The “Free Press” in Action
In Latin America last year, there were two events that each produced 43 casualties. Which elicited greater outrage?
For the U.S. media, it was the “violent crackdown” leaving “43 people dead” (NPR) in “an autocratic, despotic state” (New York Times ) run by “extremists” (Washington Post ). Surely these charges were leveled at Mexico, where 43 student activists were murdered in Iguala last September. In their forthcoming A Narco History, Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace describe how the victims, “packed into two pick-up trucks,” were driven to a desolate ravine. Over a dozen “died en route, apparently from asphyxiation,” and the rest “were shot, one after another,” around 2:00 a.m. The killers tossed the corpses into a gorge, torched them, and maintained the fire “through the night and into the following afternoon,” leaving only “ashes and bits of bone, which were then pulverized.”
Initial blame went to local forces—Iguala’s mayor and his wife, area police and drug gangs. But reporters Anabel Hernández and Steve Fisher, after reviewing thousands of pages of official documents, reached a different conclusion. Hernández explained “that the federal police and the federal government [were] also involved,” both “in the attack” and in “monitoring the students” the night of the slaughter. Fisher added that the Mexican government based its account of the massacre on testimonies of “witnesses who had been directly tortured.”
The Hernández-Fisher findings reflect broader problems plaguing the country. “Torture and ill-treatment in Mexico is out of control with a 600 per cent rise in the number of reported cases in the past decade,” Amnesty International warned last September, pointing to “a prevailing culture of tolerance and impunity.” The UN concurred this month, and “sharply rebuked Mexico for its widespread problem with torture, which it said implicates all levels of the security apparatus,” Jo Tuckman wrote in the Guardian.
Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has done his part to escalate state violence. He gave the orders, while governor of México State, for what Francisco Goldman calls “one of the most squalid instances of government brutality in recent years”—the May 2006 assault on the Atenco municipality. Some 3,500 state police rampaged against 300 flower vendors, peasants and their sympathizers, beating them until they blacked out and isolating women for special treatment. Amnesty International reported “23 cases of sexual violence during the operation,” including one woman a trio of policemen surrounded. “All three of them raped her with their fingers,” a witness recalled.
Peña Nieto responded by asserting “that the manuals of radical groups say that in the case of women [if they are arrested], they should say they’ve been raped.” Amnesty stumbled into a trap laid by attention-desperate women, in his opinion. Regarding Atenco, he stressed: “It was a decision that I made personally to reestablish order and peace, and I made it with the legitimate use of force that corresponds to the state.” Surely this is the “autocratic, despotic state” the New York Times criticized.
The paper’s archives lay bare its views—that Peña Nieto can “do a lot of good,” given his “big promises of change” and “commendable” economic agenda. The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth interviewed Mexico’s president just before the Iguala bloodbath, dubbing him “a hero in the financial world.” A Post editorial praised his ability to summon the “courage” necessary to transform Mexico into “a model of how democracy can serve a developing country.” The Post clarified, with a straight face, that Peña Nieto displayed his bravery by ignoring “lackluster opinion polls” as he pushed through unpopular reforms—a truly “functional democracy,” without question. There was no serious censure of the Mexican president in these papers, in other words. The charges of despotism and extremism, quoted above, were in fact leveled at Venezuela—the site of the other episode last year resulting in 43 Latin American casualties.
But these demonstrations, from February until July, were dramatically different from the Mexican student incineration. What, in the NPR version, was “a violent crackdown last year against antigovernment protesters,” in fact—on planet Earth—was a mix of “pro- and anti-government protests” (Amnesty International) that “left 43 people dead in opposing camps” (Financial Times ). “There are deaths on both sides of the political spectrum,” Jake Johnston, a researcher with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, affirmed, noting that “members of Venezuelan security forces have been implicated and subsequently arrested for their involvement.” He added that several people were apparently “killed by crashing into barricades, from wires strung across streets by protesters and in some cases from having been shot trying to remove barricades.” Half a dozen National Guardsmen died.
In the wake of these demonstrations, the Post railed against “economically illiterate former bus driver” Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president, for his “hard-fisted response to the unrest” and “violent repression.” The New York Times lamented his “government’s abuses”—which “are dangerous for the region and certainly warrant strong criticism from Latin American leaders”—while Obama, a year after the protests, declared Venezuela a national security threat. His March 9 executive order, William Neuman wrote in the Times, targets “any American assets belonging to seven Venezuelan law enforcement and military officials who it said were linked to human rights violations.”
Compare Obama’s condemnation of Maduro to his reaction to the Iguala murders. When asked, in mid-December, whether U.S. aid to Mexico should be conditioned on human rights, he emphasized that “the best thing we can do is to be a good partner”—since bloodshed there “does affect us,” after all. The Times followed up after Obama hosted the Mexican president at the White House on January 6, noting that “Mr. Peña Nieto’s visit to Washington came at a time of increased cooperation between the United States and Mexico.”
This cooperation has won some major victories over the decades. NAFTA shattered poor farming communities in Mexico, for example, while promoting deforestation, environmentally ruinous mining—and corporate profits. In 2007, U.S. official Thomas Shannon stated that “armoring NAFTA” is the goal of Washington’s security assistance, which “totaled $2.5 billion between FY2008 and FY2015,” the Congressional Research Service reported. The result is a death zone, with perhaps some 120,000 intentional killings during the Felipe Calderón presidency (2006-2012). Tijuana’s Zeta Magazine published a study claiming the slayings have actually increased under Peña Nieto, and the nightmare has deepened to the point where the murder rate “exceeds that of Iraq,” according to Molly Molloy.
None of these developments infuriated Washington like those in Venezuela, to be sure. After Chávez’s first decade in power, “the poverty rate ha[d] been cut by more than half” and “social spending per person more than tripled,” while unemployment and infant mortality declined, the Center for Economic and Policy Research determined. And the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean found, in May 2010, that Venezuela had the region’s most equal income distribution. In Mexico a year later, the Los Angeles Times noted, “poverty [was] steadily on the rise.” Throughout this period, Washington’s aims included “dividing Chavismo,” “protecting vital US business,” and “isolating Chavez internationally,” as former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield outlined the strategy in 2006.
Reviewing this foreign policy record in light of recent Mexico and Venezuela coverage makes one thing obvious. There is, most definitely, a free press in the U.S.—it’s free to print whatever systematic distortions it likes, so long as these conform to Washington’s aims.
Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Let’s put it in perspective,” Obama said in response. “Young people, I understand this is important to you, but you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace, maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.”
That, of course, completely misses the point regarding what “thinking about marijuana” actually is about.
