Angel Diaz is standing under the Tucson summer sun with different shades of blue spray paint laying at his feet, and somehow, at high noon, the Phoenix muralist barely breaks a sweat under his hat, sunglasses and long-sleeve T-shirt.
Maybe it's the mission he's on this Saturday, Aug. 3 — painting on more than 10 feet of concrete a dark- and baby-blue outline of a smiling young man holding an accordion. Up a ladder, Diaz climbs shading the figure's hair, wide nose and full lips that form a wide smile. Below Diaz is a black asphalt-covered parking lot near the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street just west of Plush.
There are other murals that line the parking lot walls — many by local Tucson graffiti artists. However, this one is obviously different, especially since the subject's mother is sitting only feet away from where Diaz works, under the shade of a few mesquite trees and surrounded by grandchildren, nieces, nephews and her sisters.
The image on the mural is of Carlos La Madrid, the 19-year-old shot in the back three times (a fourth bullet grazed his arm) and killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent on March 21, 2011 on the U.S. side of the border wall in Douglas, Ariz. His mother, Guadalupe Guerrero, who lives in Tucson, has become an outspoken figure on border violence in her attempt to seek answers and justice — traveling to Washington, D.C. with Mexican poet Javier Scilia to speak out on violence on both sides of the border, recently fasting with other immigration activists at Southside Presbyterian Church and speaking out at a recent justice forum organized in reaction to the Zimmerman verdict on the Trayvon Martin murder.
Guerrero told the Weekly she's grateful Diaz took the time to reach out to her and paint a mural of her son. "We don't want people to forget and we still want answers," Guerrero says through her sister, who interpreted.
Diaz says he hopes the mural not only calls attention to La Madrid's death, but that 19 other people have been killed by Border Patrol since 2010. "Not one case has been brought against these agents and they're getting away with murder."
Diaz, who's lived in Phoenix for more than 20 years and is involved in activism and youth art education, has painted and been involved in dozens of mural projects in Phoenix, but never Tucson. Many of his murals can be seen in downtown Phoenix and the Roosevelt district.
"It was important to first meet with Guadalupe before I did anything. I just didn't want to show up in Tucson and paint somebody and not get more of an in-depth story of what is going on," Diaz says. "It hits the heart more and made me want to paint it even more. I've also been wanting to do a couple of murals in Tucson, but when I found out I could do this wall here it blew my mind."
Sitting under the trees with Guerrero and her family, they describe what they think they know happened the day La Madrid was shot. They know he was being chased by Douglas police and speeding toward the border. At the border wall west of the Douglas Port of Entry, La Madrid got out of his car and started to climb a ladder on the border wall when a Border Patrol agent opened fire. It was reported that La Madrid had thrown rocks damaging a Border Patrol vehicle and made the agent feel threatened enough to stop and shoot. Later officials said they were unable to confirm any rocks thrown by the young man.
Guerrero says she has filed a lawsuit in June against the Border Patrol and the agent who shot La Madrid. Her Tucson attorney, Jesus Romo, was contacted for more details, but we had not heard back from him as of press time. Guerrero and her sisters want answers to come from the lawsuit, and maybe justice will follow.
Through police reports, the Border Patrol agent was identified as Lucas Tidwell. After being shot, La Madrid fell to the ground and died hours later at a Douglas hospital. The report also stated the damage to the Border Patrol vehicle was not caused by rocks, but by a gun shot from the inside of the vehicle.
"I assume Border Patrol has a special technique to deal with these kinds of interactions, so why choose that kind of force and shoot at him four times in the back. That's what we don't understand. He wasn't carrying a firearm," she says.
"Maybe they thought he was an illegal alien, and they just got here ... we don't know. He was a U.S. citizen, but they probably never thought he was and probably didn't know he had a family."
La Madrid's family was told he was being chased by police because he had drugs — if drugs were found on him or in his car, the family doesn't know yet because details like this have been kept from them — another reason they filed the lawsuit.
The mural, Guerrero says, brings a little peace. When she arrived at the parking lot on Saturday and saw the early drawing on the large wall she started crying. Every day is hard and every day something reminds her of him. After this happened, she says she felt so alone. The mural makes her proud and presses her to continue asking for answers.
"All we want is to have that person serve the time he deserves just like a regular civilian ... We don't find any logical excuse and that's what we are fighting. Not only for that but answers to why — why did he chose to do that and after that there's a lot of people who've gone through what we've been through — fighting for that justice. If we can get answers maybe they can, too. We're going to keep knowing on doors until justice is served."