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How to avoid extrajudicial execution in Honduras: Throw popcorn at police

Death warrant (Photo from tiempo.hn)

Two men were recently tied up, shot, and killed down the street from my friend’s house in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. When my friend happened upon the scene at around 9 p.m., a forensic investigator commented to him that these were the fourth and fifth cadavers he had personally dealt with that evening and that the number typically doubled by the end of the night. The investigator also insinuated that responsibility for these two lay with the security organs of the state; recounting the story, my friend guiltily confessed his momentary approval of the idea that the Honduran police force had swiftly eliminated persons who otherwise might have eliminated him.

The moral precariousness of popular consent in matters of extrajudicial treatment of hypothetically dangerous human beings has recently been underscored in the much-publicized case of the shooting deaths by police of seven presumed gang members in the neighborhood of Ciudad Planeta in the northwestern Honduran city of La Lima last month. Though the police have advertised the deaths as the result of a shootout between themselves and la mara 18 (Gang 18), family members of the deceased deny that there was any armed confrontation and argue that the corpses were merely decorated with weapons afterward.

The incident attracted the attention of Sandra Ponce, head of the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office in Honduras, who demanded an immediate police report complete with names of the police officers involved. This elicited the accusation from Honduran vice minister of Security Armando Calidonio that human rights officials are “encouraging delinquents”.

According to Calidonio, Ponce had failed to understand that the delinquents in this particular encounter “were not throwing popcorn, candy, or rice at the police, as happens at weddings”. As for Ponce’s assessment of the seriousness of the matter and the fact that “we are talking about the lives of seven people here”, other typical arguments in favor of the police include that gang members are not human beings anyway.