Mexico investigating Salvadoran woman’s death in police custody

A video showed Victoria Salazar Arriaza pinned to the ground by police, reminiscent of the death of George Floyd.

People hugging during a protest by mothers and relatives of victims of femicides against what they say is the government's inaction to solve the crimes against women, in downtown Mexico City, Mexico [File: Gustavo Graf/Reuters]
People hugging during a protest by mothers and relatives of victims of femicides against what they say is the government's inaction to solve the crimes against women, in downtown Mexico City, Mexico [File: Gustavo Graf/Reuters]

Mexican prosecutors have announced that they have opened a homicide investigation into the death of a Salvadoran woman who was shown on video being pinned to the ground by a female police officer, drawing similarities with the death of George Floyd last year.

Victoria Salazar Arriaza, 36, died on Saturday in the Caribbean beach resort of Tulum. A video published by news site Noticaribe showed her writhing and crying out as she lay face down on a road with a policewoman kneeling on her back while male officers stood by.

The video then cut to show Arriaza’s prone, handcuffed body lying on the road. Officers are later seen moving her limp, shoeless body into the back of a police truck.

Local media reported that Arriaza, who had been in Mexico for about three years on a humanitarian visa, and has two teenage daughters who live in Mexico with her.

An autopsy concluded that Salazar died from a broken neck. The examination found, “a fracture of part of the upper spinal column produced by the rupture of the first and second vertebra which caused the loss of the victim,” Quintana Roo State Prosecutor Oscar Montes said in a video.

The injuries were “compatible and coincide with submission maneuvers applied to the victim during her detention” and demonstrate a “disproportionate” use of force. He said his office was preparing femicide charges against the four police officers.

On Monday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador denounced the killing.

“She was brutally treated and murdered,” Lopez Obrador said in his daily press conference, “it is a fact that fills us with shame, pain and shame,” he said.

Earlier on Monday, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele urged Mexico to apply the “full force of the law” on those responsible for her death.

“All we ask for is justice,” he said on Twitter.

Bukele promised to take care of Arriaza’s daughters, their education, and ensure they had “everything they need”.

Translation: We will take charge of the care and studies of Victoria’s two daughters and everything they need. We only ask for justice. Let the full weight of the law fall on those who did this.

Rene Olivares Arriaza, a half-brother of Salazar Arriaza, told Reuters news agency that he had seen the video and that his family had been informed of her death by mutual acquaintances.

Describing the family’s keen sense of loss and his “powerlessness” at seeing the video, Olivares said he could not understand how she had died, and also called for justice.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said it was unclear why the woman had been detained and that the cause of her death was still under investigation. Three male officers and one female officer had so far been questioned, the office said.

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, in a statement, promised to take care of Salazar Arriaza’s daughters, their education, and ensure they had ‘everything they need’ [File: Jose Cabezas/Reuters]
Local media reported that police had initially said they arrived at the scene to respond to a report of “disturbing public order”.

Alejandro Encinas, Mexico’s deputy interior minister responsible for human rights, called the incident an act of “police abuse”.

The incident bore similarity to the case of George Floyd, a Black man whose death in May after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck sparked racial justice protests in the United States and around the world.

Floyd’s death was captured on widely seen bystander video and sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, leading to a nationwide reckoning on race.

Opening arguments in the murder trial of former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin – the white police officer who put his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes – began on Monday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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