In Mexico the police will kill you for not wearing a mask and the state will disappear you for demanding justice. This is the conclusion drawn by Alejandro Puerto, a young grassroots political activist in the state of Jalisco, who spoke with Truthout about the violence and repression doled out by the state government of Gov. Enrique Alfaro.
Inspired by the uprising against police brutality happening in the United States and tired of the regular abuses committed by state security forces at home, thousands took to the streets in Mexico in June to denounce the killing of Giovanni López by local police. They were met with brutal repression.
According to relatives, López, a 30-year-old construction worker from the town of Ixtlahuacán in the state of Jalisco, was detained in early May for being in public without a mask. His family struggled to ascertain his whereabouts, eventually discovering his body with apparent signs of torture in a morgue the following day. The Jalisco state human rights commission eventually concluded that the deadly beating delivered by police constituted an extrajudicial killing. López’s brother claimed the mayor of Ixtlahuacán even offered the family 200,000 pesos (a little under US$9,000) to stay silent but they rejected the offer and released a video of López’s detention that served to ignite the ire of the population.
In Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco and Mexico’s second-largest city, several demonstrators were picked up by plainclothes police in unmarked vehicles before they could even make it to a protest and were told by the masked officers that they were going to be disappeared, a threat that is taken seriously in a country where state security forces have for decades engaged in forced disappearances against those deemed political opponents. Meanwhile, others were told they would be dismembered.
Adding to the people’s ire was the fact that Lopez’s death was seen as entirely preventable. Whereas the federal Mexican government has centered its response to the COVID-19 crisis on public health measures, such as shutting down workplaces — precisely to avoid giving authorities further powers to arbitrarily detain people and violate their human rights — the state government of Enrique Alfaro opted to place the burden on individuals.
“Enrique Alfaro focused his response on individual behavior and imposed this measure, the mandatory use of a facemask, which was very dangerous, and the end result that people wanted to avoid is precisely what ended up happening: the killing of a person for not wearing a facemask,” Puerto told Truthout.
But Puerto argues that that alone does not paint a complete picture of the circumstances that led to the death of López at the hands of police. He says the police have a propensity to behave differently depending on the socioeconomic status of the person they are investigating or the neighborhood where they are working.
Ixtlahuacán, where López lived, is one of the most marginalized neighborhoods in the metropolitan Guadalajara area, with two-thirds of its residents living in poverty or with some degree of social deprivation.
“In the most marginalized areas is where you find the most abuse of power, the most violent arrests, the bloodiest persecutions,” said Puerto. “Perhaps they thought that since it was a bricklayer from a poor neighborhood, there would be no consequences.”
The circumstances surrounding the killing of López, the apparent effort by state authorities to cover up the death of López at the hands of police, and the repression unleashed on those demanding justice served to highlight how in Mexico, as in the United States, being a working-class target of racism can be a death sentence and the path to justice is littered with obstacles.