Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

The Country of Gotham

Post by Brian O'Neill on Oct. 26, 2011 at 9:56 pm with 13 Comments »
October 26, 2011 9:56 pm

This is the second in a 2-part series on vigilantes.

In the shadow of buildings or under dark roadways, bodies are tossed in heaps like so much garbage. This is the gruesome landscape of a violence-plagued Mexico, a country enduring a years-old civil war waged on many fronts: Drug cartels vs. the government; drug cartel vs. drug cartel; the government vs. corrupt government officials.

But this latest discovery of stacked corpses was apparently the work of a new player on the scene. Vigilantes have entered the war.

According to a disturbing Wall Street Journal story those responsible for scores of bodies dumped in the eastern state of Veracruz call themselves “Mata Zetas.” Their name (which literally translates as “Zeta Killers”) leaves little doubt that this group’s mission statement is to rid  Veracruz of the country’s most notorious cartel. This violent new group already holds a darkly charismatic appeal for many Mexicans weary of cartel killings.

The Zeta Killers (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

In a region that has seen so much drug-related violence and police corruption it is easy to see why a vigilante group such as the Mata Zetas could exist. The statistics are staggering. The WSJ reported that approximately 43,000 people have died in cartel-related violence over the last four years alone. In addition, a Trib report chronicles the endemic corruption in Veracruz’ state police force where some 1,000 officers have been fired for failing recent polygraph exams. Weeding out the remaining rotten cops will take still more time, and the cartels will use the interim to further cement their footing.

The parallels between this homicidal wasteland and the violent, corrupt and fictional city of Gotham City are obvious.

Like Gotham’s caped vigilante, the Mata Zetas have ramped up their shadowy operations in response to the violence. The Mata Zetas, like the Dark Knight, prefer their clandestine activities to remain anonymous and protect their identities in much the same manner – with secrecy and masks. But when thugs from the Zeta cartel come in their crosshairs the Mata Zetas show none of the characteristic restraint exhibited by fictional vigilantes in Gotham, Metropolis or even Dirty Harry’s San Francisco.

This, of course, is where the fictional setting for Hollywood’s vigilantes differs from the mind-numbing reality of a Mexico caught up in a cartel plague. In Gotham, there is always the understanding that the vigilante will bring the bad guy to the justice of the courts. Occasionally the methods used are outside the parameters of professional law enforcement, but typically the only time the bad guy winds up dead is when a rival makes it so.

In Mexico, where thousands of narco-terrorists run rampant through rural and urban areas, and civilians receive haphazard protection from a sometimes corrupt government police presence, the vigilantes operate under a different creed. At the moment, at least, that creed is simply to protect Mexico from the Zeta cartel.

But what happens after that? What happens if the Mata Zetas are even mildly successful in their savage repression of one of the premiere drug cartels? Now that the vigilantes have tasted blood and the power of fear, what prevents them from keeping the masks and acting in their own interests?

When the Mata Zetas finish their vigilante mission, when their role as the iconic figure seeking justice on the national stage is complete, when the time comes for them to put down their rifles, what then?

Maybe then Mexicans will have a new name to fear.

Leave a comment Comments → 13
  1. smokey984 says:

    And we know how the rest of this story goes…Good points Brian.

  2. BlaineCGarver says:

    The Founding Fathers and their Army were no doubt vigilantes to the Ruling British. When Gubment can/will not do their duty, free men will fill the gap. Congress, take note.

  3. derekyoung says:

    Have an off-topic question for you Brian. Don’t know if you have any experience with crowd control tactics or not, but I was curious if you had any thoughts you’d like to share on the response of Oakland PD to the OWS protesters. Seemed excessive to my untrained eye, but was wondering what a professional might say about it.

    Certainly understand if its not something you care to go into but thought it was worth asking.

  4. Brian O'Neill says:


    I will be writing a column on the ongoing protests, but I won’t necessarily be addressing that topic. The real story behind those events truly depends on first hand observations, and I do not like second-guessing people without facts. I’ll try to keep an eye out for some relevant news articles or video, but I have never been involved with the civil disturbance units (CDU) that handle crowd control at these events and so have just a general understanding of tactics.

