Violent Protests Erupt in Colombia After a Man Dies in Police Custody

The video circulating on social media showed a man pinned to the ground by Colombian police officers, who shocked him repeatedly with a stun gun for more than two minutes. “Please, no more,” he begged.

The man, Javier Ordóñez, a father of two, died shortly afterward in police custody. Within 24 hours, thousands of Colombians had taken to the streets of the capital, Bogotá, in protests against police violence that began late Wednesday and continued into Thursday, laying bare months of pent-up tension.

Dozens of police stations were set on fire or vandalized. At least eight more people were killed, and nearly 400 were injured, according to the police. At least 66 people had bullet injuries.

Nearly all of the people killed in the protests were young, between the ages of 17 and 27. The police said the deaths were under investigation, and declined to say whether officers were involved.

The city’s mayor, Claudia López, called the protest deaths, “a massacre of our young people.”

The protests follow months of pandemic-related lockdowns in a country of about 50 million people, prompting an economic crisis that has pushed millions to the brink.

The outpouring also comes amid years of anger over alleged abuses by the security forces, and in the wake of protests over police violence in the United States, which have been widely publicized in the region.

The unrest was the worst the city has seen since the final months of 2019, when the capital erupted in mass protests calling for economic aid and reform.

President Iván Duque, a conservative who came to office in 2018, condemned the killings on Thursday, but defended the police in a speech, calling the country’s security forces generally “heroic” and “hard-working.”

“We have to view these actions as individual episodes, and not allow voices to rise that stigmatize the entire security force,” he said.

The police in Colombia are a national body headed by the Ministry of Defense.

The circumstances that led to Mr. Ordóñez’s death have been contested.

His sister-in-law, Ms. Garzón, said he had been drinking with friends on Tuesday in his building complex. Near midnight, Ms. Garzón said, they headed to the street to restock, in violation of city rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Bogotá bans drinking in public spaces and, amid the pandemic, has barred the purchase of alcohol after 9 p.m.

Along the way, the group was approached by police officers, Ms. Garzón said.

During the video of the encounter between Mr. Ordóñez and the police, people looking on from the sidelines can be heard asking the officers to stop hurting him.

“No one deserves to die this way,” said Ms. Garzón, who said her family initially hesitated to tell Mr. Ordóñez’s sons how their father had died. “We want them to grow up with clean hearts, free of any anger.”

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The boys eventually found out the circumstances of their father’s death through social media.

Police Col. Alexander Amaya told BluRadio that the officers had been responding to a dispute involving several people who had been drinking.

“They became aggressive,” said Colonel Amaya. “The police had to subdue them.”

A man who said he was a witness to the encounter, Juan David Uribe, said in an interview with CityTV that the police account was not true, and that there had been no argument.

“This is a total lie,” Mr. Uribe said.

Among the protesters who died was Jaider Alexander Fonseca, 17, the father of an infant.

Sebastian Sanchez, 17, said he was with Mr. Fonseca in the streets. In a chaotic moment, rocks and bullets began to fly, and Mr. Fonseca tried to protect himself with a door. According to Mr. Sanchez, a group of officers opened fire and Mr. Fonseca fell to the ground.

His friends dragged him through the street and loaded him into a taxi, but Mr. Fonseca died at a hospital, he said.

“We feel so powerless,” Mr. Sanchez said. “This is the law we get?”

During the protests, the police took about 70 people into custody, most of them in Bogotá, said a spokesman, Gen. Gustavo Moreno.

Mayor López said that 46 city streets had been “totally destroyed.”

“I am absolutely aware that we need structural police reform,” Ms. López said. “But destroying Bogotá is not going to fix the police.”

The police declined to provide an account of the encounter, saying the matter was under investigation.

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Anger over police abuses in Colombia spiked last year amid national protests calling for economic reform.

At the time, Human Rights Watch documented what it called “worrying accounts and evidence of abuses by Colombia’s police, including arbitrary detention and brutal beatings against peaceful protesters.”

Rancor focused on the police killing of Dilan Cruz, a 17-year-old shot in the head with a so-called bean bag round meant to be nonlethal.

On Thursday, General Moreno said the force was in the process of investigating nearly 2,000 allegations of police abuse involving about 1,400 uniformed members.

Sofía Villamil contributed reporting from Bogotá.

Source NY Times

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