Thursday, September 09, 2010

Vigilantism in Mexico

A curious incident took place last month in Oaxaca. (See also here) A 17 year old kid, wasted out of his mind and probably desperate for another score, robbed a girl of her cellphone in broad daylight. He did this in one of the oldest and most stable neighborhoods of Ciudad Oaxaca, where most of the residents' families have lived for centuries. Instead of shaking their heads and watching the kid run away with the phone, residents chased him down. They then strung him upside down from a big tree, as you see above. I believe I know this very tree and the church behind it. And then they tried to figure out what to do with him. The kid was screaming, the cops came though they didn't do anything for hours, probably because they were almost as scared of the residents as the kid. Finally, they cut him down.

You never want to make too much out of a single event like this, but this incident is pretty emblematic of the increased failures of the Mexican state. Oaxaca has not suffered the same drug violence as many other parts of Mexico, but petty crime has risen significantly in the past year or so. And it's hardly surprising that residents are getting pretty sick and tired of it. Let's just quickly list how the government failed here:

1. Failed to keep kids in school
2. Failed to instill trust among its citizens in the police force
3. Failed to train its police force well enough to take charge of the situation upon arrival
4. Failed to hold crime down
5. Failed to provide any kind of options for this kid--even if he wanted to get off drugs; even if he wanted to get off drugs, treatment centers are few and far between, particularly for the poor.

It's hard to approve of vigilantism. But with the Mexican state so corrupt and incompetent, is is hardly surprising that people took the law into their own hands? Of course, they have started down a slippery slope. Will they kill the next punk they catch? Does the Mexican state, or the Oaxacan state government, have even the slightest ability to stop this from happening? Do they really even care?