By Mike Talavera
On Tuesday, the family of Devonte Ortiz and their supporters stood in the entrance of the Blackwell Thurman Criminal Justice Center to demand that the courts revoke the $250,000 bail set for Jason Roche, the man who shot Ortiz to death in the early hours of the Fourth of July.
19-year-old Devonte had been setting off fireworks with his friends in their East Riverside neighborhood in Austin, TX, when 41-year-old Roche began threatening him. According to eye witnesses, Roche proceeded to go inside and returned in a military-like outfit carrying a gun.
At the protest, Devonte’s mother said that the family had lit firecrackers every Fourth to celebrate the holiday, but she will never be able to see the festivities in the same way again.
“I just want justice for my baby. I need justice,” his mother said at the protest. “No it won’t make me feel better, because he’ll still be gone. But at least I’ll know that somebody has my back, that somebody has our back.”
Roche claimed self-defense after being arrested, despite his instigation of the conflict and the fact that he did not live in the neighborhood. He was visiting his father Dennis Roche, who, like his son, threatened the teenagers and spat racial slurs before Jason murdered Devonte.
“[Dennis Roche] also chased Devonte. He also yelled racial slurs. He could have stopped his son,” said Devonte’s sister-in-law. “In my eyes, Dennis Roche is the devil who raised a monster. Both of them need to be locked up.”
Judge Patrick McNelis recently set Roche’s bail at $250,000. In murder cases, bails are typically set as high as $1 million or not set at all because the defendants are considered a threat to the community.
The protest was organized by the Devonte Ortiz Brigade (DOB) an organization that formed to seek people’s justice for the racist killing. Attendees chanted slogans like “Why is our safety being put on sale? Do the right thing! Revoke the bail!” and “The people resist, the people get madder, because the courts don’t think that Black Lives Matter!”
Early on, security asked organizers to move out of the way of the building’s entrance, but the organizers ignored their directions and held their ground.
Outside of family and friends who gave their heartfelt testimony remembering Devonte, supporters spoke to share what they thought was the best way forward for finding justice. One liberal supporter encouraged attendees to vote for judges who could be held more accountable.
Another supporter, however, referenced statistics that showed white people killing black people and getting away with it by claiming self-defense was not a one-off incident but a larger social trend, not only in Austin but around the country. Therefore, the speaker said, the problem could not be fixed by kicking one “bad apple” out of office when the whole barrel was rotten.
“We can’t get justice by asking [judges] to do the right thing. They’ve proven that they don’t want to do the right thing,” the supporter said. “The only thing that’s going to change it is the pressure and power of the people.”
The DOB organizers vowed at the end of the protest to keep mobilizing the people and continue fighting as Roche’s case moves through the courts.