Words by Freddy Jimenez, edited by Josue Rawmirez and Abbey Vela
Juan Trey Mendez III is setting precedence. The 42-year-old Brownsville mayor currently faces criticism from the community for his recent distorted bully pulpit methods against local activist Rebekah (Bekah) Hinojosa, but the question remains, was this personal? The community called out the Mayor’s further attempt to save face on social media and questioned if he or the police department will suffer any consequences. Some demand he apologize, others that he step down. It does not seem that he actively listens or authentically engages with the community when it comes to SpaceX.
First, let’s rewind a bit and see how we got here. According to news reports, the pink ‘BTX’ mural, located on E. 11th and E. Levee St. (on the side of the Capitol Theatre), was graffitied with the words “gentrified stop space x” on Monday, February 14th – Valentine’s Day.
Rumors spread throughout social circles as to who could’ve done it. Both individuals and organizations celebrated the act, as it represented the materialized frustrations of the community towards incoming hostile economic and cultural paradigm shifts. Others defended the mural, taking ‘pride’ in their city and its attempt to innovate. It was reminiscent of the time the Jefferson Davis Monument was defaced on Washington Park, eventually leading to its removal.
All the while and unbeknownst to us at the time, the powers that be moved their pawns.
Three days later, Thursday, February 17th, it was revealed that local activist and community member Bekah Hinojosa was allegedly responsible for the act; she had been arrested Wednesday morning, February 16th.
That same Thursday, at around 12:30 p.m., Mendez took to his official city mayor Facebook account to post about Hinojosa’s arrest, full legal name, place of work, the graffiti, and mugshot. He held back no punches.
Bekah was met with overwhelming support and media inquiries. However, as of Tuesday, February 22nd, Hinojosa and her attorney have issued a press release addressing the situation. Click here to support Bekah’s fundraising efforts towards court costs and campaign to drop the charge.
Comments and reactions immediately followed, calling out the mayor’s actions as unethical, questioning why he chose to highlight this offense on the city and not others. Some social media users wondered why he didn’t use his Facebook influence towards infrastructural needs or why the police had not progressed on Kimberly Avila’s case. Regardless, in typical Mendez fashion, the mayor only responded to certain comments, and when he did, they came off as snarky and condescending.
Since then, Mendez has edited the post from revealing Hinojosa’s work information to “We will let the legal process take its course on these criminal charges and respect that someone is innocent until proven guilty.”
And this man is supposed to be a lawyer?
Many in the comments were quick to point out the mayor’s contradiction, but if anything, this shows that elected officials, any of them, play dumb – a lot. They’re obsessed with what the people are thinking, and just because we don’t know what they’re doing, doesn’t mean that there isn’t intent. Mendez is no exception.
In a recent report done by the Texas Observer, Bekah reveals the details of her unfair, unethical, and quite frankly, unnecessary arrest and subsequent harsh jail holding. “She cracked the door open and, ‘they just pushed themselves into my apartment… grabbed me and handcuffed me,’” she explained in the article. With four officers surrounding her, not allowing her to change clothes or put shoes on, and threatened with resisting arrest, she was taken into custody.
Whether Bekah allegedly committed the tagging is still up for question, but that didn’t stop the Brownsville Police Department from placing her in a brightly lit cell for 26 hours – not knowing when day turned to night, without her prescription glasses, and further intimidating her by detectives insinuating her involvement with local activist groups. Unable to sleep because of the cold cell and lack of appropriate clothing, she sat stressed and had headaches from her blurry vision.
Police brutality, anyone? If not, it was, at the very least, definitely harassment. But to those saying it doesn’t happen here, consider what the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s office did to Jorge Gonzalez in Mission almost two years ago.
Bekah was out on bond by late Thursday morning, and by noon, Mendez had already made his attempt to control the narrative.
In the following days, organizations, social groups, and people shared their opinions and takes on the matter via social media. The Brownsville Herald, surprisingly, only wrote a small, five-sentence long “article” on the situation. So much for hard-hitting local journalism. Folks on social media did more digging than the Herald did, such as on El Rrun Rrun, a blog site where Brownsville chisme is often shared and discussed. There, many commentators seemed to have more of an issue with the chief of police than with Mendez, which is only more telling of the mayor’s already questionable behavior.
Mendez did not respond to the Observer’s inquiries, nor did he follow up on his Facebook post’s comments. He also didn’t respond to other media outlets’ stories, but he did go ahead and hang out with gubernatorial challenger Beto O’Rourke. He posted selfies in honor of the ongoing primary election season.
