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Criminal Justice

Brownsville activist speaks out after arrest over anti-SpaceX graffiti on Musk-funded mural

Trey Mendez's Facebook page
A Brownsville mural, commissioned using Elon Musk Foundation money and completed last year, is shown with anti-SpaceX graffiti. The graffiti has since been removed.

Rebekah Lynn Hinojosa was home last week when she heard a loud knock on the door. When she got up to answer it, four police officers barged in and arrested her.

She spent the next 26 hours in Brownsville’s city jail. When she was arrested, officers didn’t allow her to properly dress. They took her glasses, and they placed her in a cold cell after she was interrogated. She stayed awake for most of the ordeal.

“I have PTSD from this now, and a lot of emotional distress I’m trying to process, from all of this,” Hinojosa told TPR in a phone call.

Another Gulf is Possible website.
Bekah Hinojosa.

Hinojosa, an organizer with the Rio Grande Valley’s local Sierra Club chapter and Another Gulf is Possible, was arrested for a graffiti misdemeanor, a cite-and-release offense.

The graffiti was found on a downtown Brownsville mural, on the side of the Capitol Theater building on 11th and Levee streets. The City of Brownsville commissioned the mural from Los Angeles artist Teddy Kelly, using money donated to the city by the Elon Musk Foundation. The City of Brownsville paid $20,000 of this money to Kelly.

Residents criticized that the money funding the mural was the SpaceX’s CEO’s philanthropic arm and that the city didn’t consider using local artists.

Graffiti appeared under the mural two weeks ago reading, “Gentrified, Stop SpaceX.” Photos of the mural circulated on social media. Soon after, Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez posted on Facebook that Hinojosa had been arrested for the graffiti. The post included her occupation and that she had been quoted in “anti-SpaceX” news articles.

Screenshot from Trey Mendez's Facebook page.
Brownsville Mayor Try Mendez's Facebook post on Rebekah Hinojosa's arrest. Mendez has since deleted portions of the post listing Hinojosa's occupation and organizing information.

Some commenters on the post accused Mendez of doxing Hinojosa, or publishing private information on a person in an attempt for others to target them. Mendez has since edited the post, removing Hinojosa’s employment information and organizing work against SpaceX. Mendez wrote in the post that police linked the graffiti to Hinojosa through their review of security cameras near the mural.

Her attorney, Mike Siegel, believes Mendez politically retaliated against Hinojosa for speaking out against SpaceX. Her arrest wasn’t necessary at all, he said.

“It seems to be a very specific and targeted enforcement action by the police,” Siegel, who is also Political Director for Ground Game Texas, told TPR.

Siegel is investigating how Hinojosa’s arrest was organized and whether Brownsville PD has sought people for graffiti offenses and arrested them in their homes. TPR has filed a public information request with Brownsville PD on all information related to Hinojosa’s arrest.

According to Texas Penal Code, most graffiti offenses are misdemeanors, depending on how much the “loss,” or removal cost, is.

Brownsville PD charged Hinojosa with a Class B Misdemeanor, meaning the removal cost was between $100-$750. A Class B Misdemeanor charge can end with a $2,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail.

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Siegel is requesting the City of Brownsville to drop the charges and apologize to Hinojosa for the arrest.

“I’m amazed by how brazen the mayor seems to be abusing his authority and power. Why does he take it personal that somebody scribbled a couple words, not even on the mural but below the mural. Why is that a public emergency?”

Mendez has defended the mural since it was finished last September. On an Instagram post, Mendez said the mural was in line with other murals throughout the RGV that were criticized and that all art is good. In response to a comment criticizing that the mural didn’t “represent” Brownsville, Mendez said the mural wasn’t made to represent the city.

Hinojosa believes Mendez's reaction to the graffiti is him continuing his initial defense of the mural, SpaceX and his leadership surrounding both.

“I think Trey Mendez is staking his entire mayoral career on SpaceX, on Elon Musk,” Hinojosa said. “That’s what this mural represents, him bringing in SpaceX, it’s part of that.”

Hinojosa and activists have attempted to share their concerns about SpaceX’s activities at Boca Chica Beach with Mendez repeatedly with no response. Their concerns, chiefly, are how explosions and launches from the site will harm the national wildlife refuge that surrounds SpaceX’s facility. Access to Boca Chica Beach has been limited severely, too, as the lone road to the beach is closed routinely for SpaceX activities.

Mendez, a few days after Hinojosa was released from jail, posted a statement on his Facebook on her arrest.

“Nothing gives an individual the right to vandalize public property or the property of others just because they don't like something or someone,” Mendez wrote. “I have spoken out against previous acts of vandalism to other iconic artwork by local artists and will remain consistent in doing so.”

Mendez said he is asking for an investigation into Hinojosa’s arrest and would support its findings. He indicated in his post that the charges against Hinojosa would still be pursued.

“We cannot look the other way or dismiss the seriousness of this act at the request of Ms. Hinojosa's friends and supporters.”

Mendez did not respond to an interview request from TPR.

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