Gabriela Minjares writes a note in today's Diario, among other things quoting criminologist Óscar Máynez Grijalva, who is often asked to comment on the crisis of violence and authority in Cd. Juarez. "People who take justice in their own hands," he said, referring to the events in Ascencion last Tuesday, "become criminals because they violate the law, even though frequently there are attenuating circumstances that could be considered self defense."
Aside from the awkwardness of the last part of the sentence (it is just as awkward in Spanish), I find his comment to be profoundly wrong, although, significantly, law enforcement officials in Chihuahua were quick to point out, as if in agreement with him, that townspeople who participated in the beating to death of two kidnappers might be liable for criminal charges.
It so happened I taught a freshman class in politics on Thursday, and the reading for the day was from Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan. In that book, which forms part of the bedrock of the theory of the state in Western civilization, Hobbes argues that in a state of nature; that is, before the formation of a state, or government, there is "continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short." He likens this to a continual war: "To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues."
Hobbes goes on to argue that the only justification for the creation of the state, which limits human liberty, is to prevent this continual war of "every man against every man."
I told my class, to the best of my limited ability to reconstruct events, the story of Ascencion. I provided some background about the deteriorating security situation in Northern Chihuahua, where in towns like Ascencion criminal gangs pay off police to protect their illicit activities, which include drug trafficking, extortion, and kidnapping. According to news reports between 20 and 30 kidnappings have occurred in Ascencion in the past six weeks. As I've said before, I've been to many troubled cities, but never have I seen any resemble the "state of nature," as described by Hobbes, as closely as what I see in Northern Chihuahua.
But--and here is where I disagree with the criminologist--there was a state in Ascencion on Tuesday morning. There was law. There was justice. It was not provided by the government, federal, state, or local, of Mexico. The people of Ascencion, with virtual unanimity according to all accounts, became the state, at least for a moment, because the state associated with the government of Mexico, and the social contract that went with it, had ceased to exist. In the days before the incident the townspeople of Ascencion had, in effect, created a social contract among themselves, to provide law, where law no longer existed. It was created out of muffled conversations, cell phones and coordinated solidarity against the gangs protected by police agents. When a seventeen year old girl was kidnapped, the state acted. The state pursued the kidnappers, rescued the victim, and then meted out justice instead of allowing Mexican authorities to take charge. And they applied the death penalty, which is not permitted under Mexican law. Two days later the death penalty was applied in Virginia against a woman with an IQ of 72, 2 points higher than the legal limit. Was her death more legitimately applied than the death of the two kidnappers because the state of Virginia spent umpteen dollars dotting i's and crossing t's to make the execution procedurally without blemish?
Who executed the kidnappers? Not criminals with "attenuating circumstances:" The state executed those kidnappers; that is to say, the people of Ascencion.
Citizens of Ascencion: Your actions on Tuesday, from all appearances, fell within the boundary lines of legitimate behavior in accordance with the founding documents of the Western theory of the state. We have no quarrel with your actions. We are your neighbors. We salute you.