Mike Siegel, a civil rights attorney representing Bekah, stated in a press release that “Even if the Mayor truly believed my client had committed a Class B misdemeanor, under Texas law this is a ‘cite and release’ offense. Yet the City somehow sent a massive police presence to drag my client out of her home without decent clothing and held her in a freezing cell without essential eyeglasses; and then the Mayor used his official Facebook account to try to embarrass Rebekah further – all for an alleged act of ‘graffiti’ that was easily erased.” Siegal goes on to say that Mendez’s actions are clearly retaliatory and that he is violating federal law.
In the same press release, Bekah stated, “I was singled out and publicly attacked by Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez because I am outspoken about the destructive impacts SpaceX is causing to our environment and community. Instead of engaging with me and concerned community members about how we can protect Boca Chica Beach and our local ecosystems, the Mayor has abused his official authority to subject me to a violent arrest. But this will not stop us. We will continue to protest the negative environmental impact of continuing space launches, and we will continue to oppose the Mayor’s efforts to sell Brownsville to Elon Musk.”
Taking all that into account, Both Bekah and Siegal are adamant on two things:
On Wednesday, Feb. 23, the Brownsville Mayor posted a response on Facebook, saying no one is above the law and the need to respect public/private property. He “respects” Bekah’s work as an activist which some found laughable. Most notably, he asked “that an investigation be conducted into her arrest. If we see that any wrongful conduct occurred on the part of our police department, I will be the first to support the findings and recommendations resulting from that investigation and hold those individuals accountable. Nobody is above the law. Our community should feel safe to exercise their right to free speech in a lawful manner.” *Screenshot*
Once more the post was inundated with responses and reactions, most of them supporting Bekah, condemning the mayor, and further calling for an investigation not into the arrest but into Mendez’s abuse of power.
More recently, Gaige Davila, a reporter with TPR News, released documents from his public information request to the City of Brownsville, which outline the incident’s happenings. Davila makes note of the language used in the report and rightly so. In a reply to his post, Erin Sheridan, a former journalist with The Brownsville Herald, shared a probable cause affidavit regarding Bekah’s arrest, in which the city deems the damage costing $300. But more telling, as Erin highlights, is the emphasis on Bekah’s activism. Why?
Perhaps one of the more pervasive issues lingering amidst that front, one both supported by Siegal, Bekah, the community, and apparently now Mendez as well, is whom or what entity will be conducting the investigation? Whether the investigation is into the police, the arrest, or Mendez’s’s abuse of power, is the City of Brownsville supposed to investigate itself/themselves? In the past the Texas Rangers have been called to conduct these investigations, usually finding no wrongdoing on the police’s part. There surely are other third-party mediators that can be summoned. Can we and should we expect those in power to keep their power in check? In a democratic republic, that’s supposed to be the people’s job.
Again, Mendez is setting precedence in the sense that, like former President Donald Trump (and any president, really), he is pushing the bounds of what his office is allowed to do. In the way that Trump faced almost no consequence for his actions, regardless of how lewd and vulgar they were, Mendez is pretty much doing the same. Because who is going to tell the President “no”? The same occurs with a mayor, the executive of a city-commission charter. Today it was four cops on one person, without a warrant, and violently rushing one out of the house, while tomorrow it might be a whole SWAT team, police battering rams, and shoot first, ask questions later. This is an abuse of power and it is an underlying issue of something much deeper.
Mendez’s act was abusive, it was violent, it was harassment, and overall unethical and unnecessary. He has to make sure that Musk knows his investments are safe and protected.Beto isn’t the only celebrity to make appearances in Mendez’s photos; the billionaire next door shows up on the Mayor’s Instagram feed from time to time.
And with that, one could say the Mayor is socially liberal but fiscally conservative. Seeing as he supports Beto on the campaign trail, and also supports the elephant-in-the-room capitalist. Does the Mayor want Musk’s influence, or is he hoping to fast-track “improvements” downtown so he may one day fill his pockets via his deals in real estate development, Dodici’s on Adams, or his law firm on St. Charles? They would all be poised to benefit from the influx of attention the city is aiming to garner via displacement and gentrification.
It doesn’t matter who Mendez supports or how he/the city decides to move forward because it’s all a farce. In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx wrote that “the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” What he means is that the state, or the ruling governing body which holds all the institutions and police under its behest, is actually used to mitigate the dissonance between the interests of the rich and interests of the poor, in favor of the rich. Why does that sound familiar?
Mendez is standing on the shoulders of giants; the community. And not as some aspiring leader, but as more of a babbling parrot.
Bekah wasn’t the first and she won’t be the last. The state, with its infinite resources and police power, will repress any dissidence from a mile away, especially in a heavily militarized area such as ours. And if we attempt to submit public comments, another glitch in the system might render them obsolete. What is to be done? As rent continues to increase, as houses and land reach immense costs, and as food and gas prices continue to inflate without any remedy, the community will only grow more frustrated, and desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s graffiti on a mural today, but what will the people decide is appropriate tomorrow?