- Photo by Michael Marks
- A mural at Cassiano Homes commemorating the death Jose Jesus Rodriguez, who was killed in gang-fueled gun violence in the 1990s.
In the 1990s, thousands of San Antonians either died in drive-by shootings or were sent to prison because of them. Murals on the city’s west side still echo the violence and pain wrought just two decades ago.
“Around the time that I graduated from high school, my hometown was the drive-by capital of Texas,” U.S. Rep Joaquin Castro told his colleagues on the House Floor Wednesday. Castro joined Democrats in an unprecedented protest on the House Floor, staging a sit-in to block business in the House until the Republican majority agrees to a vote on gun control measures in the wake of this month’s mass shooting at an Orlando gay club. Among the bills that have stalled is one that would block people on the FBI’s terrorist watch list from buying a gun – a measure that failed in the Senate earlier this week.
In his floor speech, Castro referenced a dark time in San Antonio’s history. In 1993, there were 1,262 drive-bys here – meaning that, at its peak, the drive-by capital of the state saw on average more than three shootings a day. As we reported earlier this year, the number of juveniles arrested for violent crimes in the city tripled between 1987 and 1994, while the number of minors arrested for unlawful carrying of a firearm doubled over that same period. As a 16-year-old living at the Alazan Apache Courts told a Texas Monthly writer in 1994: “We get really drunk. We get all hyped up, and we do a drive-by.” As the magazine reported: "Gang members get their guns from pawnshops or gun shows; after they pick out their weapons, a companion who is over 21 buys them."
Such gun violence crested in the 1990s in San Antonio, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone. Early this month, two separate shootings on opposite sides of the city claimed the lives of two young girls. Police say a bullet hit 7-year-old Iris Rodriguez in the back of the head as she was walking home with her family on the West Side on June 1. An hour later, another bullet struck 5-year-old Ana Garza in the head while she was sleeping inside her home on the southeast side — she died a week later. Just this past Sunday, a man was shot and killed in what appears to be yet another deadly road rage incident in a region that sees a lot of them.
Castro, in his floor speech during Wednesday’s sit-in, referenced those cases to underscore the problem that he said Democrats are trying to address. “There are times when our jobs become uncomfortable,” he said. “If you are here representing Americans in Congress, you signed up to take tough votes. And if you believe that terrorists should be able to hold guns, then put your name to that vote. If you don’t believe in background checks, then put your name to that vote. Take a vote.”
The Democrats’ sit-in ended in an abrupt, chaotic screaming match early Thursday morning when, according to the New York Times, “Speaker Paul D. Ryan barreled over Democrats’ objections and adjourned the House.” The chamber has no votes scheduled until July 5.
You can see Castro's full floor speech here: