Articles

Using Google Street View to Counter Mexico’s Police Violence

by Ben Valentine on May 21, 2014

Image from Alberto Rodríguez's, "100 mts," 2014.

Image from Alberto Rodríguez’s “100 mts” (2014) (all images via 100mts.tumblr.com)

The Google Street View photos of Mexican police and army forces gathered on “100 mts” are raw and menacing. The images conjure up many questions: Is this a war scene? Has a serious crime taken place? Is this due to a drug czar, or is it just an everyday shakedown? The submachine guns see in these pictures have become commonplace at Mexican roadblocks and border towns, some of the more dangerous front lines of the “war on drugs.”

Alberto Rodríguez, the artist behind “100 mts,” is a documentary photographer based in Mexico City. His online statement for the project hit on such powerful feelings of fear, helplessness, and resistance, I knew I wanted to know more. I reached out to him via email.

Image that inspired the name behind Alberto Rodríguez's, "100 mts," 2014.

Image that inspired the name of Alberto Rodríguez’s “100 mts”

“I’m interested in documentary photography because I truly believe in the power of images to change things,” Rodriguez wrote, when asked why he started the project. He continued:

As I explain in the project statement I have had many bad experiences with Mexican authorities, but I think the first one might be the most important, not the worst but that’s when everything started. It was almost 10 years ago. I went to the beach with some friends to spend some days having a good time. The first night I was there I was arrested supposedly because I was trying to pee on the beach, but in fact I was looking for my lost wallet.

They didn’t catch me doing anything wrong. It was their word against mine. I was young and naive, and in that moment I believed Mexican justice was honest; I suddenly discovered how stupid I was. They handcuffed me for more than 18 hours for a crime that didn’t exist and asked me for money. They didn’t give me any water or food. I was underage according to Mexican laws, but they didn’t care, and they set me free after paying around 50 dollars and one of the worst days of my life.

Screen shot of Alberto Rodríguez's, "100 mts," 2014.

Screen shot of Alberto Rodríguez’s “100 mts” (2014)

Rodriguez says his experiences aren’t unique. “I’m aware that thousands of people feel the same way I do, full of fear and frustration and in a country where justice doesn’t exist. It was very important for me to do something about it in my own way.”

“100 mts” also offers a window onto daily life in Mexico, which is hugely important for a country where it’s so dangerous to be a journalist. In 2012 the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that “Mexico is the eighth worst nation in combating deadly anti-press violence.” Furthermore, CPJ found that “More journalists have gone missing in Mexico than in any other country in the world.”

Interestingly, while many of us debate the merits of powerful and ubiquitous services such as Google, Rodriguez found that Street View offers a privileged view of the Mexican police forces. “I use Google as a tool to watch the watchers. I’m using this sort of inverse surveillance — the power of Google to fight the power of abuse employed by Mexican government.” The images are a moving and refreshingly different look through the eyes of Google Street View, which has been popularized in lighter ways by the likes of Jon Rafman and Clement Valla. Undoubtedly artists will continue to interrogate the role Google plays in our lives for some time, hopefully with as compelling results as “100 mts.”

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