TW: Descriptions and mentions of police brutality.
Protests broke out in Colombia on Wednesday September 9, after a video emerged of the arrest of Javier Ordóñez in Engativ, the west side of the country capital of Bogota.
Javier’s long time friend Juan David Uribe was with Javier when they both got stopped by police officers. Juan was able to record a video that went viral on twitter and Facebook. The video depicts Javier pinned to the ground by two police officers in a residential street. One of the officers repeatedly uses his taser on Javier. Javier can be heard saying “Please no more”. However the officers continue to keep him pinned down.
After his arrest, Javier was taken to a nearby police station. According to his family Javier was then beaten inside custody. Juan says when he arrived at the station, his friend was practically unconscious. In an interview with Semana, Juan describes how he carried his friend to the nearby hospital, where he died .
Javier’s autospy revealed that the official cause of his death was multiple blows with a blunt weapon, at the height of the head and shoulders.
Javier, 43, father of two, and soon to be attorney, was socializing with friends the night he was arrested. His friends describe how they ran out of alcohol when they went outside to buy more. According to Juan, when they were going back to Javier’s apartment, they were stopped by the police, and were arrested. Witnesses said they were detained because they were violating quarantine restrictions. Juan stated that while they were being detained one of the police officers said, “From this one he is not safe,” referring to Javier.
According to several reports, Javier has had an old quarrel with these exact police officers, which would explain why he was targeted by them.
Following his death, Colombia has erupted in protests. The protest initiated in Bogota, and other cities like Medellin, Barranquilla, and Cartagena joined the manifestation. At least eleven people have died in the protests, mostly young people who were shot, and hundreds more injured by city police, who are also known as Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squad (ESMAD). The Collective of José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers related in a document – “The Colombian Police over the past few days, have committed serious acts of excessive use of force, and abuse of power, towards the rights to life, and personal integrity of Colombian citizens.”
On Thursday September 10, the Colombian Police reported to the public that the two agents who killed Javier Ordóñez were removed from the police force. In addition, this opened a formal investigation which would result in a hearing. The following day The Colombian Defense Minister, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, apologized for the acts against the law committed by the police. In Colombia, an apology from a Defense Minister regarding police violence is not common. However, this apology did not end the high police mobility within the capital. The President of Colombia also gave his words regarding the protest, however it did not sit well for Colombians.
President Ivan Duque represents the Central Democratic Party, one of Colombia’s conservative political parties. According to New York Times, Duque condemned the killings, but defended the police in a speech, calling the country’s security forces generally “heroic” and “hard-working.”
However Claudia López Hernández, the mayor of Bogota, called for immediate attention and action. In a video addressing the public, she burst into tears as she paid respect to the fallen victims of police violence. In the same video, López Hernández condemned the excessive use of force and power, and called for a reform in the institution. According to her, the country needs justice, action, and reform now.
Since the Duque presidency, there have been so many unsolved issues in Colombia. The government has neglected to implement the peace agreement with Revolutionary armed forces of Colombia (FARC) – this peace agreement was originally signed in 2016 under former President Juan Manuel Santos, to end a 50 year armed conflict in Colombia. The Peace accords allowed for the state to fulfill promises such as addressing rural poverty, justice to the conflict’s main actors, the disarming of insurgents, and reforming the war on drugs. Duque pledged to implement parts of the peace deal, but his administration has failed to make any substantial changes. Duque’s handling of the peace accords, and the corruption in his government have only sparked discontent.
Prior the to the murder of Javier, Colombians took to the streets in 2019 to protest against police brutality, corruption, and inequality.
Over the course of two years, about 595 social leaders have been murdered, and in 2020 alone, there have been more than 200 deaths, according to the finding of the Institute of Studies of Development and Peace (INDEPAZ). However the government has not taken a direct approach in addressing the violence. This has allowed for criminal groups to consolidate their power, and has repressed the local populations, especially in the rural areas of the country. The government has promised a national conversation to address the on-going issues, however Colombians are still waiting.
Last year it was 17 year old Dilan Cruz. This year it is Javier. The list keeps growing. Many international observers have deemed the civil unrest a “George Floyd moment.” For Colombians, this is about the government’s failure to understand the frustration of both the urban, and rural citizens, and the violent nature of their police force.
While the government struggles to correct its mistakes, we are going to see more waves of social unrest.