Vigilantes: the view from Juarez

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Conditions might be ripe for the rise of vigilantes in this Mexican border city but it's not at all clear the threat emailed by a group calling itself the Citizens Commando is real. The Mayor of Juarez dismisses the CCJ but not the danger of such groups emerging in his city.

In an interview in his office with guards posted outside Mayor Jose Reyes Ferris said,
"We actually don't think the group is a legitimate group. It's a way for people to express their concerns and their discontent with what's happening. But with the passage of short months we'll be able to take this under control." By this he's referring to the rampant drug violence, kidnappings and killings that have gripped the city since last year.
It's the reason the CCJ "declared war" on criminals promising to kill one every 24 hours if the government does not restore order before July 5.
Part of the problem in this city bordering on lawlessness is those entrusted with maintaing law and order. The mayor points out things have improved, "Last year we went through a cleanup of the police force. More than 500 police officers left the police force. " The officers were fired for failing to pass background and drug tests.
"By now about half of the city police force was hired within the last year," the mayor explains. "That is going to allow us to fight crime in a more efficient way," he predicts.
But even as he urged patience he acknowledges the risk of vigilante groups is real, "It's something that of course worries everybody but at the end of the day what has to be done is being done."
The conditions seem to be right for the rise of vigilantes in Juarez if you look at ohter parts of Latin America. "We've seen this happen time and time again. explained Jose Z. Garcia, Associate Professor at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. "It happened in the 80s in the favelas of Rio de Janiero when death squads were organized to go out and kill what were considered suspected criminals and murderers and were apparently living in impunity in the favelas," he said.
It's not clear if the CCJ of Juarez will really take action or whether Juarez residents will welcome the help.
Marta Mendez who was shopping downtown in El Paso with her daughter told me,"If they're going to clean up the city for the good of Juarez, go ahead." Even if it means killing people?" I asked. Yes, she said pointing out a teenaged hit man who lives in her neighborhood has killed several people and robbed a grocery store at gunpoint.
But Oscar Chang who was also walking in El Paso warned "violence only creates more violence." Both were rushing to finish their shopping and head back across border and home before dark.
Mr. Chang blessed himself adding, in Juarez, "Only God takes care of us, nobody else."