As Medellin police appear unable or unwilling to tackle increased street crime, a growing number of Medellin citizens are taking justice into their own hands.
Citizens of Colombia’s second largest city have begun to not only exercise their own justice, but encourage others to do the same using social media.
Let’s get the bad guy
On February 12, a mob waited outside of a court where a man accused of killing his wife and step-son with a machete was being tried. A hundred people surrounded the courthouse shouting and chanting as the hearing continued. When the man finally left the courthouse he was met by a wall of the mob throwing stones and attempting to attack him. Police forces had to use tear gas to dispel the crowd.
Similarly, in April 2013 in southern Medellin, a sixty-year-old man was found by his wife attempting to rape his seven year old step-daughter. The woman raised the alarm and roughly 40 neighbors stormed the house beating the man with stones and metal pipes. The man was not fatally wounded but was instantly taken into police custody.
Taking it online
These spontaneous cases of mob justice being applied to alleged criminals and petty thieves have been going since most Medellin residents were born. But what is new is that locals are now using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to compensate for a lack of police action.
Such mobilization has been made easy through Facebook pages such as ‘‘Citizen Complaints of Medellin” (Denuncias Ciudadanas Medellin), where Medellin citizens can post images, videos and stories of crimes that they have seen be committed in order to facilitate vigilante justice.
Currently the Facebook page has more than 24,000 likes and, according to the site’s administrators, the website has traffic of more than 200 million visitors.
However, Ivan Sanchez, the Security Secretary for Medellin, told citizens last year to “have confidence in the authorities and report any incidents” but this confidence simply appears to not exist as Medellin residents talking to Colombia Reports described the police force as “useless,” “incompetent,” or even “abusive” to citizens.
Mob justice has been justified by the citing of Article 23 of the Colombian Constitution. Article 23 states how “an offender caught in flagrante delicto may be apprehended and brought before the court by anyone,” and the Law of Legitimate Defense states that ‘‘nobody is forced to remain passive or without defense when faced with a criminal assault.”
According to those who run the Citizens Complaints page, the reason the site has gained such popularity is because it is “confronting the reality of Medellin” and offers an alternative for those who “do not feel protected by the police and want a way to take more immediate action.”
According to sociologist Angelina Snodgrass of Washington University, the true threat here is of these mobs becoming “death squads,” not a new phenomenon in Colombia, where political death squads have been active since the 1940s.
Between 1988 and 1993 vigilante justice reached a point of social cleansing where, according to Carlos Rojas, a researcher at the human rights group Center for Grass-Roots Education and Investigation, “almost 2,000 people were killed.”
Such threats became a reality again in January with the dissemination of a leaflet by the group, Citizens Tired of Robberies and Muggings (CICARYA) which stated the need for “social cleansing” of the people who were committing the thefts. Despite such a radical message, CICARYA define themselves as “a group of citizens with good honour” who are simply “helped by an armed group.”
Security forces in Colombia have therefore taken the complaints website idea and developed their own version in an attempt to end the vigilante mentality.
“Security online” (Seguridad en linea) is a portal for the citizens of Medellin to directly upload any evidence such as photos and videos in order to get direct attention from the Medellin police.
The Police Force has also launched the “Quadrant” App, which allows citizens to identify where their nearest police officer is, making security forces more accessible for citizens.
On a more tangible level, more vehicles and new technology have been supplied as well, along with 1,000 new officers in January, with the promise of 1,000 more in February.
A representative from the National Police was not available for comment at this time.
- Vigilantes in Colombia kill hundreds in ‘social cleansing’ (New York Times)
- Denuncias (Facebook)
- No a los falsos justicieros (El Colombiano)
- Justicia por mano propia (El Tiempo)
- Ciudadania en Medellin opta por hacer justicia por su cuenta (El Colombiano)
- En 2013 subió el robo de celulares (El Colombiano)
- Complaints Website (Seguridad en Linea)
- Denuncia Ciudadana (Minuto 30)
- The Human Rights Situation in Colombia: Amnesty International’s written statement to the 25 th session of the UN (Amnesty International)
- Intentan linchar al asesino de una mujer y su hijo (El Tiempo)