Policemen hiding their identification and beating citizens with sticks; civilians firing firearms in the company of the Police; uniformed men throwing stones and breaking windows of houses and shouting at their inhabitants in their pajamas; shots from behind by protesters. All those images that have been recorded on video are part of the nights of panic that Colombia has experienced in recent days and that have left 13 civilians dead and 72 wounded by gunshots, most of them young in Bogotá and Soacha, near the capital. .
The Government of Iván Duque has highlighted the vandalism against 54 police facilities, the destruction of 206 public transport buses, as well as the injuries to 194 police officers; But from the Attorney General’s Office, human rights organizations and the Mayor’s Office of Bogotá question the “indiscriminate use of firearms” by the Police, something illegal in response to a protest. After nights of chaos and riots, due to the police brutality against Javier Ordóñez, a lawyer who died in police custody, in the Colombian capital the question arises about who gave them the order to shoot or attack homes or if they broke the unit of command and act on their own.
“In 48 hours we have documented 119 complaints of police abuse in Bogotá. With deaths and gunshot wounds, this is the most serious thing that has happened to him in the city since the taking of the Palace of Justice (which occurred in 1985), ”said the mayor after a meeting with President Iván Duque on Friday afternoon. During the meeting, the councilor gave the president and the Attorney General, Fernando Carrillo, an hour and a half of videos that would show the police shooting at citizens and the 119 complaints that he collected in the hospitals where those injured by bullets are still treated. .
The president has not specifically referred to the meeting, but López announced that Duque agreed to check which members of the Police have fired their weapons in the last hours. However, the mayor added, the president rejected his proposal to reform the Police and make an act of reconciliation and forgiveness to the citizens. “Duque told me that this act had already taken place. I consider the act of forgiveness to Javier Ordóñez’s family (who died in police custody) valuable, but it is not enough. It is not with just one family. As of today, at the hour, it is at least 11 ”.
Violence in protests has been on the rise since 2019, several experts explain to this newspaper. Disrupted by the coronavirus, massive street demonstrations had taken hold at the end of last year during a national strike against the government of Iván Duque. At that time, the United Nations Office for Human Rights documented cases such as that of Dilan Cruz, killed by a riot gear; and at least eight cases of eye injuries, among other abuses. So far in 2020, the Mayor’s Office received 137 complaints of police abuse, a figure that was barely reached in the last 48 hours.
Now, a group of human rights organizations presented a disciplinary complaint to the Office of the Prosecutor against the Minister of Defense and the high command of the police in Bogotá. They argue that they should be suspended from their posts because they would have breached their duties or went too far in giving orders. “We come in an ascent of serious violations of different nature by the National Police,” said Reinaldo Villalba, from the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective. According to this lawyer, the abuses range from the indiscriminate use of lethal weapons against civilians; use of potentially lethal weapons (handguns taser) irregularly; indiscriminate use of a figure called transfer for protection to police stations; and concealment of identity and emblems that identify them as Police officers.
Police violence is historical in Colombia. However, in the opinion of Mauricio Albarracín, deputy director of the human rights NGO, Dejusticia, there are two facts that serve as context to understand the current situation: first, the appearance, in 2016, of a new Police code, which gave powers to its members such as the transfer by procedure that, “in practice, resulted in the Police having more powers to arrest.” The second, the protests of 2019 that supposed a break due to the magnitude of the people who took to the streets and also, due to the response of the authorities with stun guns. “This is how we come to today. The particular thing is that people protested directly against the Police and in a decentralized manner in the Immediate Attention Commands (CAI) in their neighborhoods. The other variation is the shooting of protesters, that is unprecedented and very serious, ”says Albarracín.
Another peculiarity is the growing attacks on journalists. “We have observed that since the protests of 2019 to date there is a turning point, there is a more aggressive behavior on the part of the Police towards the journalists they are covering. In other protests, such as the 2013 agrarian strike, excessive force and illegal police practices were not seen as widespread, “says Jonathan Bock, deputy director of the Federation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP). In the last hours there were 6 attacks on the press.
The national government and the police have said that they are advancing reforms and changes in the training of the uniformed men and that five policemen have already been suspended from their positions due to the lawyer’s investigation. About the 14 civilians killed, Gustavo Moreno, commander in charge of the Police, said that they did not order to shoot “absolutely anyone”, that they are reviewing the videos and that there are “decisions that are taken individually” to refer to the actions of the police officers.
While the Minister of Defense, Carlos Holmes Trujillo assures that there are criminal hands, coordination behind the protests and “a criminal pattern of perpetrators, destruction and incitators”; President Duque, who is the commander of the Police throughout the country, receives criticism for responding with more military personnel in the streets and ensuring that the Police act in a “gallant” manner. But the mayor does not escape them either. For some sectors, its strict measures to stop the coronavirus pandemic generated a repressive state environment that strained the already quite broken relations between the Police and citizens.