Police State Pt. 1
The other day, local champions were named in the football leagues of Chile. Colo-Colo, the soccer team named after the indigenous warrior of multiple bloody and losing battles against the Spanish colonists, wins Chile’s soccer championship.
The yellow buses of Santiago are packed, humongous Colo-Colo flags are waved and chants are cried out. Followers, fans, families and rabble-rousers take to Plaza Italia to celebrate, some swinging on stoplights and hitching rides on live tv trucks, breaking lamps and breaking into storefronts. Special units of the police have their riot gear on, and soon, the tear gas and high-pressure water guns are let loose in an attempt clear the streets and let traffic flow again.
Meanstwhile, three metro stops from the center of the celebration and in the heart of a modernizing business district, a kid, under-age they say, is being chased by a motorbike going to the wrong way on a one way street. He flops to the ground as soon as the spotlight from the motorbike illuminates him on the sparsely populated street. The uniformed, helmeted GOPE officer parks his bike, walks over and kicks the prone subject in the ribs and kicks him and kicks him and kicks him, grabs him by the hair, and then drops to his knee, and punches him in the face, repeatedly. He seems to be motivated by something other than law enforcement, or maybe not. He is angry. There are occasional screams.
The GOPE is known for its abuse, especially during the dictatorship, when word of their arrival to a protest would separate the men from the boys as it were. They still are an elite and violent, force.
A woman passerby walks by determined to look ahead. Moments earlier someone was held up at gunpoint, and forced to disrobe.
The loose and loud rattle of official motorbikes announces the arrival of mounted GOPE, one led by another kid trotting with his hands clasped behind his head asking where he should run. There are now about 7 cops around, surprisingly tall, jackbooted, kevlarchested, helmeted and in a stir. One of them has a deep, old scar left of his eye. A few cops seem cool, the rest are hot.
The kid, now handcuffed, and his buddy are now being interrogated against a fence guarding the office of a soon to be built residential high-rise advertising, “Experience Santiago”. He cries out that the gun isn’t his. Is the gun his? The cops continue to ask him.
With two fingers the cop dangles the pistol by its handle in front of my face. It looks like a cheap water gun revolver, black. Its small. They ask me what I would have done it was my mother, daughter, friend or me, being held up. What would I do then. I ask the cops about the rights of the prisoner, and the law. I am a witness. I feel like an American.
I guess I am in court. I can only speculate what is happening. Here, the GOPE is the judge and the jury. A couple of guys beckon me away from the cops swirling around me on the sidewalk telling me the court system is a failure.
Recently reformed to look more like the open, jury run prosecutorial system as the United States, is suffering an enormous backlog of cases, lack of a common database for researching criminals, recidivism is the norm and judges are hesitant to send defendants to preventative prison. The juvenile system is totally absent and criminal gangs employ people under 18 years old to commit crimes because there is limited recourse against juvenile offenders.
Opponents call the system “garantista”, or guaranteeing the rights of the criminals. Owners of shops are calling for a return of the “mano dura” of the military regime of Augusto Pinochet.
Innocent until proven guilty? President Bachelet’s woes are just beginning.