Monday, March 7, 2011

Notes from the Crime Beat: The Presentation

The crime beat, early in the week in Mexico City, can be a bit more tranquilo than the siren filled dramas of the weekend. As with any metropolis Monday and Tuesday nights sees less activity on the streets in general and in the 'D.F.' it's no different.

The street walking hookers on Calle Sullivan are less than half in numbers than the boomtime of Fridays and Saturdays, when their pyrex heels cause a hungry traffic jam of customers with paychecks in their pockets, although paradoxically, early weeknights seem to make no difference to their transsexual counterparts, a block or so away, who continue to gather in numbers, chatting in their broken voices and swinging, one-armed, around lampposts in man-sized hot pants.

The cacophony of freelance Mariachis that normally pack the sidewalk at Garibaldi is no longer present. The gold stitching of an outlandish costume glints briefly from the darkness, caught in the sweep of passing headlights. An unused guitar case topped by a sombrero leans against the wall with a sense of abandonment but there is none of the usual madness here, not this early in the week.

There are less car crashes and incidents of random violence these nights too but that's not to say that it's not without event. Mondays and Tuesdays often bring a different and unexpected type of drama to proceedings on the crime beat: La PresentaciĆ³n.

Crime rates, one supposes in most cities, spike over the weekend and Mexico City is no different. Saturdays and Sundays may well be the normal punter's time to let their hair down but they are also days of rest, the courts and higher offices of the police department being closed over the weekend.

The result of this is that people arrested on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, los detenidos, often have to wait until a Monday or Tuesday to be moved to the courthouse for their hearings. It is usually at this time that reporters have the opportunity to photograph and interview those detained; being obliged to report on the circumstances of their arrest and the alleged nature of their crimes.

This is especially the case if the crime is newsworthy but oftentimes if there is nothing more pressing on the agenda, as is often the scenario early in the week, these minor criminals can become the focus of the 'sunguns' of the tv news cameras and the flashbulbs of La Nota Roja.

It's a kind of impromptu trial by media, maybe motivated by boredom, maybe by bad timing that sometimes can take place on the street, outside the police station or in the back of a van.

These incidents kind of remind me of the sentiments so interestingly expressed in Donald Weber's photo essay 'Interrogations' in the range and complexity of emotions expressed by those detained. It's kind of a classic crime drama played out in real life.

Some use the opportunity to plead their innocence. Some cry and wail without shame. Some say it was a fair cop. Some hide their faces and spit swearwords at the photographers. Some say they were working at the behest of others...and got hung out to dry.

Some say they are sixteen and scared.

The guns and drugs, if there are any, are laid out by the police as evidence, we jumble to gather our footage, panning and tilting across the neatly arranged displays.

I imagine a Mexican newscaster relaying the amounts, places and the names in a crisply edited voiceover.

The detained are whisked away to the station.

Debates ensue shortly afterwards about these incidents and I glean what information I can, sometimes shocked by the allegations that stand against these detenidos, sometimes merely amused.

Kidnappings, embezzlement and drug deals. Middle class professors ripping off their employers. The crimes are often more serious than you appreciate when you're in the moment, when you think about it later. The character judgements can be too, whether the person is a liar, a coward, a hero...or merely a pendejo. Everything about the individual, this detenido, can be judged on this brief encounter.

My sense of sympathy at this very public airing of dirty laundry often dissipates at this moment; regardless of the emotion expressed and the niceness of someone's face, they have veered off their paths somewhere, crossed the line and unfortunately, for them, got caught. Whether they're a good person or bad, guilty or innocent doesn't really matter anymore, they're now on a journey into the Mexican justice system of which La PresentaciĆ³n is only the first stage.

You wish them good luck.