The intersection of police brutality and racial prejudice is currently at a critical mass in the United States.
With the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the subsequent reminders of countless racist killings by police throughout the years, the table has been set for the most widespread civil rights movement in the history of mankind; across the Americas, Europe, Asia, and elsewhere, millions are demanding systemic change.
From witnessing historic demonstrations for justice, we know that in addition to effective change being achievable and maintainable through protest, offshoots of the original cause often find the confidence to raise their voices. In the case of the George Floyd protests, Mexicans are being empowered to speak out against prolonged and widespread brutality by the police in their communities.
In leaked footage depicting the arrest of Giovanni López, he can be seen being detained by officers holding rifles before he is hustled into the back of a police pickup truck and taken to the local station. The morning after the footage was shot, López was pronounced dead at hospital from blunt force trauma to the head, but had also sustained a gunshot wound to the foot. He had originally been arrested for walking in public without a face mask.
Since initially losing traction in the media and in the public consciousness, the wave of protests sweeping the world seems to have empowered and energized the outrage over Giovanni López’s death. Tensions forged in the bloody history of police brutality in Mexico have long sought an outlet, but global outrage has finally lent the outburst the legitimacy it needs to stand a chance of affecting change.
This is a legitimacy it is going to need going forward, as the change being demanded is far from simply a reduction of violent police activity, but a revolution of a culture that places the police force beyond reproach. The López case seems to have shown the people of Jalisco that not only are the police resorting to violence in their line of work, they are seeking it out.
Robert Coogan, an American prison chaplain, summarized this perception when commenting on the strict regulations regarding face masks in public, saying that “corrupt police are taking advantage of this. It’s giving police one more opportunity to detain people (and) steal from them.”
López’s neighbours went even further when discussing the killing with the press, explaining that the police had been routinely arresting those without face masks and “roughing them up.” From some of the stories from residents around the area that López was arrested, it becomes clearer that the anger has been approaching a tipping point for some time.
But the problem stretches far wider than Jalisco and its policing of personal protective equipment; abuse, torture, and extra-judicial killings have been ubiquitous in Mexico for decades. Human rights groups regularly identify Mexico as one of the countries with the most corrupt and unmonitored police forces in the world, pointing time and time again to cases of beatings, waterboarding, electrocutions, and rape in police custody.
A UN report from 2015 implicated “all levels of the Mexican security apparatus in the context of the government’s efforts to combat crime.” It went on to state that “torture and ill treatment during detention are generalized in Mexico, and occur in a context of impunity,” a phenomenon that five years on still seems to persist with the same absence of accountability.
A strong and ultimately undeniable line of correlation links the ever-escalating cases of police brutality and the country’s continuation of the “war on drugs.” Between the years before the commitment to the drug wars and 2012 (when the conflict was at its peak), the number of cases of torture rose from 320 a year to an almost unfathomable 2,100, a number so high that the robotic denial of opportunistic violence in the police force by the government almost feels laughable.
Despite a modest reduction in cases since then, the UN report still cites the same causes for the cases that still occur — a cultural “tolerance, indifference, or complicity” among the authorities. This devil-may-care approach by the government, judiciary, and anti-corruption departments, in tandem with the continual militarization of police forces nationwide, has landed Mexico with authorities unaccountable to the people, and to themselves.
While this may all seem almost entirely detached from the protest movement in the United States, the bare bones of the conflict remain the same. There are long and ugly histories of police brutality in both countries, and it is especially useful to remember that many police forces in Mexico have received U.S. training.
Understanding this can help us begin to identify the tensions in Mexico as possessing the same DNA as those that sparked the protests in the U.S., and while the realities on the ground differ between the two countries, both are resisting persecution from a system that systematically devalues their lives.
Feeling able to ideologically ally these causes, focusing not on the differences but instead noticing the power struggles at play in both, may be what ultimately allows each one to be taken seriously by those they stand against.
For now, though, it remains to be seen whether the demonstrations in Mexico will have a longlasting legacy, but looking at the U.S. and the progress it is making with each day of the movement should give cause for hope. After all, it’s the same fight.
Jack Gooderidge writes from Campeche.