BOGOTA – At least seven people were killed in violent protests that erupted in Bogota and other Colombian cities following a fatal instance of police brutality, authorities said on Thursday.
The rioting was triggered by the death of attorney Javier Ordoñez, who was repeatedly shocked with a stun gun by police in the wee hours of Wednesday and later succumbed to his injuries.
“Seven individuals died: five in Bogota and two in Soacha,” National Police spokesman Gen. Gustavo Moreno said in a joint press conference with Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo.
Most of the rioting and vandalism took place in Bogota and Soacha, a densely populated city south of Colombia’s capital, but protests also turned violent Wednesday night in the southwestern city of Cali, the northwestern cities of Medellin and Ibague and two municipalities near Bogota (Mosquera and Madrid).
A total of 55 people was admitted to hospitals after being injured by blunt objects: 51 in Bogota and four others in Soacha, Moreno said.
Ninety-three police officers – the vast majority in the capital – also were injured during a night of violence in which vandals torched police substations and public buses.
Police arrested 70 people in Bogota’s metropolitan area, Medellin and Cali on charges of damaging public property and attacking law-enforcement officers, the deputy police chief said.
The protests began outside a National Police immediate attention center (CAI) in Bogota’s Villa Luz neighborhood, the assigned substation of the two officers who repeatedly used a stun gun early Wednesday to shock and subdue Ordoñez, a 46-year-old attorney and father of two young children who died shortly afterward at a clinic.
“Please stop, officer. I beg you,” the man can be heard saying on a minutes-long video that was taken by onlookers and widely shared on social media. People standing nearby plead with the police to show restraint.
The demonstrations began peacefully but devolved into vandalism and violence, with rioters destroying the CAI in Villa Luz and then targeting more of those police substations in other Bogota neighborhoods.
More than 53 CAIs – 49 of them located in the capital – were targeted nationwide, over a score of which were set on fire, Moreno said.
The vandals also burned or damaged government and public-transit vehicles, including 37 TransMilenio buses and 49 other buses that are part of Bogota’s Integrated Public Transport System (SITP). They also damaged some stores and bank branches.
The destruction was reminiscent of the violent protests that erupted across the United States and in other countries following the May 25 death of an African-American man, George Floyd, who perished after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes.
Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez, for her part, criticized the police, but also demanded an end to the rioting.
“Just as we condemn the police abuse, we also condemn the violence and vandalism on the part of some protesters. Abuse and violence are not solved by more violence. It is at these times that we must cling to the constitution and peaceful demonstrations,” she said.
Meanwhile, Colombian Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez described Ordoñez’s death as unacceptable and called for swift action by prosecutors to ensure justice is served.
Holmes Trujillo, who convened an urgent security meeting on Wednesday night, said the two officers involved in the incident are already the subjects of a disciplinary and criminal investigation and pledged that the National Police – which is overseen by the Defense Ministry – will fully cooperate with the relevant authorities.