“But he should think again about how important this issue is. On average, there’s a marijuana possession arrest in the U.S. about every minute. Billions of dollars are wasted on enforcing prohibition laws that don’t stop anyone from using marijuana but do ruin people’s lives with damaging criminal records.”
Lee Rosenberg (via Twitter):
No, marijuana legalization is not the most important issue for young people to care about, but government incompetence on the issue has a very negative and very real impact on the perception that government is capable of solving more serious problems.
“Thinking about marijuana” is about more than getting high.
It’s about systemic police corruption. It’s about a failed criminal justice system that fuels situations like Ferguson. It’s about tens of thousands dead in Mexico. It’s about failed foreign policy. It’s about using bad laws to control a population and deny them basic rights. It’s about perversion of our Constitution. It’s about financial self-interest trumping science and reason.
Marijuana most definitely isn’t at the bottom of the list.
Imprisoned on various occasions and subjected to numerous interrogations, Dr. Jaime Galarza Zavala is one of the estimated 120 direct victims of the CIA’s record in Ecuador.
Persecuted by the CIA for his political organizing, Galarza described to teleSUR English that “they told me that I was working as a guerrilla in the Dominican Republic. I, to this day, have never visited the Dominican Republic. But they accused me of being a guerrilla leader in the Dominican Republic. And this was a common theme with various interrogations.”
He added that, “while they interrogated me, there was somebody that called every now and then from another room. Afterward, they told me that this person they were talking with was a gringo, a North American, who never presented himself to me. But he gave them instructions as to how to continue the interrogation,” said Galarza.
A fierce critic of U.S foreign policy in the region, Galarza recently published a book titled, “The CIA Against Latin America, the Special Case of Ecuador,” co-authored by Francisco Herrera Arauz.
In an interview with teleSUR English on CIA actions in Ecuador, Herrera said,“First, they destroyed our democracy. Second, they worked with undivided attention against our citizens. They persecuted our citizens for thinking differently. People were killed, injured, there are victims of this violence, there are families that were harmed, there are exiles, the honor of some people has been ruined, there are destroyed families, and all of this was caused by the CIA’s actions.”
Both authors have previously interviewed Philip Agee, the ex-CIA operations officer whose name became internationally known when he wrote the book “Inside the Company: CIA Diary” in 1975, detailing his time working in Ecuador, Uruguay, and Mexico from 1960 to 1968 and denouncing actions undertaken by the CIA during this period.
In his testimonies of that period, Agee said that when he operated in Ecuador from 1960 to 1963, the CIA oversaw: the overthrow of two presidents; the infiltration of various political parties and organizations; and the planting of bombs in front of churches and other emblematic sites to frame leftist groups; among other actions.
At an event celebrating the new book, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño said, “These secret policies continue in Latin America today. Nothing that Philip Agee denounced as CIA actions in the past have been discarded by the espionage seen in the present.”
To raise public awareness of the atrocities committed within Ecuador and the long-term damage caused by CIA interventions throughout Latin America, Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry has printed and widely distributed copies of the book in Spanish and English.
A report by the U.N. Human Rights Council, set to be released on Monday, states that torture by the Mexican state has become a regular occurrence.
The 22-page report by the U.N. Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez was leaked to Mexican weekly magazine, Proceso. The report is the product of an investigation conducted by Mendez in Mexico in April and May of last year.
“Torture and abuse are widespread in Mexico,” states Mendez’ report.
Proceso states that the U.N. report includes allegations of physical violence, electric shock, suffocation, sexual assault, and psychological abuse. Mendez reveals that multiple elements of the state are guilty of utilizing torture, from local police, to state and federal police, as well as the armed forces.
“The majority of the victims (of torture) are detained for their alleged links with organized crime,” adds the report. As a result of their alleged ties to organized crime, these detainees are not offered the same legal protections as other suspected criminals.
Apart from being tortured, Mendez alleges that these detainees are held in preventative detention for lengthy periods without being afforded the right to appear before a judge.
The U.N. special rapporteur also states that it is difficult to know how many cases of torture there may actually be in Mexico, as a federal record is not maintained. Mendez also claims that many victims do not come forward for fear of reprisals.
Mendez’ report harshly criticizes the Mexican state for failing to put in place measures to prevent the use of torture and makes a series of recommendations to the Mexican government.
Suspects connected to the case of the missing 43 students are also suspected to have been tortured in order to coerce statements from them that would match the government’s version of events.
The U.N. also recently criticized the Mexican government regarding forced disappearances in the country.
The government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has proposed changing a key transparency law that would allow the state to keep key information secret over controversial energy reform plans.
According to a document presented before the Congress by the ruling party PRI and its ally the Ecological Green Party of Mexico (PVEM), there would be 82 changes to the Federal Law of Transparency and Access to Public Government Information.
The recommendations made by the legal adviser to the Presidency of the Republic propose removing the requirement to disclose contracts, permits, alliances and partnerships that the State signed with national and foreign companies on oil exploration.
Last year President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a package of so-called secondary laws to the country’s controversial energy reform approved in 2013. The reform opens Mexico’s public energy sector to private competition for the first time in 76 years after the former populist president, Lazaro Cardenas, nationalized the sector in 1938.
Opposition senators Dolores Padierna and Alejandro Encinas, from the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), rejected the proposal saying Mexicans deserve to know what will happen with hydrocarbons, a key economic sector, especially as the reforms will see profits going to foreign oil companies.
Padierna added that the energy sector should be forced to provide information about its operation and activity, and that decisions taken during the process of liberalization and privatization should respond to the transparency law.
Over 150 people have been reported disappeared in the small city of Piedras Negras in the northern border Mexican state of Coahuila in the last 18 months, of which at least 60 have been attributed to elite police forces, according to a lawyer overseeing the cases.
Families of victims and their lawyers accused state government of creating special forces that have carried out arbitrary detentions, tortures and enforced disappearances across Coahuila during the last six years.
The creation of elite police forces, which in the past have been sent to the U.S. for special training by the FBI, is not new in Mexico. These types of forces have been accused of acting as death squads for the government and have sometimes carried out assassinations ordered by organized crime gangs.
“Special units of the army and navy, assassins trained by armed forces deserters and civilians trained by foreign security forces operate in Mexico as death squad,” Proceso published in June of 2013. The Mexican magazine based this assertion on a book published by 0federal lawmaker Ricardo Monreal Avila, which was edited by the congress’ lower house.
Influential newspaper Excelsior in November of last year wrote that, “The special forces created in the states (of Mexico) are under scrutiny due to human rights issues.”
The daily based in Mexico City added that, “these elite police groups have been accused of carrying out enforced disappearances, kidnappings, extortion and torture.”
