A protest in Guadalajara, Jalisco, over the alleged murder of a man by municipal police after he was arrested for not wearing a face mask turned violent on Thursday, as protesters vandalized the state government building, clashed with police and set one officer on fire.
About 1,000 people took to the streets of the Jalisco capital to denounce the death of Giovanni López Ramírez, a 30-year-old construction worker who was arrested in the municipality of Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos on May 4 for not wearing a face mask amid the coronavirus pandemic.
López was allegedly beaten and tortured by municipal police. He died in hospital on May 5 from a traumatic brain injury, according to his death certificate.
The protesters gathered in Guadalajara’s Revolution Park on Thursday afternoon after the demonstration was promoted on social media. Among those to promote it was Oscar-winning film director Guillermo del Toro.
From there they marched to the state government palace in the historic center of the capital while holding up placards condemning López’s death and chanting slogans such as “Giovanni didn’t die, Giovanni was killed.”
Some defaced the facade of the government palace with graffiti messages that demanded justice for López, described police officers as “pigs” and called for the resignation of Governor Enrique Alfaro.
Two police cars parked near the palace were spray-painted before they were set on fire.
A large group of protesters then turned their attention to breaking into the government palace, first attempting to kick down a door before using broken street signs and other objects to force their way in.
After gaining access to the building, they vandalized its interior, smashing office windows and destroying furniture, the newspaper Milenio reported.
After leaving the palace, they clashed with police in the street, and several demonstrators and officers sustained injuries. Some police officers kicked and threw punches at both protesters and journalists, Milenio said, noting that they also used tear gas to try to disperse the crowd.
As sirens wailed, one protester approached a state police officer who had arrived at the scene on a motorcycle, poured a flammable liquid on his back and set him on fire. A video posted online by the news outlet ZonaDocs showed the officer falling off his stationary motorcycle with his back aflame.
He rolled around on the street attempting to extinguish the flames before they were eventually put out with a bottle of water. The officer was taken to a hospital where he was treated for burns to his neck but was not in a serious condition.
Governor Alfaro said on Twitter that 27 protesters were arrested, including six minors.
He claimed that the protest was orchestrated from the “basements of power” in Mexico City, asserting that President López Obrador had sent people to infiltrate it and cause trouble.
“Behind everything that is happening in this case in Jalisco are interests [in] … Mexico City. What they’re seeking is to damage Jalisco,” Alfaro said in a video message posted to social media.
He defended the conduct of the police although video footage showed some acting aggressively without provocation. Alfaro said they had acted according to the circumstances and “didn’t commit any act of violence against the protesters.”
The actions of the latter, however, posed a risk to the lives of “working people” doing their jobs inside the government palace, Alfaro said.
The governor denied that López was arrested for not wearing a face mask but gave no further details. Jalisco Attorney General Gerardo Octavio Solís said he was arrested for “aggressive behavior” but the man’s family denies the claim.
Video footage posted online this week showed López being forced into a police car by municipal officers wielding assault rifles. At the same time, citizens argued with the police about their excessive use of force and the rule requiring the use of face masks.
López was allegedly beaten at a local police station before he was taken to the hospital where he died.
Alfaro said earlier on Thursday that the man’s death was an “atrocity” and pledged that his government will apply the “full weight of the law” to whoever is responsible.
In a Twitter message on Friday morning, the governor said that the “first arrests” had been made in the case and that the state government would take control of the Ixtlahuacán municipal police.
He told a press conference later this morning that a police commissioner, a middle-ranking commander and a police officer had been arrested in connection with the case.
Meanwhile, Ixtlahuacán Mayor Eduardo Cervantes Aguilar is under investigation for obstructing the investigation into the alleged murder. Giovanni López’s brother claimed that through a third party the mayor offered his family 200,000 pesos (US $9,125) not to publish the video he recorded of the police aggression, which has circulated widely on social media and news websites.
He also said that Cervantes threatened to kill members of his family should the video come to light. The mayor has rejected the claims.
Alfaro had stressed that state police or authorities had no involvement in López’s death but the federal Interior Ministry (Segob) said in a statement that the tough measures the Jalisco government put in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus, including arresting people for breaking curfews, was a factor.
“This event came in the context of the restrictive measures implemented by the governor of Jalisco to fight the pandemic, which included the use of law enforcement forces, and which led to abuses by authorities,” Segob said.
The Mexico office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) condemned the death.
“The allegations that the arrest of Mr. López Ramírez occurred in the context of the implementation of health emergency measures due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the obligatory use of face masks in Jalisco is a cause of concern for the OHCHR,” it said.