by Karma R. Chávez
Nestora Salgado is an indigenous Mexican woman, a US citizen, and currently a political prisoner in Mexico. Two weeks ago marked the 2-year anniversary of her incarceration, and US-based activists joined Mexican counterparts by staging protests at Mexican consulates around the United States to urge Secretary of State John Kerry to demand the Mexican government release her. She is, after all, a US citizen. Thus far, activist cries have fallen on uninterested ears and for the time being, Salgado remains behind bars. Salgado’s situation as an outspoken female activist severely punished for calling attention to state violence and corruption should be a sobering warning to those of us interested in supporting the efforts of the Young Gifted and Black Coalition.
As the Coalition reported in a recent press release and insisted at a protest last week, over the last several weeks, outspoken YGB member Brandi Grayson has been isolated and targeted in a variety of ways by Madison Police. Unsurprisingly, MPD’s own outspoken mouthpiece, Chief Mike Koval has called the accusations bogus. But if we use Nestora Salgado’s case as one example (among many), we see that law enforcement regularly isolates and targets leaders for the sake of squashing the movements they represent.
Salgado and Grayson share many similarities that cannot fully be unpacked here—both had children very young and take their roles as mothers very seriously, both made incredible personal sacrifices for the sake of their children, and both were called to be outspoken proponents of social justice when the injustices in front of them were too strong to bear, no matter the consequences they would face.
According to The Guardian, Salgado left Mexico as a teenager to build a life in the United States. She eventually sent for her children. After naturalizing as a US citizen, leaving an abusive husband, and increasingly realizing the turmoil in her home country due to the US-backed drug war, she decided to take her daughters back to Mexico so they would appreciate their opportunities in the United States. She remained there, and in 2012 after yet another kidnapping and killing in her hometown of Olinalá, Guerrero, she led a rebellion.
Like many other vigilante groups across Mexico fighting both state and drug cartel corruption, the people in Olinalá disarmed the police and took security into their own hands. They created a community police force and a people’s court. Reports differ on Salgado’s approach to leading the rebellion, but what is clear is that as she worked to disentangle local government and organized crime, she earned many enemies, and on August 21, 2013, she was arrested and accused of kidnapping—an accusation her supporters say is patently false.
Reports allege Salgado’s abuse in jail, and in the spring, she staged a hunger strike in order to demand her own release. She was moved to a medical facility. Her case continues to wind its way through the Mexican court system and neither the US or Mexican governments have responded to international pressure to release her. Moreover, more than 40 activists and community police members in Olinalá have also been detained by government forces since her capture.
Some might be inclined to distance the Mexican case from the US. But one does not even need to look historically to the many black power activists either killed or incarcerated during the black liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s to know why distancing is not an appropriate response. The Intercept offers a more recent example, noting that the Department of Homeland Security and undercover police officers have been monitoring Black Lives Matter activists around the country. The FBI used COINTELPRO to monitor and eventually destroy black organizing in the 60s and 70s. Are we really convinced that similar tactics aren’t being used today?
From Nestora Salgado to Sandra Bland to Brandi Grayson, women of color leaders are among those most targeted for challenging state violence. I believe it is important for Madison to stand up with Brandi and to refuse to let her be sacrificed to repressive state forces.