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Immokalee Vigil Attendees Demand Justice for Slain Single Father

Michelle Alvarez
A Vigil Attendee Holds a Sign at the Vigil for Nicolas Morales Besanilla.

At a gathering of around one hundred people in Immokalee this weekend, community leaders repeated pleas for justice and transparency in the case of an unarmed farm worker killed by a Collier County Sheriff's Deputy.

More than 100 people gathered at the zocalo in Immokalee on Sunday, in honor of Nicholas Morales Besanilla, who was fatally shot by a Collier County Sheriff’s deputy on Sept. 17, 2020.

As the sun set, Gerardo Reyes Chávez, with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) described what he saw on the dashcam video that the Collier County Sheriff’s Office released on its Facebook page when it announced their officer had been cleared of any wrongdoing by the State's Attorney's Office.

“It took just a moment for the officer who shot Nicholas to pull out his gun," said Chávez.

"It took 13 seconds for him to determine to take his life. Nicholas is not with us today because the police department failed to do their job. They failed to apply the supposed training that they received. That’s why we want to reiterate the three demands that we have today in the campaign for justice for Nicholas.”

First, he says the CIW wants a federal investigation into Nicholas’s shooting. They also demand the implementation of accessible crisis response teams across the county, which can respond to these kinds of incidents, including mental health specialists.

Chávez says the CIW's third demand is for the walls that currently exist between Naples and Immokalee to be broken. He believes this can only be achieved through aggressive transparency.

People of all ages stood at the intersection of Main and 1st St., shouting chants as live music played. Community members held signs saying, “Justice for Nicholas,” and, “No more police violence.”

Karen Dwyer has been a resident of Collier County for more than 50 years. She said she has always been concerned about the farmworker community and the need for justice.

“We need to all remember, in Naples, that Immokalee is a part of Collier County,” Dwyer said. “And we have an obligation and duty to help our farmworker community.”

Dwyer added, “this is just another instance of people of color being targeted and being killed by police.” She says that when she saw the actual dashcam footage, she was stunned.

“When I looked at it, I was just horrified— I’m still horrified that there hasn’t been a federal investigation yet, that nothing has been done, and I think they need to work with the community to heal the community.”

Ruddy Turnstone works with the COVID-19 hotline for incarcerated people in Lake Worth, Florida. She traveled to Immokalee to stand in solidarity because she believes Nicholas’s death could’ve been avoided.

“Police brutality is something that keeps happening,” Turnerstone said. “I think that it’s really important when we’re talking about building up our infrastructure.”

Turnerstone added, “I agree that there needs to be a crisis response team that is not affiliated with the police, and I think we need to take that money from the police and put it into these institutions, into this community so we can support each other.”