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ARGENTINA | 20-11-2021 11:49

Killing of 17-year-old by three police officers sparks debate over ‘trigger-happy’ policing

NGO expresses concern over use of ‘excessive force’ by officers after youngster Lucas González is shot in head twice by police officers in City neighbourhood of Barracas.

The gunning down of a young footballer in the City neighbourhood of Barracas has sparked outrage and renewed debate over crime, insecurity and trigger-happy policing in Argentina.

Lucas González, a 17-year-old who played in a youth team of local club Barracas Central, died on Thursday, less than a day after he was shot twice in the head by serving police officers in questionable circumstances.

The youngster and a group of his friends were driving a Volkswagen Suran car on their way back home from football training on Wednesday, when policemen began shooting at them, according to reports. 

Following the incident, González was taken to the El Cruce Hospital in Florencia Varela, Buenos Aires Province. Reported by local outlets to have been “brain dead” on arrival, the 17-year-old died later on Thursday afternoon.

The circumstances surrounding the youngster’s death are under investigation, though initial reports of the incident said that González was shot during a chase after he fled the vehicle in which he was travelling. However, different accounts later emerged, with some close to the case hinting at attempts to paint the youngster in a bad light. 

Cintia González, the mother of the slain teen, said Thursday that she "would not rest until they pay for what they did." 

Both the slain teen's parents said they rejected allegations that their son had done anything to justify the attack against him, pointing the finger instead at trigger-happy police. "It was gatillo fácil," declared Cintia, adding that the officers had “ruined our lives.”

Niven Huanca , one of the young people who was traveling in the car with Lucas, said that the perpetrators of the attack “didn’t look like policemen.” He said the group had thought the officers “were criminals” due to them brandishing their weapons and that none had identified themselves as police officers prior to the incident.

 

‘Inflexible’

Buenos Aires City Justice and Security Minister Marcelo D'Alessandro, speaking Thursday, said City Hall would be "inflexible with police who act outside the law."

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the portfolio ordered the “preventive removal” of the officers from active service.

Investigators have proven that two of the three officers – identified as Gabriel Isasi, Fabián López and José Nievas – fired at least five bullets after they recovered bullet casings at the scene. Charges under consideration include aggravated homicide, attempted murder and concealment. The trio remain in police custody.

President Alberto Fernández, who was due to meet the youngster’s parents on Thursday after they approached the Casa Rosada directly, took to Twitter after news of the shooting emerged.

"It is not possible that police officers who should be on duty end the lives of innocent people. I want to express all my solidarity with the family of Lucas González. We will put all the resources of the state at our disposal to be able to get to the truth and justice," said the head of state.

The president has not yet met the parents, who cancelled the meeting in the wake of their son’s death.

 

‘Excessive force’

Amnesty International on Friday expressed its concerns over the “excessive and abusive use of force” by police in Argentina as it called for an “urgent” and “impartial” investigation into the killing.

In a statement, the human rights organisation warned about the evident "police violence" and demanded "an effective commitment from the state to prevent it." Amnesty highlighted the regular occurrence of "mistreatment, murder, disappearances and torture" perpetrated by police officers in the country.

"The case of Lucas González is moving and painful. This extreme violence cannot be repeated. There must be an urgent and effective investigation into the facts and responsibilities of the case, but this is not enough," said Mariela Belski, the executive director of Amnesty’s Argentina branch.

"The repetition of acts of police violence requires a serious, effective and definite commitment from all jurisdictions in the country to ensure that we will not have another case like that of Lucas," added Belski.

The murdered teen’s parents have called for a candlelight march this coming Monday (November 22) in front of the Palacio de Justicia in the capital. 

"We ask that it be without political flags, we only care about justice for our son," Mario González told local media outlets.

"We are working and humble people, we are not criminals. It cost us a lot because we are young parents. Yesterday, we returned home after two days of an ordeal," said González Snr.

 

Accused

On Friday, Judge Alejandro Rodolfo Cilleruelo, head of National Juvenile Court No. 4, ruled that the officers were the “only accused” in the case, confirming that the friends who were in the car with González were also victims. He banned the three police officers from leaving the country.

"The police in a democracy cannot act under any circumstances in a surreptitious manner and without proper identification, especially when they are ordering the detention of a vehicle from which, as has been proven, no aggression of any nature was committed," said Cilleruelo.

It emerged Thursday night that lawyer Gregorio Dalbón, whose clients include President Alberto Fernández and Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, would represent the González family. 

Speaking to the press on Friday, he said that "institutional violence must stop," and that he would not rest until "the murderers are behind bars." He said the family would not use him "in a political way" during any subsequent trial. 

"Lucas could be the son of any of us," said Dalbón.

 

– TIMES/NA

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James Grainger

James Grainger

Editor-in-Chief, Buenos Aires Times.

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