Mario Gonzalez Honored on his Second ‘Angelversary’

Ben Wiley -- A vigil was held on the two-year anniversary of the death of Mario Gonzalez while in police custody.
Ben Wiley -- A vigil was held on the two-year anniversary of the death of Mario Gonzalez while in police custody.

Mario Gonzalez Honored on his Second ‘Angelversary’

Family members, friends, and community members came together to honor Mario Gonzalez on the two-year anniversary of his death while in police custody.

The vigil was held on April 19 at Mario Gonzalez Memorial Park on the corner of Park Street and Otis Drive, the exact location where Gonzalez was first arrested by members of the Alameda Police Department (APD). The 26-year-old East Oakland resident died after being forcefully pinned on the ground for more than five minutes by three police officers.

Following the incident, the officers were cleared of wrongdoing by then-Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. However, earlier this year, newly elected DA Pamela Price announced Gonzalez’s case is one of eight re-opened by her office for further evaluation ("," Jan. 31).

The celebration, which was organized by Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) Organizer Associate Amanda Majail-Blanco, featured a traditional Mexican altar with photographs of Gonzalez as well as candles and flowers. It began with messages of support and gratitude from family friend Majail-Blanco and Mario’s mom Edith Arenales, in Spanish. Then, an intergenerational group performed Mexican and indigenous cultural dances. In addition to watching the dancers, attendees were offered food and entertained by a Mariachi band.

Majail-Blanco, who lost her brother to gun violence three years ago, said that the city and county has not done enough to honor Mario or prevent this from happening again.

“I don’t think the city has done a lot,” Majail-Blanco said. “They barely do anything and community members sometimes trash the site. If anything, the city has procrastinated in trying to hold cops accountable and no justice has been served.”

Majail-Blanco expressed hope that Price will realize the importance of this case and push criminal charges against those involved, unlike past district attorneys who have failed to hold police accountable.

Ericson (“E”) Amaya Bonilla, lead organizer for 67 Sueños, an Oakland-based youth organizing group in the same coalition as CURYJ, expressed a similar sentiment. He hopes that the vigil will help show Price that her support is needed for every case she is investigating, not just Gonzalez’s.

“Mario is like a beloved member of our community and I don’t think there has been much communication with the family and community,” Amaya Bonilla said.

He posed the following questions which he thinks the city still has not clearly answered: What support does his family need? What are the alternatives to policing that Mario clearly needed and that any human deserves?

In the wake of Mario’s death, Alameda funded and implemented Alameda Community Assessment Response and Engagement (CARE) in December 2021. The program provides training to Alameda Fire Department (AFD) paramedics tasked with responding to non-violent mental health crises in the city. If needed, the police alternative program’s paramedics have 24/7 support from on-call clinicians with Alameda Family Services.

According to the AFD’s three-month report in April 2022, the months preceding the implementation of this program, the department saw 45 calls with each response requiring the patient to be transported to a hospital, psychiatric facility, or some other place where they could get help. With the CARE team in place, the amount of calls for help increased to 92. However, just 26% of the responses needed transport to a hospital or medical facility with the rest of the situations likely resolved on-site thanks to the support of the CARE team and/or the on-call psychiatrist.

In the meantime, Gonzalez’s family and community will continue to fight for justice and honor his name and life. Gonzalez was a father to a four-year-old child, Mario Jr., and helped take care of his younger brother, Efrain, who has autism.

Ben Wiley is an Alameda Sun contributor.