Personal horrors behind Mexico gang violence

Lack of exposure to civilian narratives is numbing observers’ take on devastating conflict.

She is standing by the roadside at midnight, lit by the flashes of police car sirens, with mascara streaking with tears down her cheeks and speaking to us only because it’s better for her to talk to strangers than to think about what could have just happened to her sister.

They were both dancers in the strip club we were standing outside in Acapulco, the resort town in Mexico struggling with prolonged, and now escalating gang warfare. Just an hour or so ago a group of armed men charged into the club and began shooting at clients and dancers alike.

She managed to get out. But as she was running for the door she saw her sister lying on the floor, with blood on her face. She is desperate to know if she is dead or alive, but the police won’t let her back in. So she is talking to us.

“It’s like a dream…I’m waiting to wake up,” she says softly.

Soon there is nothing more to say. She walks back over to the police outside the club as we and the local photographers film the bodies coming out, carried on stretchers and covered in plastic.

Then we hear a gut-wrenching, low scream.

The girl we have been talking to is doubled over on the bonnet of a police car with her head on her hands. She has just found out that her sister has been killed.


Earlier in the day we had spent time filming another crime scene – a decapitated man left in the middle of the road. But it is the memory of that girl that will stay with me, a moment in which her life changed, snapped, in front of us, a moment of bewilderment and extreme pain.

Dead bodies make for shocking images – but as a journalist, and a viewer, for me they can become surprisingly easy to see in terms of “corpses” rather than people – with no emotional reaction required.

The interviews I have had with parents, sisters, brothers of those killed in the violence are different. They are the hard part, when it’s possible to understand what the violence means on a very personal scale. When you connect, just for a moment, with the pain of someone who has lost a loved one, often in a senseless act of killing.

When I have one of those interviews coming up I often wish that I could take a pass and simply not do it.

That feeling, is of course, why it is so necessary that we do the opposite and continue to hear and tell the stories of those who have lost people in the violence.

More than pictures of bodies, drug kingpins, narco tunnels or police raids, their testimonies go to the heart of the violence in Mexico, how it affects ordinary people and why we should care.

Source: Al Jazeera