|English | Español||March 21, 2018 | Issue #41|
A First-Hand Account of Police Repression against Press Freedom and the Other Campaign in Oaxaca
After May 1 March in Solidarity with Immigrants in the U.S., Plainclothes Police Illegally Arrested Two Narco News Journalists and Five Others
By James Daria and Dul Santamaría
Near the U.S. consulate
Photo: D.R. 2006 Nathaniel Terry Reister
Reporters for Narco News were present throughout the day covering the events. Dul Santamaria followed the march while James Daria took photographs without participating. After more than an hour and a few ice creams, they left the Zócalo heading east over 5 de Mayo street near the corner of Hidalgo when they were intercepted by an undercover security force.
James was approached from behind by a man in plainclothes and was grabbed by the backpack and pushed into a wall. Approximately eight other people in plainclothes arrived and pushed both James and Dul into the corner of the building to obstruct the view of the passers-by. One man forcefully tried to open James’ backpack, saying he wanted the digital camera with which he took pictures. James grabbed the camera and did not let the man take his camera. He asked the unknown person if he handed over the memory with all the photos could they be released. The man said yes and James handed him the battery. The man took the battery thinking that it was the memory and James was pushed violently into the wall by three men and one of his arms we twisted behind his back. The pictures never fell into the hands of the police. James remarked that the man was hurting him but the man answered by assuring him not to worry because they were going to hurt him without leaving any marks so as to avoid leaving evidence.
At this time Dul was subdued by a woman who took her by the right arm and twisted it behind her back. Her right arm was wrapped in a cast due to a recent hand fracture. The female in plainclothes twisted Dul’s injured hand to the point of extreme pain and Dul cried out in pain and told the woman she was being hurt. Dul never resisted the arrest but this did not matter to the woman. In order to subdue her more a female uniformed officer from the Tourist Police arrived and aggressively grabbed her and dragged her away to a police truck. Dul suffered pushing and verbal assaults as she could not quickly climb into the truck due to the condition of her hand.
Both James and Dul were subdued by people who were not in uniform and never identified themselves as police officers. When asked why they were being detained the aggressors remarked that James and Dul were responsible for the paint attacks during the march, which was completely untrue. The accusations were especially absurd in Dul’s case, as she is not physically capable of writing or painting with her right hand in a cast. The plainclothes security forces handed over the pair to uniformed Tourist Police and forced aboard the bed of a truck. At this stage the police had not taken away the journalists’ cell phones and en route to the police station in Santa Maria Coyotepec they were able to make phone calls and send messages alerting friends and members of the Oaxacan community to their arrest. Through the solidarity of the many people who aided the pair, legal aid and human rights organizations were notified.
At approximately 1:50 on the west side of town near La Soledad church, a group of two university students and a teacher from the United States was arrested in a similar fashion. Jessica Amber Seares, 31, from Saugerties, New York; Hillary Chase Lowenberg, 21, from Bethesda, Maryland; and Andrew William Saltzman, 21, from Gates Mills, Ohio were in Oaxaca as part of a group of university students studying social movements in Mexico. Jessica Amber Seares and Hillary Chase Lowenberg observed the main march from a distance and continued to the US consulate. They later walked to the Zócalo where they met their friend Andrew William Saltzman who did not even see the march because he got lost. The students wanted to see the march as part of their studies.
In the Zócalo a well dressed man approached Andrew, who has long hair and fits the profile of a hippie, and tried to sell him drugs. Andrew said no and walked away, thinking the man could be an undercover police officer. The three students reunited after the march and left the Zócalo to eat ice cream on the steps of the La Soledad church. Walking on Independencia Street, Andrew and Jessica were grabbed by three men in plainclothes who never identified themselves as police. They screamed and, according to their account, the men signalled the traffic cop in the street to call someone and within a short time two trucks with at least five uniformed police in each arrived. Andrew and Jessica endured chokeholds as they were first marched up the steps near the church and then back down again. At this time Hillary was also grabbed as she stared in shock at what she thought was the kidnapping of her friends. When asked why this was happening the aggressors replied that the three were responsible for the graffiti and vandalism and that there was photographic evidence to prove this. These accusations were another fabrication made by the police to justify the arrest. The two women were shoved into a truck and Andrew was thrown in another. The uniformed police pulled the back of Andrew’s shirt over his head before throwing him head first into the bed of the truck whose floor was lined with plastic riot shields. They were later put into the same truck and taken away to the Oaxaca State Preventive Police Headquarters in Santa María Coyotepec.
