The Police Retreat

Right on schedule the weather changes. It’s not even February and it’s suddenly warmer. For two days, people have been hanging out in the callejón, alley, right at the entrance to the privada, the side alley where much of the trouble seems to focus. A lot of drinking, a lot of hand motions while talking. We try to identify the figures through the closest camera. We can’t figure out why the sudden activity. Young men with a lot of swagger, more when they’re drinking. M and Q are among them.

Today, at the end of the second day, someone called the police.

D burst into the room. “A bunch of people just ran up to our door, then ran back down,” she said.

I went up to the roof. Just as I got there, the troops arrived. Maybe twenty men, some in dark blue with combat helmets, one of them with a dog; the rest in camouflage. They are worked up. But it’s like coming into the middle of a movie; you don’t know what came before. They storm into the privada where the trouble brews. I watch the wall that the gangbangers usually use for an escape. No one drops down from it, escaping the police-Army, whatever they are. For all we know, Army has been integrated into the Seguridad Pública, the local police.

In the midst of all the excitement, I see a movement. It is the neighbor’s Siamese cat Ratón—mouse. He is a private, somewhat aloof, mostly outdoor cat that has survived all kinds of hungry street dogs. He is walking along the top of an unfinished wall in the vacant lot, stepping carefully over curved re-bar, getting himself nearer to the helmeted troopers. It is, after all, his territory. He watches from close-up the whole time they’re thrashing around looking for the gangbangers.

Then, surprisingly, another twenty or so men arrive, from uphill, all in camouflage. They rush down to the privada, then rush back up past our door. One of them kicks opened the locked metal door to the vacant lot. Breaking a entering into private property—a technicality of lesser importance since the registered property owner is dead. They search the lot, then the woods adjacent to the lot. One man in blue spends a lot of time looking down onto the roof of M’s aunt’s house.

It is hard to keep track of all the platoons of troops. They are upset about something.

I open the door and tell several troopers how the boys escape each time they’re pursued. I have done this before. They thank me. I am closing the door when I see Buddha Comandante passing—joining the attack.

“Comandante,” I say. He turns toward me. “Buenas Noches,” I say, and smile at him and wave.

He recognizes me and smiles back, from under his helmet. “Buenas Noches,” he says, and charges on down the callejón.

D goes to the computer and finds the recorded event that triggered the whole invasion. We see three troopers walking quickly up from the privada. We see a group of about seven gangbangers mill around, then charge after the troopers. The latter rush into R’s little store ten paces from our front door. Several boys—young men—are throwing rocks, a few of them bricks at the store’s open door. Then the punks—high on thinner—turn around a run back down the alley toward the privada. The three troupers in camouflage come out of R’s tienda, stand in front of our door and shout down at bangers, “We know who you are!”

That was the part we missed. We don’t know why the three were in the privada in the first place. I guess it doesn’t matter in this pageant. Now there are police and/or soldiers swarming all over the place. We play the digital tape over and over. We recognize a few of the stone throwers. Others, we don’t. They are outsiders, perhaps from another gang from another part of the city.

The doorbell rings. D opens the little wooden flap-door. It’s a man in blue. He asks if he can come in. D unlocks, the officer steps in. He wants to know if we saw what happened through the cameras. D—thinking much quicker than me—says yes but he will have to look at the recording in the offices of the Seguridad Pública; he shouldn’t see the recording at our house because it compromises out own security. Politically, it would be unwise. We tell him C, who installed our cameras, is in contact with the Seguridad Pública and has told them how to access the recording through the Internet. We give him the exact time: 19:47, military time.

He tells us the gangbangers injured one of the three, of which he claims he was one. I am a little confused. I thought there were three police in camouflage. He is wearing dark blue, with flak jacket, radio, the whole works–very professional looking.

I tell him I have a question.

“Why is it you flee?” I ask.

He pulls his jacket away, showing us his automatic.

“If I use this, there will be no end of trouble for me. There are human rights laws. I can’t use this.”

I nod, and pull my canister of pepper spray out of my pocket. It is pink, the most popular offering on Amazon.

“What about this?” I say.

He pulls his jacket away from a different spot. He plucks out a canister four times the size of mine.

“That’s aggressive, too,” I say.

He nods. Clearly, they don’t use it. D and I figure it would not be a good idea to give the bangers the same idea. If one of the police got sprayed and was rendered vulnerable, they might do terrible damage to him with a brick or two.

He introduces himself. We introduce ourselves. He thanks us. His behavior contradicts much of what you’ve heard about police behavior in Mexico. There are other police where you would be right—but not in our neighborhood. When the door opens, another trooper calls out “Good-night!” in English. A few non-police, neighbors, I hope, are watching the policeman emerge from our door.

We think there may be some good news in all of this. We think we did not see either Q—or M, to whom I sent the offer of university tuition help in among the attackers.

That would be very good news, I think.

The phone rings. Q’s mother, who has rebuffed any number of D’s offers to talk, wants to talk to D.

“Why now?” I ask.

“Because she knows her children were involved (the middle boy) and that the cameras recorded it.”

D makes an appointment to talk to her in three days. We are very busy until then.

“She’ll have to stew a bit,” says D. “Think a little bit about her three boys—and about what they’re doing.”

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