Bogota Riots As Police Killing of Unarmed Man Sparks Violent Unrest in Colombia

Violent protests have erupted in the Colombian capital of Bogota after a man died following an encounter with police during which he was repeatedly hit with a stun gun.

Posts on social media alleged that police had used excessive force on protesters, including shooting people dead. Other posts said police had tried to run protesters over.

José Miguel Vivanco, the executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, tweeted that the organization had received "serious complaints" of excessive force by police against protesters in Bogota.

Five people have died during protests in Bogota, the Colombian National Police said, without providing further details.

Another 50 people were admitted to hospital for blunt force injuries, police said in a news release. Thirty police officers were also injured during protests, police said. The riots have spread to other cities in Colombia.

Other videos showed people vandalizing police stations and one clip appeared to show people attacking a police officer.

The unrest was triggered by a widely circulated video showing Javier Humberto Ordonez, a 46-year-old father, pinned to the ground by two officers and hit with a stun gun. Ordonez was subjected to repeated electric shocks despite being heard saying in the clip: "Please, no more."

Police said Ordonez had been drinking alcohol in the street with other people early on Wednesday, violating the social distancing rules put in place to limit the spread of coronavirus.

After being hit with a stun gun in the street, the man was then taken to a police station, where his family says he was subjected to more abuse.

Ordonez was a lawyer who was working as a taxi driver during the coronavirus pandemic, The Bogota Post reported. According to the newspaper, his death prompted people to gather outside the police station where he had been held and the gathering turned violent as night fell.

The crowd numbered in the hundreds, with some protesters using trash cans, rocks and other objects to batter the police station's windows.

The Colombian National Police said 17 police stations were set on fire across Bogota and several others were vandalized. Violent protests also took place in several other cities, including Medellin, according to police.

Police said 31 people were arrested for causing damage to public property or violence against officers.

Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez said what happened to Ordonez was an example of "unacceptable police brutality" and called for structural reform.

"We'll offer Javier's family legal assistance so there is a conviction not only of those directly responsible, but also to see structural reform that prevents and punishes police brutality," Lopez said.

She also said violent protests would do little to reform police.

"Today is a day that hurts wherever you look at it," Lopez tweeted. "My condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed or injured. Destroying Bogotá will not fix the police. Destroying us won't fix anything. Let's focus on achieving justice and structural reform for the security forces."

In an earlier tweet, she said: "Just as we condemn police abuse, we also condemn violence and vandalism by some protesters. Abuse and violence are NOT solved with more violence."

The officers involved in Ordonez's death have been relieved of their duties while investigations take place.

During an event on Wednesday, Colombian President Ivan Duque referred to Ordonez's death, warning that abuses by police cannot be tolerated.

Duque said the police in Colombia have historically had a reputation for dedication and respect for citizens, earning a place in the hearts of citizens.

But he added: "We have to be clear that there can be no tolerance when the uniform or authority is abused."

Duque added that "objective" penalties needed to be issued in a timely manner.

According to The Bogota Post, anti-police sentiment has been simmering in the city since the death of Dilan Cruz in November last year. The teenager died, days after being hit on the head by a projectile fired by police during a protest march that was demanding better access to education.

Bogota
Demonstrators clash with riot police during a protest against the death of a lawyer under police custody, in Bogota on September 9, 2020. Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images