EXICO CITY, Nov. 23 Ramiro Ayala Zambrano and his
wife, Edith, have raised four children in a gritty barrio
brimming with violence and corruption, so they know an outlaw
when they see one.
In their eyes, the worst criminals here in a neighborhood
called Tepito are not the thousands who sell stolen stereos,
handguns, endangered birds or pirated videocassettes from the
maze of concession stands that crowd the sidewalks. The couple
is most afraid of the few dozen bad guys who prowl in police
Most days, Mr. Ayala said, police officers show up to put
pressure on unlicensed merchants for bribes, or to sell them
information about raids being planned at police headquarters.
The officers turn a blind eye to open attacks by delinquents
against tourists, he said.
But they sporadically search men from the area for drugs
without any legitimate cause for suspicion, and threaten to take
the innocent to jail unless they hand over the money in their
What results is a smoldering disrespect for the police and a
challenge for the government of the president- elect, Vicente
Fox Quesada, as he tries to exert authority and bolster the rule
The perception of police officers as crooks with badges has
ignited violence in various places in Mexico in recent months,
including a riot by hundreds of people in Tepito.
"Police corruption helped generate all the illegality that
exists in Tepito," Mr. Ayala said as he chopped meat for tacos
to sell during the lunch hour. "It's true that no one trusts
them, but what is even more dangerous is the resentment people
feel. A lot of times that resentment explodes."
Police officers are viewed as outlaws more than public
servants among many people in this overpopulated, smog-choked
capital. But Barrio Bravo in Tepito, a rogue community where the
Spanish word for brave more accurately means belligerent, offers
a window into the combustible mix of frustration, distrust and
anger that people feel for the police.
Here, people do not silently suffer their disrespect. They
The most recent clash occurred Nov. 16 after the police
conducted an early morning raid and seized more than 5,000
appliances and electronic goods that were believed to have been
A furious mob of hundreds emerged from their homes and shops,
throwing bottles, rocks and gasoline bombs. As the police tried
to flee, mobs blocked the streets with buses so the confiscated
merchandise could not be hauled away. Shots were fired, although
it is not clear by whom, and as the officers fled, they sprayed
the crowd with tear gas.
For the next nine hours, mobs of young men vandalized any
cars and businesses in their paths. It was a scene reminiscent
of the Los Angeles riots, with drivers bashed in the face and
pulled kicking from their cars and gangs of boys hurling rocks
After nightfall more than 1,200 police officers in riot gear
stormed the streets to establish order in Tepito. With no one
killed and only two people injured, Mayor Rosario Robles praised
the operation as a success.
But residents considered it mostly a flop. The huge show of
force yielded only 20 arrests. Nine of those detained were
federal and local law enforcement officers, accused of having
protected the stash of stolen goods.
1 | 2