On January 23, a picture of a young man who had been hit by Mexico City police officers and thrown into a patrol car, and whose whereabouts since then were unknown, began to circulate on Facebook.
It all started when Marco Antonio - the missing young man - and a friend of his were getting back from a visit to a museum. They were walking along a street in the north of Mexico City when they came across a wall with a graffiti that caught their attention and Marco Antonio asked his friend to take a picture of him standing in front of it.
As he was posing for the picture, a couple of policemen passing by apparently thought that the young man was about to assault someone and jumped on him trying to nail him down. In Mexico, whether guilty or innocent, victim or victimizer, everybody knows that it is best to stay as far away as possible from the police, so Marco Antonio ran to a Metrobus station to avoid being arrested.
But the two police officers caught up with him, knocked him down, beat him and requested a patrol car to move him. As he lay on the ground and was being beaten, a passer-by managed to take a picture of him – that was the picture which circulated on social networks to denounce what had happened and spread the word that, since then, his whereabouts were unknown. A call for help went out, asking people to contribute any information that could lead to him.
The image of the young man on the ground was a powerful piece of evidence of the abuse and enforced disappearance which he had been subjected to by the police, even though he had committed no crime.
The image of the young man on the ground was a powerful piece of evidence of the abuse and enforced disappearance which he had been subjected to by the police, even though he had committed no crime. Indignation through the social media increased when it became known that he was under age - 17 years old -, a healthy and sporty 8th grade student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico High School - an ordinary Mexico City young man.
A few days went by without any news of his whereabouts while doubts and fear kept on the rise. The message "Where is Marco Antonio?" began to multiply on social media together with a growing suspicion that, since he had disappeared, nobody would probably ever know of him again - as happened with the 43 young students of the Isidro Burgos Rural Teacher Training School in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, who disappeared in 2014 and still nobody knows for sure what happened to them, even though the indications are that the local police and soldiers from the army's 27th infantry battalion were involved in their disappearance, in collusion with the ruling drug cartel in the area; or as has happened with the more than 33.000 people who, according to a 2017 Ministry of the Interior report, are missing - most of which, young people.
Fortunately, Marco Antonio appeared alive, 5 days after his disappearance, in a municipality of a neighbouring state, in an appaling condition: badly battered, dirty, wearing different clothes from those he was wearing when he disappeared, a missing shoe, disoriented, disconnected, completely abused.
To this day, we do not know what happened to him from the moment he was thrown into the patrol car until he was located thanks to a citizen who called the authorities saying that a young man whose description fit the characteristics of the one who was being sought was in the street in front of his house.
Marco Antonio is now in hospital. He has been diagnosed with mixed delirium and has not been able to make any statement yet, as he does not even recognize his parents. He was tortured and drugged, and the indications are that by the very same policemen who took him away.
He has become a symbol of what can happen to a young man in Mexico for the simple fact of being young, an inherently risky condition that gets exacerbated when you have the misfortune to cross your path with that of those who are supposed to be responsible, on behalf of the State, for the protection of its citizens: the police.
Marco Antonio’s story also questions whether young people have any right to public space in the city, to personal freedom and to due process. During the days he was disappeared, the authorities of Mexico City remained silent. Not until his appearance did they issue a declaration, only to deny the facts and discredit the victim and his family - thus perpetuating the risk of everyone in Mexico to disappear and receive no justice.
This article is published as part of our series Which Violence in Latin America? in partnership with the University of Santiago in Chile.