Excelsior said that “it should be noted that in spite of the negative reputation of these forces in various states, which sometimes receive special training by U.S., Colombian or Israeli elite groups, more states and Mexico City are in the process of integrating elite groups to (allegedly) fight organized crime.”
The newspaper went on to say that the United Nations has questioned the work of special intelligence units in Baja California and Tamaulipas, due to the high number of crimes they have committed against innocent people.
On Friday, the La Jornada newspaper reported that attorney Denise Garcia told reporters that the non-governmental organization United Families has documented 150 cases of disappearances in the last 18 months in Piedras Negras alone.
“In at least 60 of those cases there is evidence that the Special Arms and Tactics Group (GATE) participated in them, as well as other similar types police units that were created by the former Governor Humberto Moreira and which still exist today under the governorship of his brother Ruben,” she said.
Garcia said the 51 people that were disappeared by GATE were later found alive, but all of them, she added, were tortured to confess crimes they did not commit, including drug trafficking, and today they remain jailed under false charges.
These groups have no accountability, Garcia explained, and they don’t report their operations nor their arrests, which is a clear violation of human rights.
“GATE and other special police units work under the recognition and support of the government, despite that many of them are [not] even legally constituted,” she said.
García said they act as illegal death squads, they travel in unmarked vehicles with no license plates, they are masked and commit many other irregularities.
The worst thing, she added, is that “we have denounced these issues to the federal government and the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), which respond with indifference.”
According to a new study released by the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) Wednesday, 97 journalists have been killed in Mexico in connection with their work since 2010.
The new research also revealed 22 cases of disappearances and 433 attacks against journalists and media offices since 2005. Investigations into the crimes have been carried out in very few cases.
The CNHD has criticized the Mexican government for their lack of action regarding violence against journalists in the country. It also emphasized the importance of guaranteeing freedom of expression in the country to ensure the free flow of news and information, which means guaranteeing the right of journalists to work in a safe environment.
“The state is first required to become a guarantor of freedom of expression, since the institutions must assume their primary responsibility and give validity to democracy in our country,” said the organization.
Mexican photojournalist and social activist, Moises Sanchez Cerezo, was reportedly kidnapped by an armed group at his home in the community of Medellin de Bravo in the turbulent state of Veracruz on Friday.
According to local media reports, Cerezo was taken at gunpoint along with his computer, camera and cell phone. Neighbor testimony outlined that the incident took place at 7:30 in the evening. They affirmed that three cars arrived with several armed men who entered the home of Cerezo then drove off with him in their custody.
Although the neighbors notified police, law enforcement showed up hours later.
Cerezo contributes to the local weekly La Union as well as participated in neighborhood security and watch groups to try to confront the widespread insecurity resulting from the presence of organized crime and corrupt local police officials.
Media rights watchdog groups have raised alarm over the number of journalists and media workers killed or targeted during the current administration of Enrique Peña Nieto. According to the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), 13 journalists have been killed in Mexico in the past two years.
Mexico remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to practice journalism. Nearly 100 media workers have lost their lives or gone missing since the year 2000, and most of these cases are still unsolved, insufficiently probed, and few perpetrators arrested or convicted, according to the PEN American Center.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that since 1992, 73 percent of journalists killings in Mexico involved criminal groups with 8 percent involving the military.
Learning from Ferguson
In two previous essay, I discussed the role of the Left in protecting the police through cautious reformism, and the effectiveness of a pacified, falsified—in a word disarmed—history of the Civil Rights movement to prevent us from learning from previous struggles and achieving a meaningful change in society.
The police are a racist, authoritarian institution that exists to protect the powerful in an unequal system. Past and present efforts to reform them have demonstrated that reformism can’t solve the problem, though it does serve to squander popular protests and advance the careers of professional activists. Faced with this situation, in which Left and Right unwittingly collude to prolong the problem, the extralegal path of rioting, seizing space, and fighting back against the police makes perfect sense. In fact, this phenomenon, denounced as “violence” by the media, the police, and many activists in unison, was not only the most significant feature of the Ferguson rebellion and the solidarity protests organized in hundreds of other cities, it was also the vital element that made everything else possible, that distinguished the killing of Michael Brown from a hundred other police murders. What’s more, self-defense against state violence (whether excercized by police or by tolerated paramilitaries like the Klan) is not an exceptional occurrence in a long historical perspective, but a tried and true form of resistance, and one of the only that has brought results, in the Civil Rights movement and earlier.
What remains is to speak about possibilities that are radically external to the self-regulating cycle of tragedy and reform. What remains is to speak loudly and clearly about a world without police.
We don’t want better police. We don’t want to fix the police. On the contrary, we understand that the police work quite well; they simply do not work for us and they never have. We want to get rid of the police entirely, and we want to live in a world where police are not necessary.
Far from being a naïve position, I believe it is the only one that can withstand serious scrutiny, whether in the form of a comprehensive historical analysis of the role and evolution of police and the effectiveness of reform movements, or of an examination of the breadth of possibility that human societies have already demonstrated.
No one can effectively argue that the police are necessary in an absolute sense. They are a relatively recent invention, as far as institutions go. The only question is what kind of society needs police, and whether that kind of society makes the systematic murders, torture, beatings, and surveillance worth it.
Dennis Sullivan and Larry Tifft have compiled a great deal of information on societies that use various forms of conflict resolution in which an organization such as the police has no place. From the Diné (Navajo) to the Semai, there are dozens of societies—all of them impacted to varying degrees by Western colonialism—that have practiced restorative or transformative justice, dealing with cases of conflict or social harm without ever having to be so brutal as to lock people up in cages or create an elite body designed to surveille people or mobilize organized violence against those who transgress set laws. They compare neighboring societies that face similar socio-economic conditions but use different strategies for dealing with harm, as well as Western societies that make minimal usage of policing and judicial apparatuses.
A pattern that becomes immediately evident is that police and prisons are only necessary in societies that are based on exploitation and inequality. The police are not an instrument fit to protect a society; on the contrary they are an instrument fit to protect an elite, parasitical class from society. Any society with a minimal practice of cooperation and solidarity can protect itself from individuals who would harm others. A hierarchical, militarized force such as the police, or an institution like the prison designed to remove conflict and transgression from the social sphere, only makes sense where there is a parasitical social class that exists in antagonism with the rest of society, and needs to manage social norms of right and wrong and monopolize violent force in order to preserve its power. Such a class also needs a justice mechanism, such as courts and a legislative body, to formalize its conception of right and wrong, and a propaganda mechanism, whether a state religion or mass media, to ensure that the exploited majority identify with their masters and reproduce the norms of the elite. When a normal person speaks out against throwing rocks at the police or destroying businesses, they are expressing values that originate at the top of the social pyramid.
