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‘Never put down or humiliated’: community policing in Mexico

Members of a Mexican community police unit march in Tlacotepec, Guerrero state -- they are trying to protect locals from the scourge of drug violence and organized crime
AFP

Mexico City (AFP) – In Tlacotepec, in southern Mexico, dozens of armed civilians patrol a mountainous area to keep organized crime from taking root.

In the sweltering heat, the community policing group joins similar squads from neighboring villages in a show of force. 

There are only two local police officers in the area. Both are unarmed.

In Guerrero state, one of the most violent in the country, more than 2,300 murders were committed in 2017, according to official figures.

Community policing groups cropped up more than six years ago in Guerrero, and also in neighboring Michoacan state, in a bid to protect local residents from violent gangs and other criminal groups.

“They might find me dead, but never put down or humiliated,” reads a slogan on several uniforms worn by the armed men. The phrase is attributed to Heliodoro Castillo (1887-1917), a local hero of the Mexican Revolution.

When they are asked why they decided to take up arms, several of the men recount how someone close to them — a relative, a friend — was killed or a victim of extortion.

“God rewards those who fight for just causes,” one group leader says, triggering applause.

But the line separating these armed militia groups from the drug traffickers can be fluid, or even non-existent: many members openly admit that they participate in the trade of opium poppies, which are used to make heroin.

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