Photo Of The Day

PHOTOGRAPH BY KATIE ORLINSKY MEXICO’S CITIZEN POLICE, XALTIANGUIS, GUERERRO, MEXICO A Commander of the Xaltianguis Citizen Police teaches new recruits how to use rifles and revolvers. “The message is that we wake up to the fact that we have to participate, and the guns are to say don’t attack us,” says the town’s Citizen Police chief Miguel Jimenez. “We aren’t inviting women to take up arms; we are inviting them to take back their honour.”

PHOTOGRAPH BY KATIE ORLINSKY
MEXICO’S CITIZEN POLICE, XALTIANGUIS, GUERERRO, MEXICO
A Commander of the Xaltianguis Citizen Police teaches new recruits how to use rifles and revolvers. “The message is that we wake up to the fact that we have to participate, and the guns are to say don’t attack us,” says the town’s Citizen Police chief Miguel Jimenez. “We aren’t inviting women to take up arms; we are inviting them to take back their honour.”

Mexico’s Citizen Police

These fearless women are members of a vigilante group who are taking the law into their own hands to apprehend the gangs at the heart of Mexico’s enduring drugs war. The town of Xaltianguis, in the southern state of Guererro, used to be the scene of daily murders, kidnappings and extortion until these middle-aged housewives banded together to restore order to the streets.

On reading their story photojournalist Katie Orlinsky took the next flight out in order to document this group of ordinary mothers bringing extraordinary change to their hometown.

“Xaltianguis is in the state of Guererro, a region home to illegal poppy and marijuana cultivation and plagued by violence. It’s also located less than an hour away from Acapulco, one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities. It was once a quiet farming town but has been at the mercy of organised crime for several years now.

That was until last summer when the first all-female armed Citizen Police group was formed in the town. Made up of mothers and grandmothers, they were united in grief as many of them had lost family members to the violence. Some were widows; others had lost their brother or their son. They have lived in fear for their family, and ultimately decided that they’d had enough. So roughly 100 women have now volunteered to put their lives on the line in order to protect their children and defend their community. For them it’s cathartic, therapeutic even, to feel like they can take some action about it.

I was in New York when I read their story, and the moment I did I got on a flight out there as I didn’t know how long the movement would last. At the same time I pitched the story to Lauren [Steel] and Aidan [Sullivan] at Reportage and they supported me all the way. I’d been covering women and the drug war for about three years at that point and theirs felt like such an incredible story and almost a final chapter; this group of women actually fighting back.

When it came to shooting the story I had lot of logistical impediments. I didn’t have a lot of time there, less than a week. They also don’t meet until the afternoon because they have day jobs and are mothers so they have to take their kids to school. On top of that it was only safe for me to drive back to where I was stopping in Acapulco in daylight; after nightfall the dangerous neighbouring towns became no-go areas. As a result I was only able to photograph them for a couple of hours during their shifts in the afternoon before I’d have to leave each day. But during the brief time I had with them, I tried to capture as much as I could. I took quite a traditional documentary approach, almost doing a mini imbed with them.

On the streets they’re impossible to ignore. They wear a uniform of matching t-shirts and hats and carry unloaded, rusty rifles, although they often do not know how to use them. They appear fearless but then nobody is going to beat up an old lady. It’s almost like they’re a little bit scarier than their male counterpart. Each day is different but they spend their time conducting patrols, vehicle searches and arrests – mostly of female criminals – and also travelling throughout the region to convince more women to form their own vigilante police forces.

Most importantly they remain at the heart of the community. They were already the women who were gossiping and knowing whose son was getting involved in the wrong thing. So they were already aware of the problems and chose to stay and resolve them rather than flee the violence. It’s working; Xaltianguis residents say they feel safer than ever.

People may look at this story in a very literal sense and see them as policewomen fighting crime but it’s really more than that. It’s a symbolic gesture that has been made, enabling both these women and their community to feel safe and empowered again.”

Katie Orlinsky/Reportage


Do you want:

  • Ad-free access?
  • Access to our very popular daily crossword?
  • Access to daily sudoku?
  • Access to Incite Politics magazine articles?
  • Access to podcasts?
  • Access to political polls?

Our subscribers’ financial support is the reason why we have been able to offer our latest service; Audio blogs. 

Click Here  to support us and watch the number of services grow.

61%