October 6, 2013
Xaltianguis is in the Southern Mexican state of Guererro, a region home to illegal poppy and marijuana cultivation and plagued by violence. It is also located less than an hour away from Acapulco, one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities.
In late August, the first all-female armed Citizen Police group was formed in Xaltianguis. The force is made up of mostly middle-aged housewives, mothers and grandmothers. Many of these women have lost loved ones to violence, or were victims of crime themselves. They have lived in fear for their family, and they decided that they’ve had enough. So roughly 100 women have now volunteered to put their lives on the line in order to protect their children and defend their community.
In addition to going through weapons training and brushing up on police tactics such as patrols, vehicle searches and arrests (mostly of female criminals), the women have been traveling throughout the region to convince more women to form their own vigilante police forces. The women carry unloaded, rusty rifles that they often do not know how to use, and their uniforms consist of t-shirts and hats.
This new sense of security is due in large part to a widespread movement of vigilante justice across Mexico. People all over the country, starting in Guerrero, have taken the law into their own hands and formed volunteer police or self-defense groups (auto-defensas). From town to town, local citizens take up arms and volunteer their time to protect their communities from delinquents, criminals, corrupt officials, and outside forces.
This vigilante police movement is particularly strong in Guerrero, where they are officially organized as the Citizen Police (Policia Ciudadana, also known as the UPOEG) or the Community Police (Policia Communitaria, also known as the CRAC). In some towns the Community Police have existed for over a decade, when the “outside forces” they had to worry about were mining companies as opposed to drug traffickers.
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The Community and Citizen Police of Guerrero tend to be left alone by the state officials who don’t have the capacity, or possibly the desire, to protect the townspeople. However they are in constant conflict with the federal army. According to the Community and Citizen Police leaders, the army has been harassing them, arbitrarily arresting movement leaders and threatening to disarm the entire movement by force.
Until now, the vigilante police movements were composed mainly of men. Xaltianguis has not only formed the first ever all-female Citizen Police group and spread the idea across the region, but it may have also found a solution to the conflict with the military, which justifies its repression with claims that the Community and Citizen Police are in cahoots with criminals. If the Citizen Police are really narcos, then why is your next-door neighbor’s mom one of them?