Of course it gets more complicated when you realize that interests are always subjective, and people often get more out of identifying with a larger community, no matter how fictitious, than they do out of having food to eat or a roof over their heads. In the end, everyone from the CEO to the news anchor to the taxi driver or homebum with conventional ideas all participate in reproducing the same system, and they probably all sincerely believe in the positions they espouse, but some clearly have more influence than others, and can be identified as originators of certain aspects of the present system.
Therefore, we are not speaking for the masses when we assert that the police and the prisons exist to control them, but we should also not shy away from espousing a radical position just because it will be unpopular. We need to have faith that a great many people might eventually come to support radical positions regarding the police. Many people already support parts of these positions intuitively or implicitly, and the reason that more people don’t, at least not expressly, is that so few people currently dare to declare the police an intractable enemy of freedom or to openly advocate a world without police. At this juncture, the last thing that we need is for more people to espouse tepid, inane suggestions for reform that are completely untenable and unrealistic. But as long as proposals for meager reform are taken seriously, that’s what we’ll get.
We can’t get rid of police brutality without getting rid of the police, and we can’t get rid of the police without getting rid of an entire system based on exploitation, oppression, and hierarchy. There is no easy, band-aid solution to this problem, and bandying them about only perpetuates the problem. Foregrounding difficult, far-reaching changes does not mean, however, fixating an abstract gaze on a pre-designed future and blinding ourselves to immediate problems. On the contrary, we need to focus on how we fight now for a better world, and part of that means avoiding forms of action that make real changes even more improbable.
As I argued in Part II, most of what was achieved in the Civil Rights movement in terms of short-term changes was achieved when people armed themselves, took over their streets, and fought back without worrying about ruling class taboos against lower class violence. If we fight for total social transformation without proposing naïve reforms, those in power will trip over themselves trying to buy us off with quick fixes and opportunities to participate in the system.
This in fact is how most social movements in history have gone down. Whatever improvements have been won were actually won by those who fought for radical positions, using uncompromising methods and aggressive tactics, though the victories were claimed by the reformers, who tend to be a combination of dissident members of the ruling structures, opportunists who wish to climb the social ladder, and sincere people who have been duped by a discourse of pragmatism. Their own methods are too sedate to shake things up and force a change, in fact their timidity demonstrates to authority that they are ultimately a loyal opposition undeserving of repression. They must ride the coattails of the radicals in order to be in position when the rulers realize that some change is necessary in order to avoid an actual revolution. The reason that these movements always stop after an incomplete reform, and that the most ineffective sectors of these movements tend to get the credit, is because the reformers have a tendency to throw the radicals under the bus, helping the State eliminate them in exchange for access to power in its newly reformed configuration. After all, who better to discern what reform will best fool the people on bottom than someone who has recently come up from the bottom?
I previously mentioned that a police apparatus cannot exist without a hierarchical society, a prison system, a justice system, and some kind of culture industry, whether religious or mediatic. All of these institutions defend a ruling structure against the conflicts generated by its antagonistic position towards society. Modern democracies go a step further, however; if conflict with society is inevitable, why not manage it rather than trying to suppress it?
In Ferguson, the managers of social conflict were in large part those activists who preached nonviolence and denounced the rioters, as I mentioned in Part I. But there is an important kind of management I neglected to mention.
Those of us who are critical of the mass media may have a hard time explaining the sympathetic position that Time Magazine or Rolling Stone occasionally took with the rioters. Of course, a couple articles hardly make up for thousands of syndicated columns objectively refering to rioters as some kind of pathological parasite, radio hosts calling looters “idiots” and worse, TV spots spreading fear about savage hordes of demons and outside agitators, days long NPR marathons urging peaceful protest, and so on. Nonetheless, the phenomenon is curious as well as significant. In the case of Rolling Stone, we could suppose that this old establishment rag is afraid of all the ground it has lost in the risqué news niche to dynamic newcomers like Vice ; however the explanation would be insufficient.
The seemingly subversive behavior of a few outliers is hardly unprecedented. In the recent insurrection in Greece, a large part of the media expressed sympathy with the rioters, albeit in a very formulaic way. In the media lens, young students were justifiably protesting in the streets after the police murder of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos, anarchists were hijacking the event to burn police stations, and immigrants were taking advantage of the situation to loot stores. None of these characterizations are based on fact. Millions of young people and old, Greeks and immigrants, participated in the uprising, in a variety of ways. Many students looted, many immigrants walked along with protests. A frequently expressed sentiment was that participation in the insurrection blurred all of these pre-established identities, in which case the media operation clearly intended to reassert them. With all three subjects, the media caricature refers to a prefabricated figure that the entire population was already familiar with—the socially concerned student, the pyromaniac anarchist, the criminal immigrant—that only ever existed on the glowing screen, because it was the media themselves that created it. That’s the brilliance of the media: they rarely have to verify their claims, because they operate within a virtual universe that they themselves have created.
In the Greek example, it is obvious why the media would sympathize with student rioting: to discourage non-students from participating or identifying with the uprising; and to establish a limit of acceptable tactics, implicitly criminalizing the looting and the attacks on police stations. After all, the intensity of street fighting over three uninterrupted weeks was forcing the government to consider calling in the military. They were willing to tolerate burning barricades and illegal protests if things didn’t go further.
Likewise, when people start to bring guns to protests as in Ferguson, there will be those among the forces of law and order who begin to see the wisdom in tolerating the smashing of banks. It’s noteworthy that the media only begin to stomach property destruction when talk of shooting back begins to resonate throughout society. And though within the confines of American dialogue, it feels like a breath of fresh air that Time Magazine would sympathize with rioters, it is a more or less calculated move that functions to limit the growth of resistance. Even if the editors of a magazine are not scheming consciously and explicitly about how to maintain social control, they are still individuals with a vested interest in the current system. People fighting fiercely for their freedom, unlike those who compulsively walk in circles or stage die-ins, often force a recognition of their humanity and win a limited sympathy from their enemies. They also make the existence of a social conflict undeniable. In such a case, people in power may come to accept tactics that they had previously condemned, to acknowledge errors they had previously denied, but their condemnation of forms of rebellion that are irreversibly destabilizing will only crystalize. People can be permitted to blow off steam, even in illegal ways, but they cannot be permitted to blunt or sabotage the instruments of the State. And when the police confront an armed population, they are suddenly much less effective.