  5. smokey984 says:

    BTW a 19 minute video, so sit down with a bag of popcorn and humble yourself.

  6. Objective says:

    Look you can only push people so far. Eventually the people will get tired and upset(understatement there), they will take a stand and fight. I personally have been wondering how long the people were going to take all this, before taking a stand.
    You want to call them Vigilantes, well don’t people have the right to protect themselves? Sometimes a good defense is a good offense. If they are out to make Mexico a better place to live, my hat if off to them. At least they are doing something, maybe even more than what the American and Mexican governments are doing.
    You want to ask about the “What Ifs” if the Mata Zata take over and all that. Maybe you should ask congress and this administration about those groups in Egypt and Libya right now as current examples. Were those rebels (or whoever they are) vigilantes in Libya? I did notice with your “What If” concerns, you did not mention, What if they succeed and make Mexico a better place to live? What if, those that have been coming across to the U.S. illegally decide to turn around and go back home.

  7. serendipity says:

    How about the USA ends the senseless war on drugs, the prison industrial complex and you start focusing on real crimes: domestic violence; rapes; crimes against elders and the disabled. Oh no, you must keep the lie going that it’s drugs causing the problem when in actual fact it’s the war on drugs that began under Nixon in 1972. The Federal Prison Industries is a stock openly traded on the market for profit, Brian. Wake up and tell the truth about the business you are in. Read some history, find out how other nations deal with the problem of drug abuse and stop this childish potrayal of vigilantes and the police as our friend when rape kits go unexamined as you boys chase after drugs and ignore the plight of women and elders and the disabled.

  8. wyecoyote says:

    If memory serves me right there was a group in Columbia that went after Pablo escabar in a similar fashion. Perhaps these mata zetas are doing the same thing. Or as you point out maybe they will become the new cartel only time will tell. Also weren’t the zetas part of the Mexican military at least the leadership?

  9. Brian O'Neill says:

    Serendipity and Objective- Thanks for your well thought out comments.

    I agree that the so-called war on drugs is a model that seems to have more drawbacks than advantages. However, please do not fall prey to the notion that cops have a say when it comes to the laws we choose to enforce. Selective enforcement would be an utter abuse of the arrest powers granted by the government and the people. Instead, we need to look to our elected officials to make the changes- and as we know, that is a can of worms.

    I will say, however, that enforcement of particular crimes typically follows societal trends. For example, when I first hit the streets in 1989 the average agency’s narcotics units were large and well-funded, at least compared to the present time. In fact, I believe I could make the case that the focus has moved away from drug enforcement as the purpose of such units, and instead, drug enforcement has become a means to an end. That new goal is to arrest and incarcerate violent offenders, such as gang members and organized crime thugs. Drug courts, with sentences involving treatment rather than prison, have taken root and expanded. In contrast, attention to violent crime, especially related to domestic violence, has gained more police attention during my tenure.

    But perhaps that’s a topic for another day.

  10. Brian O'Neill says:

    wyecoyote- I don’t have the specifics about the Columbian incident, but I believe you are correct. In fact, I believe that vigilante group was referenced in the WSJ article that I linked in my column. The concerns I expressed about the future of the Mata Zetas is directly tied to that Columbian group, which now has morphed into an organized crime syndicate.

    And yes, the Zetas do have some origins in the Mexican military, much like the Russian mob has direct ties to the former KGB. Power is a dangerous thing.

  11. Objective says:

    It sounds like the Mata Zetas had enough. Getting robbed, beatup killed and so on by one organization. Then if the government refuses, or is incapable of helping out in stopping the violence. People will do something to protect themselves and their families with or without government approval. Especially when the U.S. and other governments are shipping weapons through their “Fast and Furious” programs to the local cartels and other criminals in Mexico.

    I would be willing to bet, most in here including yourself Mr. O’neil if in that situation. Would take a stand as the Mata Zetas. Then of course I would like to add, Would you fight fair or fight to win?

  12. derekyoung says:

    Thanks Brian, I’ll check it out.

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