Robin Slonina Jorge, 2021
Acrylic on canvas 40 x 32 inches
Jorge Gomez was born and raised in Florida, though he lived in Las Vegas from 2006 to 2012, and recently moved back to Las Vegas with his father due to the Covid-19 outbreak. He loved animals and was studying to be a veterinarian. He was someone who loved to help others, and above all he was a strong believer in right and wrong. Jorge Gomez was killed on June 1st by Las Vegas Metro Police Department officers, during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse. While he was exercising his second amendment right to open carry. Many officers and protesters saw him throughout the night. His presence was felt demonstrating along with others and he was even seen consoling Carol Luke, the mother of Thomas McEniry, a man killed by LVMPD in 2015.
Despite dozens of officers at the scene, cameras installed at the courthouse, and countless eyewitnesses, LVMPD has denied all requests to release any additional evidence they may have regarding the case. The family and their legal counsel (Rudolfo Gonzalez and Flores Law Firm) have only spoken with the Metro Police Department once, and they have no information on the case beyond what has been reported to the public.
When deciding to take on this portrait painting of Jorge Antonio Gomez, I was afraid. The same way that you, reading this statement, walking through this art show, might also be afraid. It’s frightening to be exposed to the extreme pain of others. And I cannot think of a worse pain than a parent losing a child.
I even had to gather my courage before a simple phone conversation with Jorge Antonio’s mother, Jeanne Llera, to introduce myself and talk about this proposed portrait, dedicated to the memory of her beloved son. Her open-hearted, friendly personality immediately assuaged my fears.
That conversation stretched into 2 hours, as I heard stories about her incredible son and the two siblings he left behind. She created a portrait of him for me with her words, as she shared tales of a caring, musical and principled young man. He loved her home cooking, but became a vegetarian because he couldn’t stand the thought of animals suffering. He was a 2nd Amendment supporter who had family in the military, as well as a peaceful protester and advocate for civil rights, peace and justice.
He was studying to be a Veterinary Pathologist and she told me how he was always rescuing animals. He found a fallen bird and nursed it back to health; he spotted a tortoise near the side of the road and convinced his mom to pull over and help save it. When he was a child, they found a chihuahua bleeding in the street after being attacked by two pitbulls. After lots of pleading and an astronomical vet bill (paid in installments), that dog “Reese’s” became a cherished pet for years to come.
Jorge Antonio’s mother shared many details about this human being who was stolen from the world too soon - like how much he loved avocados, “he would eat two or three in a sitting”; or how he was always kind and helpful to the homeless, “he gave his last five dollars to a veteran in a wheelchair”; but the story that struck me most is from the night he was murdered by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department:
“A mom [Carol Luke, mother of Thomas McEniry] was carrying her son’s sign that had been killed by LVMPD almost 5 years earlier. It was the first protest she attended. She said my son approached her, as she was visibly crying and hurting, and began a conversation with her, so she told him her son's story. She said that my son gave her a hug and whispered in her ear, ‘Stay strong and tell your son's story.’ Less than 30 minutes later, my son was dead. How do I know? Because she found me the night of my son's vigil. She gave me a hug, and said, ‘Your son got a mother's hug before he died. I am giving you his last hug back.’ As she hugged me, she whispered in my ear, ‘Stay strong and tell your son’s story.’ She told me how they walked together and how he led her away from the pepper spray and to a safer location.” ~Jeanne Llera
Jorge, 2021 Acrylic on canvas 40 x 32 inches, photo by Nissa Tzun
And this is the point of this artwork and this exhibition: to show that these stolen lives are not just hashtags or statistics, but a family’s never ending heartbreak, and the whole world’s loss. “Oh, how he made me laugh”, Jeanne told me, “but you know what I miss the most? His hugs. They were real hugs, the kind of hugs where he held you and you felt his soul.”
The family’s dream is to create an animal shelter in Las Vegas in Jorge Antonio’s honor, staffed by homeless people, to provide work, therapy and care where it is needed most. This portrait is a tribute to how inspiring this incredible young man Jorge Antonio Gomez still is, and to the change his memory can still create in the world.