Eight people were killed in the Colombian capital of Bogota and satellite city Soacha overnight in protests against police brutality, sparked by a widely shared video of a man being repeatedly shocked with a stun gun by police before later dying.
Nearly 100 police officers and 55 civilians were injured and dozens of stations and public vehicles damaged or set alight, the government said. There were 70 arrests, mostly in Bogota.
Demonstrators were protesting the death this week of lawyer Javier Ordonez, 46.
The video, filmed by Ordonez’s friend, shows him pinned to the ground by officers and subjected to successive electric shocks as he begs, “Please, no more.”
Police say Ordonez, a father of two, was found drinking alcohol in the street with friends in violation of coronavirus distancing rules. He was taken to a police station in western Bogota where his family alleges he suffered further abuse. He died later in hospital.
An aerial view shows the wreckage of lines of buses burned during the unrest Wednesday and early Thursday. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images)
The two officers involved have been suspended pending an investigation, the government has said. An autopsy is pending.
Ordonez’s family called for justice and peaceful protest.
“He was murdered by the police officers,” his former sister-in-law, Eliana Marcela Garzon, told Reuters. “We don’t want (deaths) in a country already full of conflict, we want justice.”
Police reform is needed, Garzon said, especially for the future of children like her now-fatherless nephews.
“I don’t want them to grow up feeling like there isn’t justice in this country,” she said. “I want them to grow up knowing laws are followed.”
Mayor, president appeal for calm
Bogota’s left-wing mayor Claudia Lopez asked President Ivan Duque to call a halt to police use of firearms at protests.
“There is solid evidence of indiscriminate use of guns by members of the police,” Lopez told journalists at a local hospital. “We will not tolerate the use of violence to suppress violence.”
Six people were killed during the protests in Bogota, she said, adding that all of them were young people who had gunshot injuries.
Lopez urged protesters to refrain from vandalism.
Earlier, two deaths were reported in Soacha.
Duque has said there can be no tolerance for abuse of authority, but the government called for Colombians not to “stigmatize” police officers.
Demonstrators clash with riot police during a protest in Bogota against the death of Ordonez at the hands of police. (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)
Bogota’s police will be reinforced with 1,600 more officers, more than half of whom will come from other regions, and 300 soldiers, the defence ministry said.
“What we are facing here is a mass act of vandalism and violence,” Defence Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo told journalists. “What we are facing are unacceptable actions.”
An effort by labour unions earlier this week to revive mass protests seen last year against Duque’s economic and social policies garnered a tepid response amid ongoing coronavirus restrictions.
But Ordonez’s death could fuel renewed widespread outrage against the police, who were roundly criticized last year after a teenage protester was fatally injured by a riot squad projectile.