Pharr officials defend commissioner under fire for Facebook comment

Petition calling for removal garners over 1,000 signatures

PHARR — City commissioners took time during Friday’s special meeting to address a comment made by one of their own last weekend that has since provoked the ire of many throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

They defended Place 5 City Commissioner Ricardo Medina after he had come under criticism for calling Daniel Peña a hero on Facebook.

Peña is the 44-year-old man facing charges for wielding a chainsaw at Black Lives Matter protesters — all while shouting a racial slur — in downtown McAllen last week.

During Friday’s meeting, each commissioner took a moment to acknowledge that Medina had made a mistake in posting the comment and defended his integrity. Meanwhile, a small group of protesters outside Pharr City Hall called for Medina’s resignation.

Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, M.D., opened the dialogue by explaining that he had become aware of Medina’s comment when someone called him and asked him to address what had been said by the commissioner.

Hernandez said that he looked up the story and saw the video of Peña wielding the chainsaw at protesters, which he described as a “damaging video for the human race.”

He said that he called Medina and asked for an explanation for his comment, and said the commissioner mistook Peña for someone who was defending his business.

“We’re a very forgiving country, and we’re a beautiful community — the city of Pharr. … Mistakes get made every day, that’s not a reason to demand the mayor’s head or the commissioner’s head,” Hernandez said. “It doesn’t work that way. In my opinion, that’s over the top. You don’t need to be doing that. We need to take people at their word. We need to accept people when they make an honest mistake.”

Following Hernandez’s comments, Medina took responsibility for his comment before taking a moment to read from a prepared statement.

“I have been on the side to push for change, so I sympathize with the movement to push social justice, but I also believe that the destruction of businesses or properties is unacceptable,” Medina said. “I admit that I am not familiar with all the ins and outs of social media. Therefore, I jumped to a conclusion and made a mistake.”

It should be noted that there have been no reports made of any damages to local businesses or properties at the Black Lives Matter protests in the Rio Grande Valley, which have been described by both participants and police as peaceful.

“As a strong supporter of the business community, I reacted in support of what I thought was a business owner protecting his property,” Medina continued. “I watched the video later … I realized that it was an oversight on my part. Upon making that realization, I deleted my comment.”

Medina went on to describe himself as an individual who is against violence and racism of any kind.

“I sincerely apologize, and will be more mindful of understanding the complete picture before sharing and commenting on social media,” Medina said. “I’ve learned a lot from this experience.”

Following Medina’s statement, Commissioners Ramiro Caballero, Daniel Chavez, Bobby Carrillo, Eleazar Guajardo and Itza Florez each took time to make their own statements in defense of Medina and acknowledged his mistake.

During public testimony, four people approached the podium and condemned Medina’s comment on Facebook.

“As an elected official, Ricardo Medina represents Pharr and the larger RGV. The city of Pharr cannot go on excusing his bigoted comments,” Hunter Sturgis of McAllen said. “His comments show a larger lack of professionalism and care for Valley citizens.”

Guadalupe Pardo of La Feria approached the podium with a change.org petition she authored, which is calling for Medina to step down from the commission, which has garnered 1,370 signatures.

“The larger message that I wanted to share with this petition is that it is finally time for there to be accountability,” Pardo said. “Mr. Medina, with your well-timed ignorance, does not mean that we will excuse your comment. The violence which you garnered praise for when you willingly said, ‘This man should be a hero,’ hurt the people of your community.”

The commission will meet again at 4 p.m. Monday at City Hall.