Crime and Violence

Most everyone’s first reaction when they learn you live in Mexico is “do you feel safe?” There is simply no debating the fact of the amount of violence generated by the drug cartels in Mexico.  The vast majority of the violence is directed by cartels against other cartels, with the second highest amount between the government police/security officers and the cartels. There are still numbers of innocent civilians who either get caught in the crossfire or are victims of violent criminal attacks.

Media north of the border play up the stories for several reasons.  First, there is no local element to offend: that is, cover violence in Chicago and some Chicagoans will take offense; cover violence in Mexico and who is going to get upset? Second, the more theatrical violence (e.g., decapitations) makes better copy.  Third, it reinforces an existing stereotype, namely, “look at those crazy, violent people south of the border!” Truth be told if there was no violence, there would be no story.

So what brings this topic up for me today?  Here’s a good example of how violence really plays out within the expat community.

There was a large shoot-out this past Thursday just down the road near a dusty little village called el Molino.  About 30 kilometers (~20 miles) from where we live, regional police went looking for an officer who was reported missing. They received gunfire from a van and several vehicles on a dirt road, and returned fire, killing five. Some assailants escaped on a motorcycle, leading to additional police activity in the area.

Our experience? We were driving through our village of Ajijic in the noontime traffic when a fleet of police trucks came barreling through the small carretera. Later we could hear some more police sirens heading in the same direction, as our house is just a few blocks off the main drag.

Imagine a bunch of gun-jeeps and SUVs with flashing lights barreling through here.

We checked the local online boards, where several posters were asking “what was going on?” and others were opining about “bad things west of town.” More news from Twitter sources and local media indicated some of the basic facts I related above, although it sounded more like police shot bystanders in those accounts.

By Friday morning, there were several accurate accounts, including coverage in the local english-language newspaper, the Guadalajara Reporter. Still no mention of whether the original “missing officer” was found, hurt or unharmed, or whether that part of the story was even correct.

So we saw some police, we heard even more, and we read some online concerns.  Yes, there was a shooting down the road.  It’s even a road we use when going to the local Costco, although the gun-fight happened off a side dirt road. I recall living in the DC suburbs, driving around with my wife and saying “hey, isn’t this where that shooting/stabbing/mugging happened?” In that respect, it is not very different.

Could we have been involved in the violence? Yes, if we had wandered off on a dirt road in a notoriously lawless area. Does the violence sometimes find its way into more populated, otherwise safe areas? You betcha. There is a huge difference between knowing the odds and taking precautions on one hand, and living in fear on the other.  That applies to Mexico, New Mexico, and anywhere else.

Could not hear the sirens from the club…

4 thoughts on “Crime and Violence”

  1. STAY SAFE! Glad you both have a good head on your shoulders–agree we have to be vigilant and cautious every place in the world. But also agree we need to live–not huddle in fear.

  2. Well stated, my friend. I grew up in San Diego, and spent the better half of my high school years going down to Tijuana on a weekly basis, mainly on the weekends. I got to know that city like the back of my hand. In fact, I got so comfortable with it that I would often go down there, alone, late at night, to meet up with friends at the clubs or to place a bet. Of course, there was the allure of underage drinking that always made me throw causation to the wind. Although, I suppose once in Mexico, I was no longer underage. Still, I never fundamentally felt unsafe, once I got used to the people in surroundings. I knew that if I ventured off the wrong path, or picked an argument with the wrong police officer, my luck my change. To this day, people still think I was crazy for going down there like that. And, truth be told, I would never advise my own kids to do it! But the violence is always a matter of perception. Ah, now you have me wanting to make a nostalgic trip…

  3. You present the subject very well Pat. I can only add that even cartel activity of this type is rare. Very seldom do we have something like this occur. The thing that I feel good about is that the State Police were on the scene, in force in a very short amount of time and none of the local municipal cops were involved.

  4. Pat, I was talking to two of my friends after mass at Georgetown today about travel in Latin America. One of my friends was born in Cuba but grew up in Mexico – she travels all over Mexico for work but was a nervous wreck about going to Cuba (and I am always worried about her traveling in Mexico despite the fact that she knows far more about the country than I do – I just see “SECURITY PROBLEMS”). My other friend is going on vacation to Colombia – which also unnerved me a bit – but, as you noted, she said she said they plan to go to Cartagena and Bogota and didn’t plan to visit drug trafficking sites so as long as you pay attention to where you are and use good judgment there are many interesting places we should be experiencing.

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