The number of mob lynchings in Mexico nearly tripled last year -- a sign citizens gravely distrust police and would rather take justice into their own hands.
Lynchings of suspected criminals increased 190 percent, from just 60 cases in 2017 to 174 in 2018, according to a joint report published last month from Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos – CNDH) and National Autonomous University (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México – UNAM).
Of the 174 cases, 76 percent occurred in just five states: 48 in Puebla, 40 in Mexico State, 22 in Tabasco, 13 in Mexico City and nine in Hidalgo, according to the report.
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Robberies and assaults were the crimes that most often sparked such violent responses. Other crimes included kidnappings and sexual violence, according to more than 1,200 citizen surveys conducted by researchers in the State of Mexico, Mexico City, Morelos and Puebla, which the authors considered to be so-called "red zones" for lynchings.
The sharp increase in lynchings shows "an absolute inability of the State [to] enforce the ... rights of the people ... [so locals] decide to arm themselves to respond to the wave of rapes, robberies or kidnappings," Francisco Rivas, president of Mexico’s National Citizens’ Observatory (Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano — ONC), told El Universal.
So far in 2019, the report found that there have been 67 recorded cases of lynchings, with 107 people either injured or killed. In recent years, lynchings have become a "legitimate path to justice" for communities with high rates of crime, according to the report.
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The substantial uptick in lynchings in Mexico suggests that citizens continue to distrust police and lack confidence in authorities' ability to hold suspected criminals accountable.
Indeed, less than five percent of the population has faith in municipal police forces and nearly 40 percent believe officers have been co-opted by organized crime groups, according to interviews with 1,200 citizens for a survey conducted last year by the Social Studies and Public Opinion Center (Centro de Estudios Sociales y de Opinión Pública – CESOP) of Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies.
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This lack of faith comes with good reason. The entire municipal police force of Tehuacán in central Puebla state was removed last year amid suspicions that the unit had links to organized crime. Authorities in southwest Guerrero state proposed disbanding municipal police forces altogether to create a single unit amid fears of infiltration from organized crime groups.
However, police officers, especially at the municipal level, face enormous hurdles when doing their jobs. They are underpaid, lack necessary training and resources, and are often understaffed in areas hardest hit by organized crime.
Establishing community policing efforts may help reverse this trend in areas where lynchings frequently occur, as these killings often indicate that citizens feel abandoned by authorities.