Okay, so it’s very hard to tell that it’s Spring when the sun blasts the same as it does every other month of the year and the only things that might bloom are cacti and those are obscured by the many, many pieces of windblown trash or old mattresses or other urban flotsam. And “Break” does not mean vacation. In Spanish, it becomes a colloquial Mexican term for “kill”. I saw the word used rather bloodlessly in a headline of yesterday’s issue of PM, the tits-and-murder tabloid newspaper owned by the very sober and serious El Diario newspaper.
So no, it’s not really Spring Break down here. Instead, it’s a deeply unnerving few days of reporting in a town where lots of people are being killed, and nobody really knows who is doing the killing or why.
But even as I’ve been chasing ambulances, or rather, coroner-vans, the past couple days, I’ve been quite aware of the fact that I’m just a spectator to this danger, just tapping on the glass of a very fucked up aquarium. The men and women who write about and photograph this orgy of violence–and have to live and raise families in the same city–are in somewhat insane amounts of danger. One photographer told of being extorted by a cartel (or gang? or military unit? who knows in this town) that threatened to cut his children’s heads off. And the sick thing is, they may well have done it, if he hadn’t fled the city with his family for a sustained period of time, and his would-be extortionists were themselves killed.
Yesterday was a day of such terrible news out of Libya for news types, but threats come in all different flavors, and in Juarez, it is intimate and too often involves family. The murder of children as a way of making a point to the parents is something so bestial that I really don’t have much to say about it. Just that I find this work this week both harder and easier than it might have been before I had kids myself. On the one hand there are the moments when I think, I should not be here, in part because my wife does not think I should be here, and she thinks that not for her sake, but for that of our kids. But on the other hand, I feel this strange empathy that makes me want to add my voice–and yes, all of this has been written about before–to the chorus of journalists who are documenting the great Northern Mexican fraticide. If I were one of the 1.5 million people with children who still live and work in Juarez I would want someone on the outside to not forget that children are being killed, that parents are being killed in front of their parents, that teens are becoming assassins and are increasingly being assassinated. I am not half the journalist that Hetherington or Hondros or those braves at El Diario are or were, but I am here.
And, by the way: it’s been a quiet few days in the murder column after all. Just one on Wednesday as of mid-afternoon, none on Tuesday. Either the killers are good Catholics taking a bank holiday for Easter Week, or the 19 murders over the weekend were enough to settle grudges for the next few days. Either way, I’m glad for the relative peace. I wish there was more of it everywhere and that it wasn’t too late for some of us.