Tijuana Residents Rally Against High Crime Rate

Middle- and upper-class residents of the border city of Tijuana, Mexico, are protesting the rising violence and lawlessness in the region. Amy Isackson of member station KPBS reports on the high crime rate, and how hundreds of locals are rallying against it.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY. In the past month, there has been at least one homicide a day in the Mexican city of Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego, California. A record 490 people were murdered there last year, and kidnappings are on the rise too. Several recent victims come from better off neighborhoods, which is why nearly 1,000 people rallied in the city this past weekend to protest rising lawlessness.

From NPR station KPBS in San Diego, Amy ISACKSON has the story.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

AMY ISACKSON reporting:

The well-heeled crowd gathered near city hall and was dressed all in white to reflect their desire to bring peace back to Tijuana. They waved white flags with photos of the dead and called for the authorities to do something to combat the crime that's become rampant throughout the city.

Alvia Figueroa(ph) has lived in Tijuana for 65 years. She says she'd like to see the city the way it was before.

Ms. ALVIA FIGUEROA (Resident, Tijuana): It was very peaceful. You were not afraid to go out, just like a small town.

ISACKSON: She remembers her kids playing in the streets until after dark, but now she says, she doesn't go out after six p.m. because she's afraid.

Ms. FIGUEROA: You're looking always to one side or the other to see who's parked next to you, and I never go to the supermarkets in the evenings, and I don't carry anything with me, nothing that will give attention to myself.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

ISACKSON: The demonstration was organized by a local tennis club. Well-known businessman, Alfredo Quintas(ph) was a member. He was murdered earlier this month when he and his 17-year old son were ambushed by gunmen in an upscale Tijuana neighborhood.

The brazen murder outraged Tijuana's business community. They said it was just one more example of law enforcement's ineptitude.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

ISACKSON: Speaker after speaker asked how many more murders it would take to get the authorities to act. Manuel Chicaquoa's(ph) 15-year old daughter Sarah was kidnapped on her way home from school last December. Her captors threw her out of their moving vehicle. She died of massive head wounds. Chicaquoa says the investigation is at a standstill.

Mr. MANUEL CHICAQUOA (Resident, Tijuana): (Spanish spoken)

ISACKSON: He says the authorities are sending criminals the message, you commit a crime, even one as horrendous as this, and we won't do anything.

Demonstrators rallied against the federal, state and local governments. Many who voted for Tijuana's mayor Jorge Hank a year ago shouted for him to leave office.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

ISACKSON: When Mayor Hank, a businessman who's personal fortune is estimated to be half a billion dollars, was elected, he said his hand would not tremble in the face of crime, but many charge through inaction he's let criminals take hold of the city.

Ranking city officials and law enforcement authorities did not attend the demonstration, but at a press conference afterwards, Mayor Hank's secretary of government offered a top down investigation of the municipal police, but he also blamed Tijuana's crime on the state police and a lack of coordination between federal, state and local authorities. Everyone has a different explanation. Top prosecutors say it's a breakdown in family values. Others say it's warring drug cartels, and still others blame corruption.

About 300 federal police arrived in Tijuana last week in an effort to shore up local law enforcement, but many demonstrators believe it's going to take more that this rally and a few extra hundred police to solve the problem.

Luis Acosta works as an engineer in Tijuana.

Mr. LUIS ACOSTA (Engineer, Tijuana): If we make this kind of manifestation again and again, that they will cause an effect, oh yes. The thing is to be patient and try and try and try again.

ISACKSON: Demonstrators have staged similar protests the last three years. The murder rate has continued to climb. For NPR News, I'm Amy ISACKSON in San Diego.

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