Two weeks after he was killed while in the custody of Alameda police — having apparently asphyxiated while pressed to the ground on his stomach, not unlike George Floyd — we are learning a bit more of the story of Mario Arenales Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, 26, had apparently been drinking by himself in a small park in Alameda on the afternoon of Monday, April 19, when some neighbors called the police. Gonzalez was neither trespassing nor committing any crime, but his behavior unnerved several people, including the wife of one 911 caller who made sure to say he wasn't doing anything wrong.
Alameda Police arrived, and one officer calmly questioned Gonzalez as he muttered various things — apparently intoxicated by not behaving in any erratic or threatening way.
For reasons that are not entirely clear from body-camera footage — an attorney for the police department says that officers were trying to keep Gonzalez from "tripping over a tree stump" — several officers decided to detain Gonzalez, and they struggled to get handcuffs on him. He was pushed to the ground and held there for a minute or two, struggling, and very quickly he became unresponsive and died.
"He was so sweet and gentle," says his mother, Edith Arenales, in a new interview with KTVU. Arenales says that her son was the "man of the house," and he dutifully helped take care of a severely autistic brother, who is 23 and nonverbal.
Gonzalez lived in Oakland and reportedly worked odd jobs after graduating from Coliseum College Preparatory school in Oakland, with plans to eventually go to college. But he had been working to help support his mother and brother, and most recently had a job at an Italian restaurant that shut down during the pandemic last year. Arenales tells KTVU that he had looked for work but couldn't land another job, and it had left him depressed. He drank and gained weight. And sometimes he reportedly went to Alameda to have some quiet time, his mother said.
His family isn't sure what he was up to on the day of his death — witnesses mentioned seeing him trying to pry security tags off of Walgreens liquor bottles, and he had two shopping baskets with him containing what appeared to be a significant amount of alcohol. The next day was his mother's birthday, and another younger brother had flown in from college on the East Coast to celebrate, so perhaps he was trying to procure supplies for that, though his mother says she forbade alcohol in the house.
What's clear, though, is that Gonzalez probably didn't need to be arrested, and he certainly didn't need to die just because officers failed to follow procedure and turn him on his side. He also died, ironically, the same day that the jury began deliberations in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer convicted in Floyd's death.
"They destroyed my family for no reason," Arenales told KTVU through tears. "And this can happen to anybody."
Gonzalez also leaves behind a four-year-old son with an ex-girlfriend, and he shared parenting duties.
Julia Sherwin, a civil rights attorney hired by the Gonzalez family, tells KTVU, "His story is the story of millions of Americans."
Gonzalez's younger brother has started a GoFundMe for the family's expenses, and it has raised over $140,000 of a $180,000 goal.
"Mario was not a violent person," writes Gerardo Gonzalez. "Mario was kind. He helped my mom take care of our brother. He wouldn’t hurt anyone. Our family needs answers."
Top image via GoFundMe