MEXICO CITY - At first, she thought the police were shooting rubber bullets during the feminist protest. “I thought, they can’t be shooting real bullets. That would be a mess,” said Isa, a 17-year-old high school student. But the bullets were, in fact, real.
On Monday, police in the popular resort town of Cancun opened fire around a crowd of around 80 protestors who were demonstrating after a young feminist activist was discovered gruesomely murdered. Police shot and wounded two journalists, who are now recovering in a local hospital. Officers brutally beat up a third journalist, according to local media.
Video of the incident quickly went viral, generating international condemnation. In a year that is shaping up in Mexico to be the deadliest for women on record, the police’s response raised questions about who exactly they are protecting.
“There is no way to justify it,” said Alberto Capella, state security chief of Quintana Roo, in which Cancun sits, to a Mexican radio station Tuesday morning. He blamed Cancun’s police chief, Eduardo Santamaría, for the officers’ “stupidity.”
The jarring attack happened after a day of protests following the discovery of the dismembered body of 20-year-old Bianca “Alexis” Lorenzana.
The crowd of activists gathered outside Cancun’s government palace to protest unsolved femicides in the region. They allegedly broke windows and lit fire to wood covering the doors of the government building. Video of the incident showed municipal police in Cancun unloading gunshots into the air, causing everyone in the crowd to run for cover.
“The police had been following us but were standing far away,” Isa said. “And all of a sudden they started firing.”
On Tuesday morning, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called on the state governor of Quintana Roo, Carlos Joaquín González, to investigate and punish the authorities responsible.
González also blamed Cancun’s police chief, whom González said independently gave “the instruction to shoot into the air to disperse the protesters.” He didn’t offer an explanation for the police beating up a journalist. On Tuesday afternoon, as outrage over the shooting grew, the police chief was “released of his duties” according to the municipality’s president.
Protests about the insecurity that women face across the country have rocked Mexico in 2020. The previous year saw record-breaking levels of femicides with over 10 women murdered each day, and 2020 is shaping up to be even worse. It’s also looking likely to be Mexico’s most homicidal year on record, period.
Feminist activists have embraced confrontational tactics to bring attention to the issue and demand authorities take action, including taking over the National Human Rights Commission in Mexico City.
“It’s collective anger,” Isa said. “We do the paperwork. We do everything we are supposed to do. Talk to the authorities and the people that are supposedly there to help us. When we get to the point of breaking things it’s because every single authority has failed us. And they constantly fail us.”