Fed up with years of crime and intimidation from drug gangs and authorities’ inability or unwillingness to stop them, more Mexican villagers are taking matters into their own hands by participating in a growing civilian defense patrol movement. Armed with simple weapons, such as machetes and rifles, the groups stand guard over local towns, set up checkpoints where cars are stopped and searched, and take suspects into custody.
What’s the Big Idea?
“Community police” have been legal in the state of Guerrero for almost 20 years, but townspeople in other states have begun setting up defense squads as drug and gang violence has spread. Often, the vigilante groups are welcomed by residents and community activists and are even cautiously approved of by some officials, despite some conflicts with Mexico’s formal legal system. The goal, says the commander of one local group, isn’t to stop the sale of drugs, but to prevent “[the gangs] messing with the local people….[When the people] are united, not even bullets from an AK-47 can defeat us. They can’t kill us all.“