Daniel Munoz/Getty
Daniel Munoz/Getty

CALI, Colombia—The video reveals two cops kneeling on a lone man on the street. He’s susceptible and helpless, but the officers proceed to exert lethal power. As the person calls out that he can’t breathe, onlookers plead for mercy. Later the person is pronounced lifeless, the video goes viral, and anti-police protests start to brush the nation.

Sound acquainted? Whereas the scene bears an eerie resemblance to the killing of George Floyd, the sufferer on this case was Bogota-based engineer and regulation scholar Javier Ordóñez. He was killed within the early hours of Sept. 9, allegedly for not following COVID-19 social distancing restrictions.

Massive-scale demonstrations towards police brutality started the following day in Bogotá and shortly unfold to Medellín, Cali, Popayán, and different main cities. The protests have been in comparison with the Black Lives Matter and “Defund the Police” actions within the U.S. Nonetheless Colombian authorities reacted to those marches with a model of ferocity seldom seen stateside, repeatedly utilizing reside rounds and firing indiscriminately into crowds of unarmed civilians, and thus additional fanning the flames of unrest.

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“The police are systematically repressing us. They’re depriving us of the elemental proper to peaceable protests,” Alejandro Lanz, co-director for the human rights NGO Temblores, advised The Day by day Beast. “They’re escalating the violence with out regard to human life.”

Since then no less than 13 protesters have been killed and 209 wounded. A number of ladies additionally got here ahead to say they have been sexually abused by officers after being detained. The crackdown was swiftly condemned by teams like Amnesty Worldwide and the Inter-American Courtroom of Human Rights, and prompted fees of “state terrorism” from a number of media shops within the nation.

In a single telling incident, an underage protester died after being shot 4 instances at shut vary, regardless of police claiming he was hit by “stray rounds.” In one other episode, three younger feminine protesters have been arrested and brought to a precinct bunker miles away from the demonstration web site in Bogota. There the ladies stated they have been groped by officers who provided to “overturn” their arrest in return for sexual favors. The ladies ultimately escaped when the precinct commander returned to the bottom and ordered them launched. 

As they got here underneath fireplace the protests turned violent, ultimately resulting in 194 officers injured and dozens of police stations being set on fireplace. Such intense resistance prompted the previous Colombian president and present senator, Álvaro Uribe, to name for “a nationwide authorities curfew, armed forces within the streets with their automobiles and tanks, deportation of international vandals, and seize of mental authors.” 

For his or her half, demonstrators stated they’d been left with little recourse to get their message throughout.

“That is all occurring due to oppression,” stated Astrid Olaya, an activist and grade-school instructor in Cali, throughout an interview with The Day by day Beast. “The individuals are solely elevating their voices, however sadly, so as to be heard, they need to resort to vandalism. That’s unhappy nevertheless it’s additionally actuality.”

Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, a Colombian knowledgeable with the Washington Workplace on Latin America [WOLA], stated the general public’s “grievances are reliable” whereas additionally calling authorities’ response a “disproportionate use of power [for] deadly or maiming functions.” 

“[Police] actions being caught on video and circulating throughout simply makes the anger develop,” she stated.

“I Can’t Breathe.”

All that roiling anger brings us again to the unique video, which reveals the killing of regulation scholar Ordóñez whereas in police custody, and which first spurred nationwide outrage.

In response to witnesses, Ordóñez, 46, was accosted by a squad of officers simply after midnight within the middle-class Villa Luz neighborhood in northwestern Bogotá. Police later claimed the daddy of two was in violation of coronavirus restrictions punishable by effective. Nonetheless, witnesses additionally report the arresting officers appeared to know and verbally establish the sufferer, indicating he might have been intentionally focused, in line with a report by the North American Congress on Latin America [NACLA].

“Earlier than the police knocked him to the bottom, [Ordóñez] appealed to his proper to look earlier than the suitable authorities if he had dedicated any unlawful act. However the police merely held him down and commenced to shock him,” NACLA reported.

Within the video shot by an onlooker, Ordóñez may be heard to say, “Por favor, no mas, me ahogo.” [Please, no more, I can’t breathe.] An post-mortem revealed that Ordóñez had been Tasered greater than a dozen instances, additionally struggling blunt-force blows that left him with cranial fractures and a ruptured liver.

Sadly, Ordóñez is simply the most recent in a protracted line of victims of police and army violence towards civilians in Colombia. In response to the U.N. Human Rights Fee, there have been 15 extrajudicial killings by the nation’s safety forces final 12 months. Different sources, together with a current op-ed in The Washington Publish, put the quantity a lot greater—claiming there have been as many as 639 homicides and virtually 250 sexual assaults by police and troopers since 2017.

