I heard rocks crashing against the house at three a.m. I went to the front door to listen. Rocks were landing on the alley in front of us, some against the little tienda—store—twelve paces away. Even though there had been a half dozen events like this, I had never heard anything with such intensity. I checked the monitor. Somehow, I had screwed up the program so the images of the four cameras that were still left shifted too quickly to study the situation. I did see, however, that the rock throwers at our upper end of the alley were police.
In shorts and T-shirt, I climbed our iron spiral staircase to the azotea—the roof—so I could look down on the battle.
It took a moment to understand. With lethal force, the rocks, some the width of my hand and a few inches thick—cheap flat floor tiles, actually—were slamming against the tienda, the sidewalk, and the walls of our house. Some of the gangbangers occupied the unfinished building across the alley, across from our house, and threw at the police from thirty feet away. And so, in a sense, it was sort of a house-to-house combat, as well.
I had never seen the police return fire—that is, throwing rocks back at the rock throwers. In this moment, they were no different from the Chief Suspects, except that they threw with even more fury—so taken with the battle that they never looked up at me standing above them. The police—ten of them—had the advantage in that they threw from the upper end of the alley, with the aid of gravity.
My response was inner head shaking. What in god’s name was the point of all this? The stupid gang bangers, high on paint thinner or glue; the police high on permission to at last be able to fire back. Still, though it was very dangerous for both sides, at least the Mexican police are not allowed to use their side arms. In the States, I believe, police would have been discharging weapons of really lethal force.
There are multiple reports of U.S. Border Patrol firing across the border at juvenile rock throwers and killing some of them. There, international law and the border itself (a river) prevent hot pursuit—except for bullets, also fired in anger, or at least intolerance of rock throwing.
Here law prevents police from entering a rock thrower’s house or using bullets—except, apparently, for rocks.
While the battle raged, I could hear the most violent of the gangbangers growling from down the alley. I recognized this sound because he’s used it with us instead of speech to express his displeasure at being greeted with a “Buenos Días” at close quarters.
During the Mexican Revolution, there were often women present as soldaderas—fighters—or as wives and lovers, carrying and cooking food for their men, or carrying bedding and doing wash. During a contemporary Mexican rock fight, there are often mothers or aunts just behind the battlefield, ready to intervene if the police can actually catch one of the rock throwers.
We have actually witnessed this happening to Growler, also referred to as Q in these reports. The police grabbed him perhaps an hour after a rock throwing incident when he thought it was okay to stumble home. They forced him down onto the pavement in the little crossroads in front of our house. He went limp. His mother wormed her way in and knelt over him as if the police had murdered him.
I suppose the relationship between a Mexican boy or man and his mother is sacred in some way. The police stand back confused. Law enforcement is suspended. I suspect, in the States, she would have received a warning and then arrested for interfering in an arrest. Soon they walked away. It is true Q would have to have been caught en flagrante with a weapon or drugs, in order to be retained. If it had been in the heat of battle (rocks), they probably would have beat him up and taken him away.
At 4:45 a.m. I woke again. The gangbangers were crowing and whooping their victory cries, in defiance of all us sleeping citizens who do not sniff paint thinner and throw rocks at the police. I watched them (through the cameras) going down the alley past our garden wall. And I muttered to my mate, “Where in god’s name are they going now at 4:45 in the morning?” Looking for a fight, cars to burgle, or to mug an unwary tourist or student returning home too late? Or to party with more paint thinner, glue, or mota—marijuana.
For me, it’s growing old, and I find myself thinking these lads and their mothers—and their behavior—are stupid and irrelevant. More and more, we know, the rest of the neighborhood feels the same way. A larger mural project is going to start in the neighborhood (with our involvement), and I believe that will have a far greater social impact than anything the gang bangers and the police can throw at each other.
The next morning, I saw three police standing outside our door. Three simply meant there wasn’t going to be a battle. Plus, the brave gang bangers sleep way past noon in the protection of their mother’s homes. The difference was these three policemen carried, for the first time, long metal night sticks with perpendicular side handle. A sign, I think, of another police escalation. They walked down to the offenders’ side alley, looked in for a while, then continued down the alley toward the Old Center. Before they turned away, they waved back up at me.