Two and a half years after police shot 45-year-old Luis Gongora Pat to death at the edge of a homeless encampment, the victim’s family traveled from Mexico to hold a vigil at the spot on Shotwell Street where Gongora Pat died.
Four of Gongora Pat’s surviving family members — his wife and three adult children, who traveled from the Yucatan — arranged an altar on Shotwell Street with candles and images of Gongora Pat. His widow, Fidelia del Carmen May Can, prayed the rosary as a group of 30 supporters formed a circle around them.
“This is the first time the family is at the site where Luis died,” Adriana Camarena said to those in the circle. “This is a very special night for them.”
Camarena has been assisting the family of Gongora Pat since 2016, interpreting and organizing in their drive to get the city to investigate the shooting that resulted in his death.
District Attorney George Gascon’s announced on May 24, 2018, that he would not be filing charges against the officers involved, and issued a report in which 10 witnesses said Gongora Pat held a knife and appeared ready to attack the officers at the time of the incident.
The family’s lawyer, Adante Pointer, is pursuing a civil case against the city and police department.
Pointer said that the city had demanded the family present themselves in person for depositions. That meant that the family had to leave the Yucatan hastily or risk having the lawsuit dropped, Pointer said.
“It didn’t have to be that way. The city could have allowed the family to file the depositions at home in the Yucatan and they could have done it by video or teleconference,” Pointer said. “It was far from certain we would have been able to get the family here.”
Pointer said the family had to be physically walked across the border, and received a special permit issued by the court to enter the country.
After the first round of depositions on Monday, the family was able to meet with supporters and hold a vigil near the roll-up metal door where Gongora Pat sat on the morning of the shooting. The victim’s brother, Jose Gongora Pat, who lives in San Francisco, pointed at the dents where bullets struck Luis and dented the metal door. An incoming PG&E maintenance vehicle made the crowd clear out of the way.
“We couldn’t put the altar there because it’s an active driveway,” Camarena said to the crowd.
The night was also dedicated to helping folks who shared the streets with the victim. Their plan, said Camarena, had been to give out hot chocolate, pastries and other supplies like socks or mittens to the neighborhood’s tent-dwelling denizens. The family also wanted to see for themselves where Gongora Pat had been living.
The group took off from Shotwell and 19th streets and strode from tent to tent, offering hot chocolate, bread and warm socks to anyone that wanted them. The procession traveled eastward toward Harrison Street, where they encountered more tent dwellers.
One woman only stuck her hand through the tent flap and said thanks. Another man accepted the warm snacks and thanked Fidelia del Carmen, who ran point on the procession.
Underneath a tree, in a squashed black-and-green tent, one woman receiving hot chocolate and sweet bread from the vigil group popped her head out.
“We’re giving these in honor of Luis Gongora,” Camarena told the woman. “He used to live here; this is his family.”
The woman inside the squashed tent identified herself as Patricia, and said she had known the victim.
“I used to call him uncle, he was so nice to me. He helped defend me one time when I was suffering from domestic violence,” Patricia said.
Gongora Pat’s widow and Patricia hugged as tears flowed. Gifts and greetings were exchanged one last time before Patricia slid back under the squashed tent. The procession continued toward 13th Street until Jose Gongora Pat found a tree where his late brother had once carved his initials into the tree trunk.
“If I needed to find him I always stopped here first,” the victim’s brother said “He was always here when it was warm outside. He liked the shade.”
On 13th Street, a couple of men outside a tent thanked the family for the hot chocolate. Then, on Erie Street, a woman emerging from a large bag-like structure thanked the group for the warm chocolate.
“I used to see him around,” she said, and nodded when they described the altar they had arranged. She thanked them before going back inside.
By the end of the night, the volunteers had given out over 30 paper bags’ worth of pastries and half a cooler’s worth of hot chocolate.
Camarena said the family plans to hold a press conference at 10 a.m. on Thursday at Calle 24’s offices at 24th and Capp. They’ll be accepting donations for the family, many of whom had to leave their jobs abruptly, she said.