebelled against an outrageous court decision which essentially let off the cops who killed Joe Torres, Travis defended the rebellion at a City Hall press conference, stating that, "This was a glorious day in the history of the Chicano and Mexican people when they gave the capitalists and their cops a small dose of the justice they deserve." He was arrested on charges of "felony riot" and put in jail on half a million dollars bail.

Travis sees all his political work from the perspective of contributing everything he can to preparing for proletarian revolution, when the time is right and the situation ripens. And he upholds the right of people to defend themselves in the face of police brutality. He and other supporters of the RCP active in the struggle for justice for Pedro Oregón have made their revolutionary point of view clear.

The El Dia article represents a crude and obvious attempt to possibly set up Travis Morales and others on criminal charges. In fact, no such discussions have taken place within the coalition. And the person who was supposed to have been the source of the El Dia article wrote a letter, published in the paper the following day, which repudiated the article's accusations.

Peoples' struggles in the U.S. have been filled with examples of fabricated and police-planted stories used to set up revolutionaries and activists, and to disorient and confuse the people. Often, articles filled with lies have been used by the police as justification for attacking revolutionaries. For instance, in 1970 the Houston newspapers contained hysterical articles claiming Carl Hampton and other young revolutionaries associated with the Black Panther Party were eager to engage police in armed confrontations. In July 1970 the Houston Police Department and other police agencies launched a massive attack on Party headquarters on Dowling Street in which Carl Hampton was murdered and several other people were severely wounded. All attempts like the El Dia article, which aim to divide and set back the struggle, need to be denounced and exposed.


People in Gulfton and elsewhere in Houston are saying that Pedro Oregón will not be forgotten. And there is strong determination among many people in Gulfton to continue the fight for justice for Pedro Oregón whatever the grand jury decides. People don't want this struggle to stop until the cops are indicted, tried, and serving time for murder. And as October 22 approaches, some people who have been active in this struggle are beginning to make the connection between carrying forward the fight for justice for Pedro Oregón and fighting against all police brutality, repression, and criminalization of the people.

Justice for Pedro Oregón!
Jail The Murdering Police for Life!

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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