At roughly the same time in the south of the Zócalo on Miguel Cabrera Street in front of the 20 de Noviembre market, two Oaxacan youths who peacefully participated in the march, Moises Altamirano Bustos, 23, and Hasabias Lopez Cortes, 24, were stopped by two plainclothes. The two Oaxacans did not stop, as the two men who approached them did not identify themselves as police. The police were called in for back up and the two young protesters were violently apprehended by a group of 10-15 uniformed police officers. According to youths’ account they were hit by the police and suffered physical abuse during their arrest. They too were taken to the jail in Santa María Coyotepec accused of vandalism against a Volkswagen store. Journalist Dul Santamaría remembers seeing them in the march. The two young men were peacefully marching and did not commit any of the graffiti or vandalism. The two wore clothing that identified them as punks and once in jail remarked to James that they believe they were picked up because of how they dressed.
All seven arrestees were charged with vandalism and destruction of property despite the lack of evidence. James, Dul, Andrew, Jessica and Hillary were accused of damaging Burger King, Bancomer and two private residences. Moises and Hasabias were accused of vandalizing the Volkswagen store. After the arrests the police visited each place that had been vandalized to inform the owners or employees that the guilty parties had been arrested and were in custody. They requested from each person that he come to the police station and sign papers that confirmed the arrestees’ guilt. The police did not present evidence to the representatives of the damaged buildings but assured them that the ones in custody were responsible. The police also tried to quickly close the case by tricking the group of four gringos and one Mexican into signing a paper and paying a fine that would supposedly end the ordeal quickly without assigning guilt. Upon legal advice however, the five did not sign the papers and fought the false charges against them. If the papers were signed it could have led to legal trouble for the innocent victims. Also of note is that police made no more arrests related to the protest and only arrested innocent bystanders, as was demonstrated throughout the subsequent legal process.
It is important to note how the police responded during and after the march. While the march was in progress the police did not make arrests or any type of aggression. They did, however, infiltrate the march and take pictures and video of the protesters. While the great majority of the people were congregated in the Zócalo, non-uniformed agents of the state laid ambush to small groups of supposed protesters, out of the sight of most passers-by. In all three cases the seven arrestees were violently accosted by a large group of people who did not identify themselves as police but were clearly working in coordination with the uniformed police. In this case the state did not try to confront demonstrations head on with large numbers of police in riot gear. Instead they employed small units of plainclothes paramilitary-style forces that quickly subdued the suspects without drawing public attention. The state also had sufficient power to manipulate and manufacture evidence and disseminate its lies through state-controlled yellow journalism.
All seven of the falsely accused were taken to the jail of the Oaxaca State Preventive Police, in Santa María Coyotepec. While in jail the prisoners quickly formed bonds of unity and solidarity in order to survive the situation. The innocent victims of state violence were then taken to two other places and ended up spending Monday night in the jail of the State Prosecutor’s office en San Antonio de la Cal. With legal aid the five people accused of vandalizing Burger King, Bancomer and private residences fought the charges. Because of the lack of evidence and local, national and international pressure all the charges against the seven were eventually dropped. The five were let free and without bail around 9 o’clock at night on Tuesday, May 2. Not having the same legal representation, Moises and Hasabias came to an agreement with the Volkswagen dealership. The company dropped the charges against them in exchange for their paying for damages. The cost of the damages was much lower than the cost of bail and the two Oaxacans felt the arrangement was better than staying in jail as they were unable to raise sufficient money for bail. They were freed around 3:30 in the afternoon on Wednesday, May 3. All charges were dropped against the seven and no more legal ramifications are expected.
None of the seven innocent people would have been able to get out of jail and escape the repressive arm of the state without the help and solidarity generously offered by the various individuals and organizations that came to their aid. The Red Oaxaqueña Zapatista (Oaxacan Zapatista Network), Radio Plantón, Enlace Zapatista and Narco News were instrumental in spreading the news of the arrests to various human rights and organizations. The Universidad de la Tierra (University of the Land) provided amazing assistance and several people brought the prisoners food, water, clothes and moral support. The lawyers involved provided great legal defence that led to the dismissal of all the false charges and the quick release of the accused. And thanks must be given to all those that helped in some way the seven of us may not be aware of.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism