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The Death of Giovanni

Why did police in Jalisco, Mexico detain Giovanni López, and why did they kill him?
Jorge Ramos, is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and Univision news anchor.
Police in Mexico have dealt harshly with protests over the death in police custody of Giovanni López. Crédito: Ulises Ruiz / AFP via Getty Images

It's not an abuse of authority. It's murder. What makes no sense whatsoever – the total craziness of it – is that a murder happens because of a public health issue.” - Tweet by director Guillermo del Toro.

Once again, we learn about what police do thanks to videos recorded on cell phones. On Monday, May 4, around 9:30 pm, Giovanni López, a 30-year-old bricklayer, was in front of his home in Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos in the Mexican state of Jalisco when he was detained by municipal police who arrived aboard several white pick-up trucks. His brother Christian told me in an interview – you can watch it here – that they were asked if they had face masks.

They were not wearing them, so they arrested Giovanni. Christian ran into the house, got his cell, returned outside and started to record.

“You beat him. Why are you taking him away like that,” a woman is heard on the video telling the police. “Why do you allow that, commander,” she asks the group's leader. “Because he was getting tough with us,” he answered.

The following morning, Giovanni's relatives went to look for him at the police station, and learned there that he was dead. “That's what I don't understand,” Christian told me. “Why, with so many people detained, was he the only one they wanted to beat until they killed him and put a bullet” in his leg.

After Giovanni's death, Jalisco Gov. Enrique Alfaro said in a TV interview that “there is no evidence, up to now in the investigation, that points to this matter having to do with the issue of the face masks.” But Christian does not agree. “That is a lie,” he told me during our conversation, “because he gave the order that the use of the face masks is mandatory” because of the pandemic.

The questions are, why did they detain Giovanni, and why did they kill him

Christian kept the video of the arrest of his brother private for nearly a month. “We waited because of the issue of the threats,” he told me. He was afraid for his life, and the lives of his relatives. But once he suspected that his brother's death would go unpunished, he made it public. (At the same time, in the United States the video of the murder of George Floyd was sparking powerful protests.)

On June 4, hundreds of people protested Giovanni's murder in front of the Government Palace in the Jalisco capital, Guadalajara. And what I saw – thanks to the live television news coverage and videos posted on and social networks – are several incidents of police abuse.

I saw a young man, who wore a green t-shirt, being dragged by three policemen. One of them kicks him with his boot and another punches him hard on the back. Is that not an obvious human rights violation? What's surprising is that this happens while the scene was broadcast live on a local television channel and the police do no react, as if it was something totally normal.

I saw how several police grabbed the arms and legs of a young man who was not resisting and carried him away. And I saw a hooded policeman put his knee on the head of a protester. It was for just a few seconds. But why do the police still use this type of choke hold on civilians? A similar hold, maintained for more than eight minutes, took George Floyd's life in Minneapolis.

And there are more cases. Despite everything I mentioned, Gov. Alfaro declared on television that “yesterday, the police acted with total prudence … to resist an onslaught from people who came to provoke them. What the police had to do was an act of discipline and courage.”

Yes, I also saw burned patrol cars, shops spray painted and offices damaged, and how they set fire to a policeman. The violence was not justifiable. But the conduct of the police units was clearly repressive. Not prudence. The dozens of people detained – and the blows they suffered – prove it.

This continued June 5 in front of the state prosecutor's headquarters, where many of the people detained the previous day were taken. Again, cell phone and television videos showed presumed prosecution police agents, dressed in civilian clothes and without identification tags, using clubs to beat protesters who demanded the release of those detained.

What's grave is the pattern of police brutality, first with the arrest of Giovanni and later during the protests in Guadalajara. It makes no sense that protests against police violations should lead to more violations of human rights and more government violence. It's more of the same. We cannot forget that everything began with the murder of an innocent young man.

“The truth is, the people are already angry with the many injustices of the Jalisco government,” Christian told me before the interview ended. “I don't know if there were agitators infiltrated or not. I saw only Jalisco citizens who asked for justice.”

In a country where many people are afraid of the police, this is the time to demand change. Starting with measures to prevent police brutality and the rampant corruption. And if everything fails, we have cells in hand and social networks a click away. The death of Giovanni should not be in vain. Is it too much to ask that police in Mexico protect and safeguard, instead of repressing and killing?