Flickering candlelight guided dozens of local community members and activists last week as they gathered in Gravesend to show solidarity with a local family who had a violent confrontation with ICE.
Erick Diaz-Cruz was shot on Feb. 6 by two plain-clothed ICE officers who had come to his home in the early morning to detain his mother’s undocumented boyfriend, Gaspar Avendano-Hernandez.
According to neighbors of the family, the agents did not identify themselves as ICE officers, nor did they tell Avendano-Hernandez — who was leaving the house to go to work — that he was under arrest or to put his hands up at the time.
Instead, one of the officers tased him, at which point Diaz-Cruz came out of the house and tried to intervene. According to reports from other media outlets, one of the agents fired a shot at him, which ricocheted off the back of his hand and lodged in his cheek.
The two men were taken to Maimonedes Medical Center, as were the agents for minor injuries. Diaz-Cruz is now out of the hospital and recovering at home.
“What happened last week happened to my constituent, happened to a family that I’m entrusted to help protect,” said State Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D- Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Homecrest, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Borough Park, Midwood), who attended the vigil.
“I’m here for the family, but I’m here also because a hundred years ago, they were coming for my people. They were coming for Greeks, they were coming for Irish, they were coming for Italians, they were coming for Jews,” he added.
Local activists Whitney Hu and Jorge Muniz organized the event, dubbed “Candlelight Vigil/Vigilia de Luz for the Diaz-Cruz Family.”
“We meant it more like we’re standing guard, like a vigil into the night, that we’re going to be as vigilant as we need to be,” Hu told Kings County Politics when asked why the event was called a vigil when neither of the victims died. “I mean, I can get really literal, like the death of innocence, the death of safety.”
Participants and speakers gathered at the corner of W 12th Street and Quentin Road in the neighborhood, where they criticized ICE and President Donald Trump for their attacks on immigrants here, despite this being a sanctuary city, while NYPD officers watched the scene from across the street.
In addition to criticizing Trump, speakers noted that only one local leader from the area [Gounardes] showed up or spoke out about the situation.
After Diaz-Cruz and Avendano-Hernandez’s family arrived, candles were lit and the crowd silently marched as a Jericho walk to the house down the block.
Outside the home, the group chanted in Spanish and English, and Diaz-Cruz, who has been physically unable to speak as of yet, waved from the living room window.
“Our communities are living through very, very difficult and tragic times, and we have to understand that this is part of a concerted political strategy. It’s coordinated to continuously terrorize our immigrant communities,” said Carlos Jesus Calzadilla-Palacio of Young Progressives of America. “This is part of trying to make sure that people are scared now that the Census is coming out. They’re also trying to ensure that they can feed — and we’re talking about the Trump administration — feed this vicious, racist base in order to gin up more hatred against immigrants.”
Several community and activism organizations played a role in the vigil, including Fight Back Bay Ridge, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Sunset Park Latino Democrats and Black Lives Matter.
“What we’re doing today is showing them that we can unite as one, to show them that we are actually one people,” said President and Co-founder of Black Lives Matter Brooklyn and President of the Brooklyn Chapter of Copwatch Patrol Unit Anthony Beckford.
Gounardes, who left before the Jericho walk, said the vigil was more than just a response to a single incident, but about every ICE clash across the country.
“We are doing a small gesture here but really part of a larger fight against what I would call a brutal, brutal show of force against who maybe look a little different, speak a different language and have a different type of last name but really are human just like the rest of us,” said Gounardes.