Another way that exceptional dissent might manifest is in the realm of discourse and research. I am by no means the first person to express the idea that the police should be abolished, nor is this idea entirely strange in acceptable discourse among people who are much better dressed than I am. However the elaboration of these discourses must be couched in certain ways to signal their usefulness to the State, and their separation from communities in struggle.
If we assert that it is not permitted to speak of a world without police, this is only true if we understand the police as one function in an interlocking system of domination, and the abolition of the police means the abolition of that entire system. Otherwise, there is a great deal of research and debate that maps out the possibilities of prison abolition or an end to policing as we know it. But what is the actual meaning and effect of this discourse?
I would start by arguing that the vast majority of those who conduct this theoretical labor have good intentions. But we also know what they say about good intentions, and the paving stones on the road to hell are not nearly as substantial as the ones being thrown at cops in Ferguson and elsewhere. With this facile figure of speech, I actually mean to suggest a different criterion for evaluating our actions.
I gladly admit that the information produced by academics or activists who theorize about prison abolition or a world without police is thought-provoking and useful. I have cited a few examples of it in this essay. But just as we must ask why Time Magazine would sympathize with rioters, we should ask why there exist paid positions for people to study prison abolition. Either capitalism isn’t a totality, or the prisons and the police are not an integral part of power, or power benefits somehow by studying its own abolition.
I believe the answer lies between the second and the third possibilities. Even though the abolition of prisons is not a likely future, from the present vantage, democratic capitalism increases its chances for survival by exploring contingency plans for extreme cases, and by giving opponents employment opportunities. The advantage is increased if “prisons” or “police” can be discursively transformed from an integral element of a whole system into a particular appendage that can be discarded or modified. And there are few methods of discourse more suited to carrying out this transformation than the academic—which favors specificity and an analysis of parts over wholes—and the activist—which tends towards single-issue messaging that favors the myopic over the radical.
Someone in the academy or in the world of professional activism can study the police for all the right reasons, personally holding a global analysis of the integral role of police within a greater whole, but the institutional formulae of applying for grants, publishing articles, and claiming concrete improvements all modulate those individuals’ activity to favor a piecemeal worldview and to direct discourse at other power-holders.
It may sound like a platitude but I believe experience in struggle bears it out: you cannot abolish that with which you dialogue. State authority above all thrives on being present in every social conversation. A conversation with employers, legislators, grant-writers, or experts about the abolition of the police necessarily assumes the replacement of one form of policing with another.
The modern prison was born out of the abolition of the scaffold. Community policing was a survival mechanism after the defeats and the unpopularity of the police caused by the struggles of the ’60s. The danger is real.
Even without a far-reaching reform that allows the powerful to regenerate their methods for accumulating power, radical discourses in professional channels present other problems. One I have already hinted at can be thought of as misdirection.
Let’s imagine an organization that focuses on prison abolition. Their employees are sincere, dedicated activists, some of them proven veterans of past struggles. Nearly all of them are college graduates, and some might be academics; otherwise they stay in close contact with the experts who produce facts that make it easier to argue for prison abolition in polite circles. They produce many valuable materials that can be useful for supporting prisoners or changing people’s opinions about the prison system, and they may even have a pilot project on a couple blocks in a specific neighborhood, designed to decrease reliance on the prison industrial complex.
Taken individually, all of these things are great. We need more people who are talking about a world without prisons. But the ideas that this hypothetical organization spreads, how do they direct people’s attentions, particularly in a moment of social rebellion?
When such an organization, with paid staff, non-profit status, cred, but also rules to play by and bills to pay, proclaims that “We need to abolish the police and the prisons,” what is the practical implication? “Therefore this organization should receive more grants and this law should not be passed,” or “therefore these people who took up arms against the police deserve our support”? Clearly, it’s not the latter.
A professional approach to tackling the social problems underscored by Ferguson rarely returns people’s energies and attentions to the streets, where real change is created. True, most of the time, we don’t have something like Ferguson going on, so a patient, gradualist method seems to make sense. However, the conservatism of the professional approach often leads activists to play a pacifying role when a moment of intense struggle arises, as we abundantly witnessed this August and again in November. All across the country, even where they refrained from denouncing rioters, activist organizations called for vigils and speak-outs, when it was clear that the time for mere words had passed. Directly or indirectly, these mobilizations allowed a middle-class constituency to monopolize the social response and prevent rioting, at a time when an unprecedented number of people were ready to fight back.
What’s more, the assumptions are all wrong. Ferguson is only exceptional in its extension, not in its spirit. Not a month goes by when someone does not shoot back at the police in America. Most of the time, however, they are a lone shooter, they often kill themselves or die in the act, and the media always publish unsavory details about their personal lives, true or invented. They also portray the cops as heroes, no matter what kind of people they actually were, and they never entertain the possibility that the shooters were justified, as they always do when it’s cops doing the murdering (actually, this is too charitable a description; many media outlets assert from the beginning that the killing was justified, not even allowing a debate). The recent shooting of the two cops in NYC fits the pattern perfectly, but earlier cases like that of Christopher Monfort in Seattle, Eric Frein in Pennsylvania, or Christopher Dorner in LA also apply. None of this should be surprising. There is a certain schizophrenia in a society that glorifies the police and suppresses or distorts any honest conversation about what people actually experience at the hands of police and what sort of countermeasures are adequate or justified. If large numbers of alienated people feel entirely alone in their brutalization and dehumanization by police, collective resistance becomes impossible. The only people to express an active negation of the police will be individuals who reach a certain limit and then snap. By the very nature of the problem they are not going to be the stable ones, especially if mental health is defined as an infinite capacity to accommodate misery.
In Ferguson, rioters spray-painted the QT with the phrase, “free Kevin Johnson”, referring to a black man from an aggressively gentrifying St. Louis suburb who is on death row since 2008. Johnson shot to death an infamous bully of a cop who refused to help his kid brother as he lay dying from a heart condition. There is a direct connection between what are portrayed as isolated outbursts of senseless violence, and the massive rebellions that force society to at least stop and pay attention. I don’t, however, see the professionals making this connection. Typically they are either silent or help pathologize the lone wolves. The tragedy is, such incidents are only isolated as long as people in power AND people in social movements continue to actively isolate them.
Recognizing the basic legitimacy of these acts isn’t to glorify the shooters as heroes. There is something sad in any death, no matter who the victim is, and we’re in dire straits when the only available means of resistance that people think they have are directly suicidal. The point is, there is a direct connection between the systematic brutality of police and the appearance of people who shoot back. Denying it only maintains the schizophrenic condition that forces us to pathologize a sensible human response to systematic abuse, preserves our psychological loyalty to a system that treats us like fodder, and prevents the development of collective measures.
