The Inconvenient Death of Brad Will

Mexican police gun down a counterculture hero

"I remember this one time he was blowing fire in the middle of a Critical Mass ride in Times Square. The cops went to grab him and he threw his bike over his shoulder and ran up over the roof of a cab and got away. It was amazing."

The repercussions go beyond Will's own tragic murder. While it would be wrong to blame Will for the violent crackdown on APPO by federal forces, journalists on the ground say it sets an ugly precedent. In the words of Giordano: "Anytime the local forces of repression can't contain a rebellion in Mexico and want the feds to storm in, the recipe now exists: Kill a foreign journalist."


Brad Will was gunned down while filming protests in Oaxaca, Mexico.
photo: AFP/Getty Images
Brad Will was gunned down while filming protests in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Details

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Neary says Will knew what he was getting into. And he did it anyway.

"The last time I saw him was back in August," she says. "I told him, 'I love the work you do. But you don't always have to be on the front lines. You're not invincible.' I said to him, 'Watch out, listen to the silent places inside you. You matter too.' "

"He told me, 'I've got to be part of the revolution,' " Neary recalls. " 'There's stuff going on down there that I have to see. This is what drives me. This is where I've got to be.' He always put himself on the front line. Once he was there, turning back was not an option."

It would be easy to see Will's life as a classic case of upper-middle-class rebellion. But Neary says his passion ran deeper.

"He wanted to get to the things that were slipping through the cracks," Neary says, "the people whose faces will never make the news because of what and who they are."

That was Will's objective: giving people who had no names in the media a presence. He was traumatized by world events and the fact that people were dying around him. "He felt these people didn't have a choice to be in their situations," Neary says, "but he had choices and he was using that privilege to help give people a voice."

Will's journalism was always aimed at the activist crowd. He didn't bother much with translating his radical perspective to a broader audience—let alone properly punctuating his sentences.

In the wake of Will's death, at last, his reporting did go mainstream. His murder spotlighted the social upheaval in Mexico, which is ready to explode. It's not just APPO's popular takeover in Oaxaca, but also the larger battle over the contested national election and the widening polarization of rich and poor in Mexico as multinational corporations gobble up land and resources.

Americans don't pay much attention to festering discontent south of the border, just to the consequences: the flood of immigrants crossing over, along with an increasingly violent drug trade. The American government's response: put up a multibillion-dollar wall.

For now, Will's murder may have put a chink in that wall. His death, however briefly, made the crisis in Oaxaca impossible to ignore here. On Sunday, November 5, tens of thousands of APPO supporters from across Mexico descended on the capital to stand in solidarity with the besieged demonstrators. Though violence is ongoing—one protester was shot when gunmen opened fire on the march—APPO has managed to hold off federal forces seeking to wrest away control of the university campus and is still controlling parts of the city. The battle is not yet over.


Additional reporting: Bill Weinberg
Editor's note: This piece was updated online on November 14.

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