Last Saturday, August 30, approximately 100,000 people marched in downtown Mexico City, protesting the climate of danger and mayhem that is plaguing Mexico today. While it is true that there is an incredible amount of violence related to drug trafficking (almost all of it in cities along the border), drug traffickers, soldiers and cops – who are sometimes indistinguishable – have been very good at keeping the violence among themselves, with only the occasional tragic civilian fatality. My research (outlined in the crime chapter of my book First Stop in the New World) indicates that the perception of danger in Mexico (particularly Mexico City) is far worse than the reality. About half of national TV news broadcasts are devoted to crime and violence, as if nothing else of importance was happening in the entire country.
Photo by Daniel Hernandez (see link to his blog on list of Friends at the right-hand side of the page)
Here in the capital, murders, and even deaths related to traffic accidents – incidents that in most cities would be relegated to the Police Blotter in the newspaper – are given front-page treatment in the tabloids, with headlines in 72-point type and graphic, bloody photos. Don’t get me wrong. Mexico City is a tough town, and you have to watch your back here, much as you would in any big city. But according to FBI homicide statistics you are more likely to be murdered in Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Philadelphia, Dallas, Las Vegas, or any number of other U.S. cities than in Mexico City.
Insecurity is big business here – people make a lot of money from sales of armored cars, construction of panic rooms, and a whole menu of “risk management” services (from screening bodyguards to the negotiation of kidnappings). Above is a photo of Miguel Caballero, the only boutique in the world which sells exclusively bullet-proof fashions, located in the posh Polanco district of the city. When I interviewed one of the owners of the store (who are Colombian), he admitted that Mexico City was a “paradise” compared to other, much more dangerous places (he mentioned Israel as an example). He said they opened the store here because business in Colombia had slowed down 60 per cent in recent years, as that country has become much safer. He wouldn’t cop to taking advantage of Mexico City residents’ exaggerated fear, though. “Sadly,” he conceded, “the weakness of some is an opportunity for others.”