Trigger Warning: this article discusses police brutality and gender-based violence.
In May 2020, George Floyd died in the US after a police officer knelt on his neck. This sparked mass protests throughout the country. The officer’s trial began on 29 March 2021. He’s facing “second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter charges”.
Just as this trial was about to start, another neck-kneeling death took place. This time in Mexico.
Victoria Esperanza Salazar was a refugee from El Salvador. She was working in a hotel in a key tourist area on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. But on 27 March, she died of a broken neck after a police officer had knelt on her back for a number of minutes. Four officers present at the scene soon lost their jobs; and they now face charges of femicide (the killing of girls or women, usually because of their gender or by men). Even Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador described how Salazar had been “brutally treated and murdered”.
Femicides in Mexico are all too common. In 2016, for example, the country’s statistics authority said there had been 43,712 murders of women from 1990 to 2015. The percentage of prosecutions (and even identifications) for such killings, meanwhile, is very small. As Al Jazeera reported after Salazar’s killing, “an average of 10 women are killed every day in Mexico, and less than 10 percent of those cases are solved”.
Amnesty International has long condemned the impunity for police abuse of women. And in its 2019 report on Mexico, it stressed that “gender-based violence against women and girls continued to be widespread”. A March 2021 Amnesty report, meanwhile, found that authorities had used “unnecessary and excessive force, arbitrary detentions and even sexual violence” during 2020 to suppress women who had taken to the streets to protest against ongoing gender-based violence.
As journalist Meaghan Beatley wrote in February:
UN Women calls Latin America the most lethal place for women outside war zones. More femicides are committed in Mexico than in any other country in the region, except Brazil.
Protesters soon responded to Salazar’s murder in the tourist destination where it had happened. A representative from one collective told El País:
It’s not just male chauvinism but also racism that killed Victoria. Can you imagine if it had been an American or European woman? Do they really want us to believe they’d have grabbed her and thrown her to the floor in that way?
At the start of March, riot police in Mexico City used tear gas against protesters demanding greater action to deal with the violence that women face on a regular basis. And with every further act of police brutality, such standoffs seem likely to continue.
Main article image via YouTube/RTVE Noticias