Hung Jury

It seems impossible to travel on the streets of El Alto without coming across hanging dolls. Whether in the main avenues or the more secluded and quiet neighborhood streets, the figures are testament to a peculiarity that distinguishes the Aymara city.  Some display posters (“Death to thieves,” for example), but most of the dolls made and hung by the residents simply have their heads turned sideways, simulating death by beheading. Other are covered in red paint symbolizing bloody, signifying punishment and death. “The hanging dolls mean that here is a house that has been robbed.”n1 But at the same time they deliver a warning to thieves, saying:

The people who live on these streets have come together and have decided that when they catch a thief they are going to kill him.” In short, the neighbors are organized, they have their own system of vigilance, like their warning whistles to summon people to defend the distinct or any affected family. The hanging doll symbolizes the local self-defense organization. In some cases, when residents catch thieves in the act or identify culprits, they have killed them. Some people speak of up to 900 such deaths per years in the city of El Alto, though surely that figure is exaggerated.

The existence of thousands of ominous hanging dolls is a symptom of a powerful territorially based local organization and it seems clear that this form of collective self-defense “is based on communal justice.”n2 Or, to put it differently, it is one more urban manifestation of Aymara society, albeit somewhat different – because while community justice seeks, as we shall se, to reintegrate the criminal back into the community, in El Alto they seek to identify the culprit in order to eliminate him. (90)

-Raúl Zibechi, Dispersing Power Social Movements as Anti-State Forces

–it’s later noted that “State justice” in El Alto is quite corrupt.  And people no more than a generation or two from rural life have a strong memory of a life without state protection, so they look for forms of justice that allow community-control that actively wards off “State justice.”

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