February 25, 2021

“Street art is not a crime”

A new case of police violence shakes once again Chile. On Friday, February 5, a policeman shot and killed a street juggler in the southern city of Panguipulli, 800 kilometers south of the capital. The shooting took place at an identity check to which the young man had refused.

The scene, which was recorded in a video that went viral, shows how after an argument, a policeman points a firearm at Francisco Martínez Romero, 27, who attacks him with two of the sabers he used for his artistic show. The police officer then shoots him, causing his death.

On Friday, shortly after the video began to circulate on social media, protests broke out across the country, but gained more strength in Panguipulli. There were clashes with the police, barricades and fires. During the afternoon, ten public buildings, including the town hall of the town, were set on fire.

The protests have continued throughout the weekend and this Monday demonstrations were called across the country. One of the busiest was that of Santiago, where hundreds of protesters, especially young people, took to the streets to protest what happened. “Street art is not a crime”, has been one of the slogans that could be read.

Also this Monday, agent Juan González Iturriaga, the author of the shots and detained that same Friday, went to court and more details of the event were revealed. The prosecutor claimed that the policeman shot Francisco six times, the last one in the heart. “The last projectile struck is not protected by the law and constitutes an excess of police in the use of force,” said the magistrate of the Panguipulli Court. According to him, the sixth was “unnecessary” since Martínez was already affected by two other previous shots that he had received in his legs.

The court accepted the thesis of the Prosecutor’s Office, accredited the investigation for simple homicide and ordered the house arrest of the accused. The defense attorney upheld the argument of the agent’s “legitimate defense”, while the private plaintiffs, one representing the victim’s sister and the other from the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH), refuted this thesis with the reasoning that at the time of the “lethal” shot – as the prosecutor described it – the victim was already on the ground.

Police reform pending

In its version of events, the Carabineros, the country’s militarized police force, has always insisted that there was “an imminent danger” to the life of the police officer. The Government, for its part, has emphasized the damage caused to public infrastructure by the riots and has condemned the violence of the protesters, but not the police, from which, it says, it awaits the results of the investigation.

“In the same way that we have asked that the behavior of the police be judged, we are doing everything in our power so that the people who burned the Municipality and public offices face justice and receive the sanctions they deserve. “Said President Sebastián Piñera before expressing his support for the Carabineros.

The opposition, on the other hand, has been forceful in rejecting the police action. He has condemned the events and demands that the debate on police reform be resumed, a bill that is paralyzed in Congress and without real progress.

“We strongly condemn this crime,” said the Socialist Party, which also criticized the “disproportionate and unjustified use of force.” “It was not an incident, it was murder. It is not an isolated event, the brutality is repeated. It is not random, it is against the people, it is class, ”communist deputy Camila Vallejo posted on Twitter.

The parliamentarian recalled that, in November, two children residing in a home of the National Service for Minors (Sename) were injured by shots from a police officer, which cost the former general director of the body, Mario Rozas, the position.

Before that, another case of police violence took place when, in a demonstration called in Santiago, an agent pushed a minor from a bridge towards the Mapocho River. Francisco Martínez turned out to be Uncle of the teenager who was thrown into the river. “Going through the same thing twice is very hard, and Pancho died. We are all shocked”Lamented Rocío Caviedes, the juggler’s sister.

Since the social outbreak of October 2019, the institution remains under scrutiny. In the last 15 months, she has been harshly questioned and accused by national and international organizations of multiple human rights violations. This is in addition to the criticism that he had already been reaping for a corruption plot that involves the embezzlement of millions of dollars. Despite the discredit, the Executive has given no signs of wanting to maintain the reform as one of its priorities. After the events of Friday, no member of the Government made reference to the issue.

Identity check

The death of Francisco Martínez has also called into question preventive identity controls, a controversial law promoted during the government of former President Michelle Bachelet.

For the sociologist and expert in citizen security in Latin America Lucía Dammert, this law “has generated abuses.” In his opinion, “the police control the identity of those people who believe that they may be linked to a crime under the logic of them against us, of the threat that young people and members of popular sectors, mainly men, are for them” .

According to Dammert, in recent years it has gone from two million identity checks to almost seven, with minimum levels of identification of people linked to criminal acts. Given these results and as a result of what happened, the leftist coalition Frente Amplio wants to repeal them.

The debate on the role of the security forces has been reactivated. The investigation into the artist’s murder will last four months and its progress will have an impact on the constitutional process that the country has just opened to draft a new Constitution.


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