There have been attempts in the US to develop and spread methods of resistance to police that are collective, that brook no compromise, and that are less dangerous, less suicidal, than the method of the lone gunmen. The best known is probably the “black bloc.” And though it is clearly an imperfect tool, the bloc typically faces blanket denunciations by people who make no attempts to propose alternatives. In NGO-land, the trope that has been circulated is that the black bloc is the domain of young white men. Never mind that there are many testimonials by women, queer, and trans people attempting to counter this lie (and at great personal risk, since it requires speaking about personal involvement in an illegal activity); never mind that American anarchists have learned about the tactic not only in Europe but also in Latin America, where it is widely popular. The denunciations cannot be taken seriously as criticisms because they do not rely on realistic portrayals of the black bloc, they are formulated to silence rather than to engage, and they do not propose any alternatives for seizing space or collectively fighting back against police.
The extent to which this trope has been circulated by the corporate media reveals just how liberatory the thinking behind it truly is.
But the black bloc is just one possibility among many, and while it helps demonstrators protect themselves in rowdy street confrontations, it does not suggest to most people the vision of another world. Talking about a world without police in the here and now, without paving the way for our own co-optation is a big order to fill. Fortunately, the conversation is already ongoing.
We have the examples of societies that thrived without police, which I mentioned towards the beginning of the essay. Those stories belong to other cultures. I don’t think Westerners should use them as models or as ideological capital, but I think we should recognize their existence, to break the stranglehold that Western civilization has over definitions of human nature and human possibility, and we should also recognize that those other forms of being were violently interrupted by processes of colonization that are still ongoing. They are not marginal, idyllic stories of “primitive” societies with no bearing on modern reality, they are histories of peoples who are still struggling for survival. If, in the worlds we dream of, there is no room for them to reassert themselves independent of our designs, then whatever we create will only be a continuation of the thing we are fighting against.
More appropriate as inspiration for our own action are a number of stories of struggle in Western or westernized countries in which people created police-free zones on the ground. After all, a holistic critique of the police means that by the very nature of the problem, we cannot ask government to institute the needed changes. Real steps towards a world without police can be found in the riots in Ferguson and other cities around the country where people surpassed their self-appointed leaders and actually fought back, rather than just manufacturing yet another spectacle of symbolic dissent. The riots in Ferguson were not only important in an instrumental way, forcing all of society to consider the problem; they also suggested the beginnings of a solution as neighbors came together in solidarity, building new relations amongst themselves, and forcefully ejecting police from the neighborhoods they patrol.
Christiania is an autonomous neighborhood of Copenhagen that has been squatted since 1971. The area, with nearly a thousand inhabitants, organizes itself in assemblies, maintains its own economy and infrastructure, cleans up its trash, produces bicycles and other items in collective workshops, and runs a number of communal spaces. They also resolve their own conflicts, and with the exception of some aggressive incursions and raids, Christiania has been a police-free zone for most of its existence. Initially, the Danish government opted for a soft strategy, hoping that Christiania would eventually fall apart on its own. In the same era, the autonomous movement in the Netherlands and Germany was fighting major battles to defend their squatted spaces, sometimes defeating the police in the streets or burning down shopping malls in retribution for evictions. In context, the Danish approach made sense. However, Christiania thrived. Some suspect that the government was behind the crisis that threatened the autonomous neighborhood’s existence in 1984 when a motorcycle gang moved into the police-free zone to begin selling hard drugs (soft drugs have always been widely used in Christinia, while addictive drugs are vehemently discouraged).
Earlier in Christiania’s history, there had been a fierce debate about how to deal with the problem of drugs. Over intense opposition, a part of the neighborhood decided to request police assistance, but they soon found that the cops were arresting the users of non-addictive drugs and ignoring or even protecting the proliferation of hard drugs. After that, Christiania decided to keep the police out, and their autonomy was well established by the time the motorcycle gang moved in. The gangsters thought they had picked an easy target: a neighborhood of hippies who not only disavowed making use of the police, they actively kept the police out. These drug-pushers, however, had fallen for capitalist mythology, which presents us all as isolated individuals, vulnerable to organized delinquents, and therefore in need of the greatest protection racket of them all, the State. Christiania residents banded together, exercising the same principle of solidarity that was at work in all the other aspects of their lives, fought back, and kicked the motorcycle gang out, using a combination of sabotage, public meetings, pressure, and direct confrontation.
It is no coincidence that the same tools and capacities that allow us to fight back and free ourselves from policing are also the ones we need to protect ourselves from the forms of harm that capitalist democracies prosecute under the rubric of “crime”. Crime and police are two sides of the same coin. They perpetuate each other, and they each rely on a vulnerable, atomized society. A healthy society would have no need for police, no more than it would lock people in cages and hide its problems out of sight rather than deal with the conflicts and deficiencies that led to an act of harm being committed in the first place.
The mutual relationship between police and crime was exquisitely revealed during the popular uprising in Oaxaca in 2006. In June of that year, police viciously attacked the massive encampment staged annually by striking teachers. But the teachers fought back tooth and nail, quickly joined by many neighbors. They pushed police out of Oaxaca City, which remained autonomous for five months along with large parts of the countryside. People built barricades, which became an important space for socialization as well as self-defense, and they organized topiles, an indigenous tradition that provided volunteers to fight back against police and paramilitaries as well as to look out for fires, acts of robbery, or assault.
The defenders of Oaxaca soon learned that the police were releasing people from their prisons on the condition that they go into the city to commit crimes. In protecting their neighborhoods against these acts, the topiles did not function like Western police forces. They patrolled unarmed, they were volunteers, and they did not have a prerogative to arrest people or impose their will, the way cops do. Upon coming across a robbery, arson, or assault, their function was not only that of first responders, but also to call on the neighbors so everyone could respond collectively. With such a structure, it would be impossible to enforce a legal code against an activity with popular participation. In other words, the topiles could stop a stranger who was robbing the store of a local, working class person (as were many of the neighborhood stores in Oaxaca), but they couldn’t have stopped the neighbors themselves from looting a store they already had an antagonistic, classist relationship with, as was the case in Ferguson.
People in Oaxaca also had to defend themselves from police and paramilitaries, and they did so for five months. The topiles and many others were unarmed. They had to fight back with rocks, fireworks, and molotov cocktails, many of them getting shot in the process. Their bravery allowed hundreds of thousands of people to live in freedom for five months, in a police-free, government-free zone, experimenting with the self-organization of their lives on social, economic, and cultural levels. All the beautiful aspects of the Oaxaca commune are inseperable from their violent struggle against police, involving barricades, slingshots, molotov cocktails, and thousands of people who faced down armed opponents, over a dozen of them giving their lives in the process. In the end, the Mexican state had to send in the military as the only way to crush this flourishing pocket of autonomy.
