On April 9, two Afro-Colombian young men were gunned down in the south Bogotá locality of Ciudad Bolívar while a nationwide march calling for peace was underway. Their assailants yelled “niches” and proceeded to shoot several rounds. Niches is a term for black people that can have a derogatory connotation depending on the way that it is used. Edward Samir Murillo Ramírez was shot six times and died on the scene. Daniel Andrés Perlaza Hurtado also received multiple bullet-wounds, from which he later died at the hospital. Witnesses to the attack heard one of the assailants declare: “We have to finish off these negros!“
In response to these recent killings, civil society leaders organized a protest on April 16 in front of the Bogota City Hall. Over 500 people gathered to demand that the police and city administrators give due attention to the violent acts being committed against the city’s black population. Through a megaphone, one of the protesters exclaimed “Black people are killed, and there are no police sketches; No rewards offered; No press releases, and the police remain silent.”
After seven hours of demonstrations, which blocked traffic in busy intersections in the nation’s capital, protest leaders met with Gloria Flórez, the Bogota city government secretary and the highest-ranking official to address the protesters, and other district officials. Flórez stated that “according to the police, there are far right-wing groups behind the persecution of the Afrodescendant population, and especially young Afrodescendants.”
These hate crimes primarily target Afro-Colombians who, due to the internal armed conflict, have sought refuge in peripheral neighborhoods in the cities of Bogota and Soacha, where their plight remains mostly invisible to the majority of the city’s inhabitants. Both Edward Samir and Daniel Andrés were members of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) who participated in the organization’s cultural dance group. They are now among the 14 young Afro-Colombians who have been murdered throughout the city so far this year. Rumors of a list of at least 40 more targets for future killings continue to sow fear among the city’s black communities.
Approximately three out of every ten internally displaced persons are Afro-Colombian, a community that represents 10.62% of the population according to the most recent census. Just as this community has been disproportionately affected by the armed conflict, they are now re-victimized through these violent acts that reveal intolerance and xenophobia in Bogota.
Several agreements were reached after the protests, which include the implementation of a mass-media campaign to combat racism and xenophobia and the creation of a working group to develop a plan of action to prevent hate crimes against black communities. However, it remains to be seen whether the current administration will move to honor these agreements. With local elections approaching in October of this year, attention will likely shift away from these communities. Continued implementation by a new mayoral administration is also uncertain.
Meanwhile, Afro-Colombians in Bogota will remain vigilant. These communities have demonstrated that they will not stand by as these violent attacks continue and will once again take to the streets if necessary. Before the protests, not a single article had been published by a major Colombian news outlet about the violent attacks these communities have been enduring. Perhaps this recent attention from the press will help foster solidarity among the city’s inhabitants and increase pressure on police and city officials to protect the lives of the citizens who have fled from violence elsewhere in the country and are now having to re-live the same nightmare.
The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) will monitor implementation of agreements made with the authorities. We urge Colombia to condemn these killings, provide effective protection for displaced youths at risk and to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the killings.