By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – Anti-racist groups late Tuesday unfurled a banner over a major interstate freeway in support of Will Van Spronsen, who was shot and killed by police Saturday after trying to burn deportation buses near Tacoma, WA.
“We came out today to honor the memory of an anti-fascist activist who acted against ICE. People, including children, are dying because of this administration’s inhumane and unjust policies. Many of us feel powerless, and we forget that collectively we do have the power to make change for the better,” said Autumn Gonzalez on behalf of anti-racist organizations who organized the banner drop.
The banner was dropped from a downtown overpass shortly after 4:30 p.m. above Highway 99. It read: “REST IN POWER. WHAT WE NEED IS ACTION”
For their troubles, the dozen or so protestors were attacked by a man brandishing a gun who demanded they take the banner down. He reportedly said, according to bystanders: “I’m against anti-racism. I’m a Trump supporter but I’m not a racist.”
Saturday, after a several-hour protest near Tacoma, Van Spronsen was killed by police after he took what is thought to be the first direct action against the U.S. deportation system, which has received scrutiny and criticism for using concentration camps to house asylum seekers, including children.
The 69-year-old man attempted to set fire to the deportation buses at the privately-owned Northwest Detention Center – he was a known anti-fascist and pro-migrant campaigner.
The Tacoma facility is reportedly “notorious” for violating human rights. It’s been the target of big protests after it was identified as a prison for holding the parents of children who had been separated from their parents.
Anarchist publications hailed the attempted feat, noting in one case: “We find his actions inspiring. The vehicles outside the detention facility are used to forcibly remove people from their homes and deport them, often to situations where they will face severe danger or death. Those vehicles being destroyed is only a start of what is needed.”
La Resistencia, a grassroots collective led by undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens based in Tacoma dedicated to ending the detention and deportation of immigrants, noted:
“Today marks yet another death linked to the detention center, and another death at the hands of the police. Based on available information, including the police scanner recording, Willem Van Spronsen, the protestor killed, appears to have been targeting not the detention center itself, as has been widely reported in the media, but the parking lot across the street from the detention center which houses the NWDC’s transportation infrastructure.
”This infrastructure includes a fleet of buses that transports immigrants to be caged at the detention center, and that transports immigrants from the detention center to the Yakima Airport, from which they are deported.
“Mr. Van Spronsen was apparently trying to set the deportation buses on fire when he was shot and killed. His actions sadly reflect the level of desperation people across this country feel about the government’s outrageous violence against immigrants, which includes the use of detention centers to cage migrants both currently living in the US and those seeking asylum.
“This death results from the federal government’s unresponsiveness to the anger and despair people feel at the horrors unfolding both at the border and in the interior, and from the inability of officers to de-escalate rather than shooting to kill.
“But for the City of Tacoma allowing the GEO Group’s facility to be built and expanded in Tacoma, this death, and the death and suffering of those inside the detention center would have been avoided. The NWDC has become a liability not just for the tens of thousands who have been caged there, but for the city of Tacoma itself. It’s past time for the city of Tacoma to cancel GEO’s business license. It’s clear that this “business” is a deadly one, that has only brought pain and suffering to our region.”
Deb Bartley, a friend of the dead activist, told the Seattle Times she had been among several friends who got letters in the mail from him, saying goodbye: “He was ready to end it. I think this was a suicide. But then he was able to kind of do it in a way that spoke to his political beliefs. I know he went down there knowing he was going to die.”