If we learn from examples like Christiania, Oaxaca, and Ferguson itself, we can fight for a world without police and everything they represent, beginning here and now by creating blocks, neighborhoods, or even entire cities that are at least temporarily police-free zones. Within these spaces we can finally experiment and practice with solutions to all the other interrelated forms of oppression that plague us.
There is something beautiful about people finding the courage to fight back against a more powerful enemy, and people also flourish in surprising ways when they liberate space and take the power to organize their own lives. Neither of these things can be overemphasized. But neither should we romanticize. In the streets of Ferguson and other liberated spaces, much of the ugliness that infuses our society rears its head. But dealing with what had previously been invisible or normalized is an inevitable part of any healing process, and our society is nothing if not sick. Calamities like uprisings and riots can be important catalysts in processes of social healing, and liberated spaces, by forcefully casting aside the previous regime’s norms and relationships, that only functioned to reproduce and invisibilize all the ongoing forms of harm, can give us the opportunity to create new, healthier patterns, and engage in conversations that previously had been impossible. Empowering ourselves to fight back against those who have traumatized us, like the police, can be an important step in upsetting oppressive relations, healing from trauma, and restoring healthy social relations.
This is, however, a dangerous proposition. Fighting back against the police, especially shooting back at them, as was happening in Ferguson, is not a safe activity. Change is never safe. And if we can successfully overcome the police to create a liberated zone, the State will eventually send in the military. Are the soldiers still loyal enough, after these last wars, to open fire on us? Has enough been done to encourage dissension in the ranks, or is the government firmly in control? There is only one way to find out.
It is understandable that many people would not want to face the extreme risks involved with uprooting the oppressions that grip our society. There is nothing wrong with being afraid, so long as you have the courage to admit it. Some people, however, do a great disservice by muddying the waters with myopic proposals that have no hope of making an actual difference.
In the streets, we need to learn how to seize space, to make sure that those who fight back are never isolated, to make collective responses possible so no one has to react in an individual, suicidal way again, and to build a struggle that has room for young and old, for the peaceful and the bellicose, for those who know how to fight and those who know how to heal. It will be a long process, and in the meantime, there is a great need to speak loud and clear about a world without police, so everyone will know there is another way, beyond the false alternatives of obedience or ineffectual reform.
Peter Gelderloos has participated in various initiatives to support prisoners and push the police out of our neighborhoods. He is the author of several books, including Anarchy Works and The Failure of Nonviolence.
Explosive allegations were published in Proceso, one of Mexico’s leading news weeklies, this past Sunday, revealing strong evidence pointing to direct participation by federal authorities in the presumed killings of dozens of education students from the drug war-torn state of Guerrero.
The investigation also revealed that Mexican federal, state and municipal authorities were tracking the exact movements of the students on the same night of the massacre in question this past September 26 and that according to the government’s own documents, and in at least five clear instances, key testimony obtained by officials to sustain their version of the events was actually induced via illegal interrogation techniques that amounted to torture, which included electric shocks to testicles and extreme beatings.
The investigation’s revelations are not only a stark contrast with what has been officially maintained by the Peña Nieto administration, but also contradict most of what most mainstream news has reported from Mexico and beyond.
The Official Version
The official version of what happened on September 26, the night of the disappearance , largely emanates from a press conference that has by now become widely known and has even served as a reference point for a nation-wide movement that has been ongoing since soon after the presumed massacre occurred. That is because the Attorney General leading the press conference, Jesus Murillo Karam, mentioned that he was “tired” at the end of the hour-long conference. The #YaMeCanse Twitter hashtag arose almost as soon as the conference itself ended, and has actually served as the battle-cry for a nation-wide movement that has attracted international support and attention, including a day of protests which featured over 200 actions across the globe and cross-border protests, as previously reported by teleSUR English.
During the press conference, and reiterated through a variety of official accounts since that time, authorities have claimed that Iguala Mayor José Luis Abarca and his wife ordered local municipal police to attack several buses of the “normalistas” (students training to become teachers) on several occasions. The attacks wound up killing at least three people and disappearing 43 students. The Guerreros Unidos (Warriors United) drug gang was then given the 43 kidnapped students which went on to brutally assassinate, dismember, torture and burn the victims to death, again, according to official accounts, but disputed by the parents.
The ex-Mayor and his wife have since been detained in connection to the presumed massacre. Acting on a tip from the couple’s landlord in Itzapalapa, the “imperial couple,” as local media dubbed them, were considered by federal officials to be the main culprits behind the crime. The official allegation was that the couple acted in cahoots with a gang that had long suspected, close ties to the Mayor and his wife.
State Version Undermined
The investigation, which was penned by acclaimed Mexican investigative journalist Anabel Hernandez and the University of California at Berkeley-based journalist Steve Fisher, blows the lid off of official accounting in a number of ways, in alleging that: federal, state and local officials closely tracked, monitored and were quite aware of the whereabouts of both the killed, disappeared and presumably murdered education students; key testimonies obtained by officials were garnered through illegal torture techniques; federal police and soldiers from the military were present at the scene of the killings; the government has deliberately withheld this information in an attempt to maintain their own official accounting of the events in question.
The allegations also come during a time in which the government’s version of the events was already being questioned by other sources. A research team headed by a group of scientists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, argued that the government claims that the Guerreros Unidos gang incinerated to death all 43 students lacked any “scientific explanation.”
In an extended interview via a three-way telephone call with the authors of the investigation with teleSUR English, Anabel Hernandez and Steve Fisher discussed and detailed their findings.
Journalists Discuss Disturbing Findings
The ever-passionate and expressive Hernandez is no stranger to explosive investigations and allegations, so much so that her home was raided by official authorities late last year. The award-winning and internationally acclaimed journalist has also been subjected to harrowing threatening acts, such as having found animal body parts at the doorstep of her home. In her latest investigation, however, Hernandez made the case that her co-authored findings starkly revealed that governmental responsibility for the presumed massacre is much higher than what has been previously admitted.
“The point is that we know that the federal police were there, we know that they knew when the students [were] abducted and we know that many of the testimonies that the PGR [Mexico’s Attorney General’s office] were obtained and acquired through torture techniques. But in Mexico, evidence obtained through torture is illegal,” Hernandez told teleSUR.
In contrast to the official version, which maintains that the federal government was unaware of the massacre, Hernandez and Fisher allege that federal police and military soldiers directly participated in the presumed massacre itself and were one of three levels of government closely monitoring the students whereabouts throughout the night of the presumed massacre.