Two days after Ordóñez’s homicide, Protection Minister Holmes Trujillo provided a mea culpa of kinds, stating that “the Nationwide Police apologizes for any violation of the regulation or ignorance of the laws [that] might have been incurred.”

By that time, nonetheless, the video of Ordóñez’s grotesque dying had been seen by lots of of hundreds of individuals all around the world and the anti-protest crackdown was ongoing.

Sergio Guzmán, the director of Colombia Danger Evaluation, known as Trujillo’s apology “too little, too late” in an interview.

“There might be no makes an attempt made at huge adjustments [to police conduct] within the close to future,” as any such plans for reform can be “lifeless at delivery,” Guzmán stated. “In order that’s the place the apology drawback is sadly magnified.”

Colombia’s present president, Iván Duque, is a far-right Trump acolyte who campaigned on a strict law-and-order, pro-business platform. Duque has additionally shied away from reconciliation talks or assembly with victims’ households.

“Duque and his ministers haven’t proven a lot empathy nor curiosity in victims of violence nor in altering the best way the police function towards the overall populace,” stated WOLA’s Sanchez-Garzoli, who additionally accused Duque of pursuing insurance policies aimed toward rolling again human rights.

“Among the many rollbacks we’ve seen is efforts to limit social protests,” she stated.

“The Cops Can Kill Us As They Please.”

Regardless of a 2016 peace settlement meant to finish its long-running civil warfare, Colombia has been caught up in a wave of violence throughout Duque’s first two years in workplace. That features a string of mysterious massacres, in addition to assassinations of leftist social leaders and activists. The nation has additionally been arduous hit by the pandemic, with per capita instances of COVID hovering among the many highest on the planet and resulting in stark will increase in unemployment and poverty.

All of that made for one thing of an ideal storm when information of Ordóñez’s killing broke.

“Colombians have been glued to social media, TV and radio, listening to concerning the protests regarding police brutality within the U.S. So when the video of Javier Ordóñez surfaced it simply detonated all of those underlying frustrations and anger that had constructed up,” stated WOLA’s Sanchez-Garzoli.

Human rights director Lanz stated there’s a widespread floor underlying each nations’ anti-police actions—in that each are triggered by creeping authoritarian tendencies and enabled by the sharing capability of social media.

“We have to assume globally about how we are able to change this notion of the police power in public area,” Lanz stated. “The police in all nations, not solely in america and Latin America, are likely to criminalize black individuals, younger individuals, and LGBTQ individuals, and that straight impacts our freedoms and the appropriate to have interaction in social actions.”

However there are intrinsic variations between BLM and what’s occurring in Colombia, stated safety analyst Guzmán.

“Within the U.S. the issue pertains to white supremacy,” he stated, whereas in Colombia the problem is extra one in all “impunity” for law enforcement officials. As a substitute of being tied to race, Guzmán described it “extra as a cultural drawback from throughout the police, the best way the police work, the best way they aren’t held accountable” for his or her actions.

“This ought to be modified,” he stated, “however there isn’t a favorable political atmosphere for that.”

Activist Olaya agreed that the issue in her nation was extra about abuse of energy for political and financial ends, versus racial prejudice.

“In some methods I feel our motion is similar to what is going on within the U.S. […] however a distinction is that the police assault and intimidate us to guard the facility of the elites and the oligarchs. There isn’t any query we reside in a dictatorship, and the [the cops] can kill us as they please with none implications.”

Some students have argued persuasively that the issues of racial injustice within the U.S. are additionally tied to questions like class inequality and neoliberal agendas. However what does appear to separate the 2 nations’ police reform actions is a matter of scale. Whereas some high-profile instances, like these of Breonna Taylor and Tamir Rice, tragically stay unresolved within the U.S.—in Colombia unsolved murders by safety forces are the norm. Low wages and a scarcity of coaching imply that crooked cops are an endemic drawback, and the nation’s police power stays one of the vital unethical within the hemisphere. 

“Colombia nonetheless has weak political capability in comparison with the U.S.—the rule of regulation is much much less ingrained in police forces [and] problems with corruption are additionally extra of a priority,” stated Robert Bunker, a analysis director with the U.S. safety agency C/O Futures.

“In Colombia a police officer is anticipated to actually get away with homicide,” Bunker stated. “Within the U.S. they’re anticipated to be punished for such a heinous act.”

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