JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — It’s Wednesday morning and a man leaves his house to get tortillas from a store.
As he walks out and begins to get back in his car, another man runs up to him and shoots him in the back of the head. The gunman hurries to a waiting vehicle in which he and an accomplice flee the scene.
An hour later, the owner of a meat shop is called outside where men wearing surgical masks pump nine shots into him and flee in a pickup.
At noon, Juarez police respond to a neighbor’s call in a different part of the city where a body tucked into a burlap sack has been left inside an abandoned pickup.
Thus begins the month of April — with three homicides in a two-hour span — in a Mexican border city where 1.5 million residents are supposed to be under a stay-at-home order to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s obvious criminals are out and about. If they don’t care about taking people’s lives, they’re not going to obey other laws,” said Chihuahua state police spokesman Alejandro Rubalcava.
Juarez, like El Paso, Texas across the border, has ordered non-essential businesses to suspend operations and is urging people to only go out for basic errands. But many working-class Juarez neighborhoods rarely see police cars driving by and are struggling with drug addiction.
“When a drug addict needs drugs, he’s not going to stay inside. He’s going to go out and get it,” Rubalcava said.
According to Chihuahua state officials like Mario Dena, the governor’s representative in Juarez, the city has anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 habitual drug users. That means someone must supply their heroin, meth and marijuana, and that’s when the competition — and the violence — begins.
Juarez recorded 160 homicides in March, bringing the tally for 2020 to 395. Most homicides are drug-related, says Deputy Attorney General Jorge Nava.
He said police have identified 25 neighborhoods where such activity is prevalent and the crime rate is high. Police have set out to disrupt such activity, but the numbers are not on their side.
“As you know, our police forces are diminished. We don’t have the numbers at the federal, state or local levels that we should have. This forces us to engage in actions to contain (criminal activity) and we have been doing that,” he said in an earlier interview.
Juarez should have at least 5,000 police officers for a city of its size, but it doesn’t even have 3,000 when counting all federal, state and municipal police forces, he said.
And so, the city continues to see two, three and sometimes even five murders per day, many of them brazen, some of them horrifying.
On Monday, two gunmen forced themselves into a Downtown Juarez residence, walked into the living room and shot dead a 52-year-old man as his family watched.
On Sunday, two young men parked their SUV in front of a convenience store and waited; another vehicle parked next to theirs but instead of giving them whatever they were expecting, they riddled them with bullets, police said.
And last Saturday, a man was shot in front of his house in the Sauzal neighborhood in southeast Juarez. The area is known as a staging point to cross illegal drugs into the United States.
According to police, half of the city’s homicides have taken place there. The dead include three police officers, 11 women, five minors and five men whose bodies were cut up into pieces and abandoned in trash bags.
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