Nicolas Morales Jr., 13: “There is not one day I don’t think about him… The police cannot get away with what they have done.”

Over 100 farmworkers, religious leaders, students and Southwest Florida allies come together at vigil to call for justice for Nicolas Morales, killed last September by Collier County Sheriff’s deputies;

Family, community leaders demand accountability, real transparency, and effective mental health intervention to prevent future police violence in Immokalee; 

Nicolas Morales, Jr., 13, pens a heartbreaking letter to Collier County Sheriff’s Office: “Ever since that day I’ve been sad, lonely, angry and grieving the loss of my dad. There is not one day I don’t think about him and wish things could have been done differently to still have my dad here… The police cannot get away with what they have done.”

The urgent call for justice in the brutal killing of Nicolas Morales — an indigenous Mexican farmworker, single father and beloved brother, friend, and community member — at the hands of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office last September continues to grow louder.  On Sunday, over 100 farmworkers, religious leaders, students and community members joined the family and close friends of Nicolas Morales for a poignant vigil at the Immokalee Zócalo. 

Today, we have a short video (above) and photo report (below) with highlights from the event, which marked the beginning of an urgent campaign for justice and long-overdue police reforms necessary to change the way Collier County Sheriff deputies serve and protect the farmworker community of Immokalee: 

Around 4 p.m., as the sun began to set, Immokalee residents and people from across Southwest Florida — as far away as Tampa, Lakeworth, and Venice — began filling up Immokalee’s Zócalo plaza, masked and socially distanced, to demand justice for Nicolas Morales and an end to police violence.  The CIW’s Nely Rodriguez set the stage for the evening’s program, declaring: 

“What happened to Nicolas was a blatant injustice — it was something that did not need to happen, and it is something that we no longer want to continue happening in Immokalee… We don’t want any more orphaned children, we don’t want any more pained community members due to the unjust killing of another farmworker, another one of us.”

The Southwest Florida faith community showed up in force, holding the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to account for Nicolas’s preventable and brutal death.  Marco Island-based author and public theologian Brian McLaren invited fellow clergy on stage to join him, representing a multitude of faith traditions, as he offered a few words of conscience, and said, in part: 

“We share a deep belief about power. When you use your power justly, that’s good. But when you use your power in an unjust way, that is something we have to stand against… Power must be used with accountability. When the Collier County Sheriff simply said ‘everything is fine, this is all over” that was an abuse of power. We want Collier County to be a place that cares about human dignity and justice for everyone equally. We believe this is holy work. We believe this is God’s work.”

The multicultural and intergenerational action included children and teens from Immokalee and neighboring cities who were accompanied by parents and grandparents, as well as university students organizing locally for social justice, human rights and police accountability.  Josh McKie, a representative of Collier Youth for Black Lives — which formed last summer after the horrific killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer — addressed the crowd next, drawing attention to the unconscionable brutality that Black, Indigenous and Brown communities disproportionately face at the hands of police, saying: 

“The right to live is not too much to ask for. We need accountability and we need justice. Yet, I have hope and I want you all to have hope as well… The fight for justice is going to be long, it’s going to be exhausting, and it’s going to be distressing. Progress will be slow… And on our worst days we must keep pushing for what is right. Nelson Mandela once said ‘to be free is not to merely cast off ones chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the rights of others.’ And that is exactly what we must do on our best days and our worst days… We the people will fight for what is right. Nicolas Morales: may he rest in power.”

Drawing on his experience as a former farmworker in Immokalee for many years, Dr. Arthur Boyer gave voice to the mistreatment that Haitian and Latino farmworkers all too often suffer at the hands of the Collier deputies that patrol the streets of Immokalee, and fervently denounced Nicolas’s needless killing by Cpl. Pierre Jean:

“What happened to Nicolas could happen to me. The death of Nicolas could be the death of anybody here… Before I was a doctor, I was a farmworker right here in Immokalee, and let me tell you… Mr. Nicolas died because he lived in Immokalee. Mr. Nicolas died because he was a farmworker. Mr. Nicolas because someone didn’t value his life first… This isn’t something against our police officers or against law and order. We believe in law and order. We need law and order. They have to serve and protect. But the first thing they have to protect is a human life.”

Up next, CIW’s Lucas Benitez, took the stage to share a heart-felt reflection on Nicolas’s killing and what his loss has meant for the family members who survived him, including his mother in Mexico and his 13-year-old son Nicolas “Nicky” Morales, Jr., who is now living in Texas with his sister:

“When your mother dies, when your father dies, you’re an orphan. When your partner passes away, you’re a widow. When a child passes away, there are no words for that. This is how a mother finds herself right now in Mexico.”

Just days before the vigil, Nicky penned a letter sharing his own feelings about his father’s wrongful killing, addressing both those who are helping his family fight for justice as well as those responsible for his dad’s death.  The letter provided a painful glimpse into the devastating loss that now haunts him.  Here is an excerpt from Nicolas Jr.’s letter: 

Carrying Nicky’s words of trauma and frustration in their hearts, scores of vigil-goers flowed out of the Zocalo in a sea of colorful protest signs and Mexican flags to the main crossroads in Immokalee, occupying all four corners of the busy intersection of 1st Street and Main Street, where their cry for justice rung out in the heart of downtown Immokalee.

As dusk fell, the crowd made its way back to centerstage at the Zócalo for closing words from Nicolas’s family.  His brother Francisco Morales Besanilla, who tightly held a painting of Nicolas in his hands throughout the entire vigil, was first to share his gratitude for all who were helping to elevate his brother’s story and demanding justice be served.  Jesus Andrade, Nicolas’s stepson spoke next, expressing what Nicolas’s killing has meant for all closest to him, especially his step-brother Nicolas Jr.:

“It was one thing getting the phone call about Nicolas’s death, it was another thing to watch the video, it was something very horrific to see… When it hits home, that’s when it really hits your heart. Losing my mom in 2015 was hard enough, especially for my younger brother… And now my brother losing his dad at the age of 12, leaving him an orphan, it just makes it 20 times worse. I want justice for me, my family, Nicolas, and most especially for my little brother.”

The vigil ended on a particularly moving note, as Nicolas’s longtime friend Viola Martinez performed a solemn song, with tears in her eyes and heartbreak in her voice, laying bare her unbearable grief:

“What I want is justice for Nicolas because he did not deserve that death. He needed much more time to live with his family, to be together with his son, his boy who needs him so dearly. Who didn’t even know that they took his dad away that night — his son was sleeping on without knowing his father had been killed.” 

It was a truly unforgettable evening for the community of Immokalee, and an important step forward in our battle to ensure that Collier County law enforcement officers treat Immokalee residents with the same dignity and respect as they treat others in Collier County.  As that battle continues to unfold in the weeks and months ahead, Nicolas’s family and the broad — and growing — community that stands behind them, will keep up the fight, demanding both justice for Nicolas and, at long last, real and sustained police reform for Immokalee, including these three key demands: 

  1. Launch a federal investigation into Nicolas’s shooting by Corporal Pierre Jean and mauling by a police K-9. 
  2. Form and implement effective, accessible Crisis Response Teams, pairing police and mental health professionals, to respond to calls in Immokalee where mental health is a potential issue.  
  3. Break down the walls between the CCSO and the Immokalee community through aggressive transparency and genuine community participation by establishing an Immokalee-specific Citizens’ Review Panel with meaningful powers.

Check back later this week for a media round-up on the vigil and next steps in the campaign for justice for Nicolas.