Thursday, February 17, 2011

Civil Rights for Suspects?

Don't mouth off kid!
During a bike tour the other day, we encountered this scene near Jorge Tadeo University in the Las Nieves neighborhood. Two kids had just committed a mugging - or, at least, the security guards and bystanders were convinced they'd done it.

The security guards grabbed the kids, one of whom looked to be about 15 years old, and the other one perhaps 12, and proceeded to hit them and sic dogs on them while they hustled them to the nearby police station.

Hey, that hurts!
The kids apparently got caught red-handed, but they certainly hadn't been tried or convicted of anything. And they were kids. But passerbys displayed no sympathy at all, instead yelling "Ratas! Ratas!", slang for thieves. The kids looked back angrily.

One can certainly empathise with the bystanders, many of whom most likely have been mugged themselves and seen the kids run off scot-free. It's happened to me twice, and I've witnessed several other muggings.

In this case, the guards weren't shy about continuing their violence amidst onlookers and with me and others snapping photos.

And these kids aren't usually mugging to buy food for their families. They steal to buy drugs, party, impress girls with their fancy cellphones. So, the public naturally has built up resentment. And, police complain that in the rare cases that juveniles get arrested, they often go free the next day.  So, I've seen occasions when neighbors caught a thief, beat him up and then let him go, feeling certain that vigilante law was much more effective than anything the courts would do.

Take that, kid!
Incidentally, all of the muggings I've either seen or been the victim of in Colombia have been committed by 'white' people, which has given me the reverse of the usual stereotype. If I'm walking at night and notice a group of young men behind me, I might get nervous. But if I notice that they're Afro-Colombians, I relax. 

For their part, the police here routinely stop young men on the street and pat them down, with no need for probable cause. Women are almost never suspected.
What have you kids got in your pockets?
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

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