According to Hernandez and Fisher’s accounting of the unedited Guerrero state report they obtained, which was drawn up for the Interior Ministry (SEGOB) and obtained by the magazine about a month and a half ago, students were monitored as soon as they left their school grounds at 5:59pm. Both federal and state police were monitoring the students while they traveled from the Chilpancingo-based Control, Computational and Communications Center (C4).
The article goes into further detail, noting that at 8pm, the federal and state police arrived to the highway where the students were fielding donations; at 9:21pm, a federal police chief – Luis Antonio Dorantes – was advised of the student’s arrival; and at 9:40pm the C4 center reported the first gunshots.
The report was also based on 12 videos recorded by surviving students on their cell phones, whereby one now publicly released video has audio clearly noting a surviving student yelling in distress: “The police are now coming, the federales are staying and they are going to want to screw us over!”
In sum, various levels of government were much more aware of the students and more present at key points throughout the evening in question, than what has been previously admitted.
Hernandez made it clear to teleSUR, however, that their investigation didn’t reveal whether or not the United Warriors gang were involved with the massacre. Fisher elaborated on this point: “We cannot say whether or not Guerreros Unidos was ultimately involved with this, or not, but we can say that the evidence we have acquired was that they were tortured [before their testimonies were given]. It is thus suspect that they could actually get proper testimonies considering the fact that they were tortured brutally, including electric shocks to testicles and extreme beatings.”
Hernandez added that other telltale signs of torture were uncovered in their investigation, including bruised ribs, blackened eyes and black-and-blue marks on the neck. Such findings were especially damning, Hernandez pointed out, considering that, “the attorney general’s version was based solely on testimony by presumed drug traffickers.”
Fisher spoke to this point, telling teleSUR that, “I would say that in any case where there is torture involved, it brings into question the entire investigation. It would be interesting to know why the PGR would base this very important investigation on, according to their own documents, information obtained through people that were brutally beaten and tortured.”
Hernandez and Fisher wrote that the Peña Nieto administration has withheld the information they reported on.
Soon after the disappearance of the education students, the Guerrero Attorney General’s office requested that the Mexican Federal Police, their investigation notes, hand over extensive documentation related to the potential participation of federal police agents, including the exact registries of when agents clocked in and out while on the job the night of the attack. However, the investigation added that since the Peña Nieto administration took over the investigation this past October 4, the requested documentation was never handed over to the Guerrero office.
“It is clear that the PGR has been manipulating the case, that the federal government has been manipulating the case, and that now, the official version of the case has been shown to not be trustworthy,” Hernandez passionately asserted during the extensive interview, adding that in subsequent conversations with government officials, none of their allegations were officially denied to either of the reporters.
Investigation Points to a Number of Implications
Considering the many contradictions between the investigation and official accounts , many questions can be asked. Since Mexican officials have long claimed that Warriors United was the group which took custody of the students from local police authorities who had initially detained them, have there been any false arrests among the 74-some people that have been rounded up since September 26?
The accused leader of Warriors United, Sidronio Casarrubias, is among the many detained, which include an array of local law enforcement officials. Casarrubias has since revealed to officials the kind of relationship he had with Abarca while he was mayor, but it is not clear whether or not he was among the five people tortured in Herandez and Fisher’s account.
“Warriors United has sewn a web of complicity with several mayors and above all with security officials,” Murillo previously told the press. “In Iguala, the complicity was between the authorities, the local police and the Warriors United,” Murillo added.
If there is one official acknowledgment which Hernandez and Fisher do not dispute, it is the systematic relationship that exists between drug cartels and the Mexican state. It is that very relationship which has served as a spark plug to a nation that has undertaken a significant amount of resistance since September 26.
Nation-wide Movement Continues to Wage Protest
The revelations by Herandez and Fisher come at a time that the nation’s ire was already raised to a feverish boiling point. In one of the largest countries and economies of Latin America. Mexico has witnessed near daily and nation-wide actions of resistance.
Since the disappearance of the “normalistas” on September 26, the country has been brimming with mass marches, candle-light vigils, university-campus and labor-union-led strikes, occupations of official and university buildings, riot police-led arrests of demonstrators, property destruction of official buildings, sit-ins, panels ruminating over the ills of narco-state violence and international bridge closings.
Most recently, at least 22 people were injured this past Sunday during protests in Chilpancingo, Guerrero which featured police opening fire on demonstrators. TeleSUR English reported that three parents of the forcibly disappeared, a journalist, a student from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and a member of an education union were among those injured.
The violent law enforcement response to the protests, specifically that of Sunday’s occurrences, prompted the National Human rights Commission to demand that authorities conduct themselves within the law.
The disappearance clearly served as the catalyst for the movement’s inception, much of the country has long been weary of the systematic problem of disappearances and the eerie official impunity which has often surrounded them. Nothing less than some 22,000 disappearances, over the course of the last three years alone, account for official estimates. Other analysts estimate the actual total as being higher than that.
Mass Graves Point to Narco-State Crimes
The disappearances of the normalistas are emblematic of a long-running problem in Mexico: thousands upon thousands of cases of disappearances, many of whose investigations were found ‘inconclusive’ and long ago closed, exist throughout the country. Some estimates range as high as 24,000 disappearances having occurred since 2011 alone, the overwhelming amount of which were “unsolved” and/or “closed” cases.
In another case of official law enforcement involvement in a crime, 22 alleged kidnappers were summarily executed by Mexican soldiers in Tlatlaya in June 2014. A federal judge recently charged three soldiers with murder and four others with abuse of authority and other charges in relation to the massacre.
At least a dozen mass grave sites have been discovered since the time of the Ayatzinapa disappearances. Meanwhile, movement activists and organizers alike have alleged that many more mass grave sites exist than what has been officially acknowledged.
Regardless of the actual total of mass grave sites, their undisputed existence still point to a problem more familiar to locals and residents of the area: Guerrero is not only a drug war-torn state, but a complex nexus of corruption and corroboration between local, regional and state authorities and their allies in street gangs and powerful drug cartels. Even federal officials have since admitted that the disappeared students pointed to a larger, narco-state reality.
While the troubles of living under a narco-state is one which local residents of Guerrero have long been familiar, in the wake of what seemingly is a never-ending case of the disappearances of the Guerrero students, it has now become a reality with which the whole nation of Mexico, and well beyond, are becoming familiar with as well.
But now, in light of the explosive allegations revealed by Hernandez and Fisher, it will become yet a more complex reality with which the nation will have to come to grips and to which the government may have to provide yet more answers during tiring press conferences.