Dozens of people turned out to Penn Square in Lancaster Saturday afternoon to pay tribute to Ricardo Munoz, the 27-year-old man killed by police in 2020 when he charged an officer with a knife, and for local activists brought up on various charges in the protest and riot following the death.
The hour-long vigil included short speeches by Munoz’s family and the words of three of the charged protesters, including Lancaster residents Jessica Lopez, who was sentenced earlier in the week to 13 to 30 months in prison and spoke to the crowd from a prison phone.
Attendees included Lancaster State Rep. Izzy Smith-Wade-El (D) and Jonathan Smucker, founder of local activist group Lancaster Stands Up, and his wife, Becca Rast, the former national field director for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.
Organizers played some of Munoz’s favorite songs, including the song “Fireflies” by the indie rock band Owl City and Celine Dion’s song “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie “Titanic,” a film Munoz’s mother would make him watch over and over again.
Miguelina Pena, Munoz’s mother, spoke in Spanish with her words translated by her daughter and Ricardo’s sister, Rulennis Munoz. She wept as she spoke to the assembled crowd.
“Every time a mother loses a child, it’s very sad,” Pena said. “But the way that I lost my child, it’s something that’s more tragic. Ricardo needed help, but instead of giving him help, they killed him.”
On the afternoon of Sept. 13, 2020, Munoz’s sisters called 911 seeking help for their brother who was having a mental breakdown. Munoz was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
As a Lancaster Police officer showed up at the family’s home on Laurel Street, Munoz charged out the front door, knife in hand, and lunged towards the officer. Munoz was shot and killed on the sidewalk, the entire incident taking place in less than a minute and all captured on police bodycam footage.
The officer was later found to be justified in the use of deadly force by Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams.
Munoz was already scheduled for trial in October 2020 on charges he stabbed four people in the 500 block of North Queen Street on March 4, 2019. According to charging documents, Munoz allegedly stabbed four people, including a 16-year-old boy in the face, after a fight in which several people punched and kicked Munoz.
After Munoz was shot and killed by police, more than 100 people gathered at the Lancaster Police Station on West Chestnut Street, assaulting officers, lighting fires and destroying property.
Sophie Xiong, one of the organizers of Saturday’s vigil and the creator of the Lancaster Legal Collective that provided legal observers during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, said the group was flying green balloons for mental health awareness and silver balloons representing schizophrenia awareness.
Xiong encouraged attendees to write messages of support to Munoz’s family on green paper with silver pens. She also passed out sidewalk chalk for people to write public messages, with some scrawling words like “Care, not cages,” “We will not stop the fight” and “Ricardo, you will never be forgotten.”
“We ask that today we stay peaceful, and we ask today that we remember that there’s also joy in the remembrance of the life of Ricardo Munoz,” Xiong said.
Lopez, who received her sentence on Tuesday after being found guilty in November in a jury trial on charges of rioting, criminal conspiracy, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct, obstruction of highways and defiant trespass, spoke to the crowd through Xiong’s phone. The call was delayed by more than 30 minutes because Lopez said there was “an emergency on the block” in the prison.
Lopez read her own poetic version of the Maya Angelou poem “Caged Bird,” speaking about her own incarceration and her relationship with Munoz.
“As for me, the caged bird, I may never be free / But for him, and to you, my song I’ve got to sing. / And on that, I’m so high / high out of this concrete and into the sky / Just Ricardo and I, two souls passing by,” Lopez read.
Kathryn “Kat” Patterson, 23, of Mercersburg, who was also charged in the 2020 riot, addressed the attendees. She was sentenced on March 30 to 18 months of probation and 100 hours of community service after pleading guilty to charges of failure to disperse, disorderly conduct, defiant trespass and obstruction of highways.
Patterson said she didn’t know Munoz before she participated in the 2020 protests, but she said she’s thought about him “every day” since then.
“I promise to carry your memory in the steps I take to my home each day,” Patterson said. “I promise to see your kindness in the flowers that bloom when the spring comes. I promise to make this world a better place for your niece and your nephew. I promise to educate others about the stigma of mental health. I promise to advocate for mental health resources for all. And I promise to spread kindness and love in your name every day.”
Taylor Enterline, 23, of Manheim, a fellow protester and activist who was found guilty on charges, also addressed the crowd. She was sentenced April 4 for her role in the 2020 riot, receiving sentences of three years of probation and 125 hours of community service after being found guilty of riot, failure to disperse, obstructing highways and defiant trespass in January.
Enterline said it was important for the community to come together to “stand in support and solidarity” for the protesters “who have been silenced and imprisoned for speaking out against injustice.” She said Sept. 13 is a “significant day” in the history of Lancaster that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Enterline also said she didn’t know Munoz or his family before the protest but has come to feel like a part of the family.
“I only knew the moment of when his life ended,” Enterline said. “Yet over time, through the stories from his mother or his sisters, I learned a little bit about him each time. Ricardo continues to live on through their laughs and their smiles and through the memories they hold.”