The death of a 43-year old law student who was repeatedly beaten inside a police command post in Bogotá and tased after being detained by two members of the institution unleashed a wave of violence on Wednesday in Bogotá.
The civil unrest was sparked after a video surfaced showing Javier Ordoñez tackled by police outside the CAI of Villa Luz, a traditional neighborhood in the east of the Colombian capital, and where the victim is seen struggling as he receives extended electric shocks. In the video, taken by a friend of Ordoñez, the victim pleads with the police to stop their brutality. According to Ordoñez’s wife, María Angelica, her husband had completed his taxi shift, around midnight, when he decided to walk to the nearest shop to buy some liquor. Accompanied by his friend, one of the police shouts to Ordoñez: “Now, you’re really not going to escape!”
After the disturbing video went viral, a small group of protestors who had gathered at the entrance of the CAI to tribute the life of the father of two children, grew in size and began attacking the police with stones and smashing the installations of the post. As violence quickly engulfed Villa Luz, hundreds of riot police attempted to regain control of a situation that was spiraling out of control with scores of vandals tearing up street signs and setting fire to community garbage canisters. In the late hours of Wednesday, violent mobs had set fire to eight TransMilenio articulated buses and more than 30 CAIs destroyed, many burning into the early hours of the morning.
The carnage that affected the tranquility of many middle-class neighborhoods resulted in seven civilian deaths and 360 injured. Three victims died from gunshot wounds in the city of Soacha in the south of Bogotá. The National Police also confirmed 147 of its members were injured in the confrontations.
Ordoñez’s wife appealed for the calm on Thursday, stating that the recent graduate “was a firm believer in the legal system.” María Angelica claims Ordoñez died from repeated beating and torture inside the CAI before his body was dumped on the street near a hospital.
Bogotá Mayor Claudia López condemned the violence and senseless vandalism that besieged the localities of Engativá, Suba, Kennedy and Bosa, stating on Twitter: “Today is a day that hurts wherever one looks. My condolences to the friends and families of those who died or are injured. Destroying Bogotá will not fix the Police. Destroying ourselves doesn’t fix anything.”
López also confirmed that between 8:45 pm and 1:30 am she coordinated the district’s response at the Metropolitan Police’s Unified Command Post (PMU). “No one gave an order to use firearms, much less indiscriminately. But we do have evidence from several places where this happened. We are reconstructing events with victims and their families,” she said.
Among the victims is 17-year old Jaider Fonseca from the locality of Usaquén, allegedly shot by a member of the police. The district’s Government Secretary Luis Ernesto Gómez, referred to the circumstances surrounding Fonseca’s death, stating that the young man’s wife Mauren saw how a policeman shot her husband and father to a seven-month boy. “We have to tell us the truth. That is why we must be self-critical, and ask ourselves: What’s not working inside the National Police?” stated Gómez.
Colombian Minister of Defense Carlos Holmes Trujillo also referred to the violent night of protest in Bogotá by presiding early Thursday over a press conference at the Police Headquarters in Bogotá and accompanied by the institution’s director Mayor General Gustavo Moreno. Holmes Trujillo energetically condemned acts of police brutality, yet also claimed that certain profiles on social media were behind the violence and orchestrated the acts of vandalism that destroyed police property.
The Minister also denounced “images and videos circulating on social networks of police officers firing at civilians, uniformed officers attacking citizens.” Holmes Trujillo also asserted that “the public force is ready to stop any attempt by vandals.” And without mentioning politicians or their organizations by name, the Minister remarked: “There are some who politicize with death and believe they do a service to the country by inciting people to violence.” To boost security in Bogotá, the Ministry of Defense will deploy an additional 850 police to the streets of the capital from other cities, as well as additional reinforcement with 300 troops from the 13th Brigade.