Shooting the Shooter

Brad Will went to Mexico to document an uprising. He ended up filming his own murder.

click to enlarge Independent journalist Brad Will spent years covering Latin American protests before he was killed on the job in October 2006. - Courtesy bradwill.org
Courtesy bradwill.org
Independent journalist Brad Will spent years covering Latin American protests before he was killed on the job in October 2006.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2006, the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca was on fire. Police squads rolled through the cobblestone streets of this colonial state capital, the hired guns of an unpopular governor, peppering with automatic weapons the barricades erected by masked rebels. Hundreds were killed, wounded or imprisoned.

Brad Will, a 36-year-old video journalist for New York Indymedia, felt he had to be there.

When Will arrived, foreign journalists were being treated as terrorists by the government-controlled media: "¡Si ves a un gringo con cámara, mátalo!" 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.

He found it: On his final bits of tape, you see two killers perfectly framed up, their guns firing. You hear the fatal shot and experience Will's shudder of dismay as the camera tumbles from his hands and bounces along the sidewalk. Photos taken at the same time by the Mexican newspaper El Universal show the same gunmen.

By all visible evidence, Will filmed his own murder. But this is Mexico, and Will's apparent killers continue to live in Oaxaca, free and, it seems, untouchable.

Heading South

As acivists go, Will was out there. He had perched atop the Fifth Street squat on Manhattan's Lower East Side, where he had lived for years, waving his long arms like Big Bird as the wrecking ball swung in. He had been dragged out of City Hall, where he arrived dressed as a sunflower to rescue the neighborhood's community gardens. He was an anarchist and a freegan who tried to subsist on what others threw out. He was also a child of privilege from Chicago's wealthy North Shore who left to join what his fellow activists called the social-change movement.

Will traveled throughout Latin America interviewing labor leaders.

He hosted an incendiary weekly show on Steal This Radio, a pirate station, and he was an early part of Indymedia, the Web publication that grew out of the World Trade Organization protests that rocked Seattle in 1999.

With his long hair neatly tied back and parted down the middle, his granny glasses and fringe beard, and his fierce commitment to building community, Will seemed to have emerged whole from the time before Nixon.

He considered himself an independent journalist, someone who used the Internet and his own video cameras to track and record his causes.

Will's journey to the place he would die began right after 9/11. Dyan Neary, an activist and his former girlfriend, met Will in the elevator coming down from the WBAI studios on South Street, where Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! had been broadcasting commentary and reports about the attack on the World Trade Center.

"We walked down the piles. They were still smoking," Neary remembers. "We were both really scared. We thought this was not going to be resolved soon. Maybe never. So we thought we should go to Latin America, where people were still fighting."

Will and Neary spent most of 2002 and 2003 roaming the landscape of Latin America. In Fortaleza, Brazil, they confronted the director of the InterAmerican Development Bank during riotous street protests. They went to Bolivia and interviewed Evo Morales, who would later become that country's president, and traveled in the province of Chapare with the coca growers' federation. They hung out in Cochabamba with labor leader Oscar Oliviera, who had fought to keep U.S. engineering company Bechtel from taking over the city's water system. Everywhere they went, they sought out pirate radio projects and offered their support.

In February 2005, Will was in Brazil filming the resistance of 12,000 squatters at a camp near the city of Goiania in Goias state when the military police swept in, killing two and jailing hundreds. On his videos, you can hear the live ammunition zinging all around him. Will was reportedly beaten and held by the police.

Undaunted, he picked up his camera and went back through Peru and Bolivia. When the money ran out, he flew to New York to figure out how to raise enough scratch for the next trip south.

In early 2006, he returned to Mexico, tracking Zapatista spokesman Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos and the Zapatistas' anticapitalist "Other Campaign" through the Mayan villages on the Yucatán Peninsula.

In the spring of 2006, Will was back in New York, keeping track of the Other Campaign and a burgeoning rebellion in Oaxaca on the Internet from his room in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

He was itching to go to Mexico again, friends say, but worried that he would just be one more white guy getting in the way. In the end, the lure of what was going on in Oaxaca pulled him in. He bought a ticket, caught the airport shuttle from Brooklyn to JFK, and flew south Sept. 29. His return was set for Oct. 28.

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