Sunday, November 25, 2007

La Noche Fea

Guadalajara, Jalisco – November 24, 2007, just before midnight. A friend was detained by the police (for reasons that remain unclear) and escorted in a patrol car to the dark outskirts of the city, where he was restrained and beaten brutally by five officers. The next day he recovered in the hospital and reported the incident to the Juzgado Municipal’s internal affairs office. A lawyer advised him that actions may be taken against the officers if he can recognize them in a line-up, but he will not recover damages.

My phone rings at 12:30 a.m., rousing me from a half-dream featuring Erin Brockovich, still playing on the television I forgot to switch off. “…So before you come back here with another lame ass offer, I want you to think real hard about what your spine is worth, Mr. Walker. Or what you might expect someone to pay you for your uterus, Ms. Sanchez.” A friend is speaking to me from within the walls of a jail cell. He is crying and talking a fast, garbled Spanglish. They beat me, Meri, they took me fuera de la cuidad and beat me. Help me, go to the bank and bring mil pesos. Go to the Juzgado Municipal en La Calzada Independencia [he calls to someone outside the cell; a male voice yells a number], La Calzada Independencia 840. 840, Meri. Hurry. They beat me so bad.

I pull on jeans discarded two hours earlier on the floor, throw a sweatshirt over my blouse, step into boots and walk into the night, cursing my luck. You owe me one, cabrón. I make a pit stop at the Banamex up the street, withdraw 1500 pesos, and flag a taxi on Niños Heroes. The cab rides east and passes prostitutes lazing on corners next to hardware shops, doors locked and windows barred. Up Independencia to the eight-hundred block, dropped on the stairs of the central station.

The station’s lobby is empty and white, lit by fluorescents. A tired woman at a corner desk opens the registry and locates his name. She explains the fine will be 238 pesos. A man accepts my cash and handwrites a receipt, passing me a stamped copy of the citation. I cross the lobby and wait on a cold perforated metal bench. Time passes strangely, my eyelids droop. PUM pum PUM pum PUM pum PUM pum. A government drone down the sex offenders’ wing stamps documents, echoing like a dull heartbeat down the hall; a young woman shuffles in the same direction, weighed down by two bags of packaged copy paper.

He walks through the glass doors, hunched over and wearing nothing but a pair of corduroy trousers, and shivers like a baby whipped out of a bathtub. The tongues of his shoes, stripped of their laces, stick up and show his gray socks beneath. The corners of both his eyes are purple and framed by dark knots—there is a quarter-sized raspberry on his forehead still bleeding freshly, a blackened bump on the bridge of his nose, long scratches on his back, and circular welts on his wrists as if imprinted by shackles.

He collapses and sobs. I remove my sweatshirt and try to fit it over his head; he fails to notice my effort and grips his neck, rocking back and forth in a fit of shock. Eventually forced into a cab, he lingers before the door closes and cries at the rifle-wielding guard who keeps post on the steps, Hijos de puta! Pinches cabrones policia, que no hice nada! His tears flow and he repeats the same phrases like a broken record, he tells me he loves me and thank you I don’t know what I would’ve done… aaauuwwww, I hurt so bad…they beat me, Meri, they beat me bad.

As I squat to remove his shoes and socks he stands as stiff as a board, welts tightening his joints, and I gently lift his arms enough to slide off the sweatshirt. He still shakes uncontrollably. I feed him two naproxen tablets and put him in a hot shower, light a pot of water for yerba buena tea and set the table with two cups and a plate of pan dulce.

I was at a concert, and a cop took me and my gringo friends outside. He thought we were smoking pot. He let the pinche gringos go but when I told him I wasn’t doing anything and asked about my rights, he put me in la patrulla and took me away. He let me go at a 7 Eleven so I went in and got a coffee; when I went out I saw more patrullas and heard them ask each other, ‘Hey, is that the same guy?’ and that they were going to fuck me up. This time the cops handcuffed me and put me in the back of the car.

How many cops were there?

Five. They drove me in la patrulla out of the city, down la Carretera Chapala, and to a dark side road. I was handcuffed and pushed to my knees, and they started beating me. They hit me in the side of the head in my jaw and I blacked out a few times; I can’t remember it all. They stole my money, around 800 pesos—my whole week’s pay, it went to them!—and my watch and iPod. I looked into one cop’s face and asked him why doesn’t he take off his badge and gun, remove my handcuffs and fight me like a man.

You were cited for insulting federal authorities. That’s what the report says.

How dare they beat me! I worked the whole week, for them! And I didn’t do anything! …I wasn’t scared, but I felt completely impotent.

He doesn’t touch the tea or pan dulce, and breaks into tears several times again. I play Manu Chao to calm him, but the lyrics stir him and he sings like his heart is breaking: “Todo es mentira en este mundo / Todo es mentira la verdad…”

Human Rights Watch, World Report 2007, Mexico:

“Among Mexico’s most serious human rights problems are those affecting its criminal justice system. Persons under arrest or imprisonment face torture and ill-treatment, and law enforcement officials often neglect to investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights violations.”