Is Mexico’s reform of the criminal justice system making a difference? Attorney Roberto Hernández shares his research from inside some of the world’s most notorious criminal courts.
The first time I got arrested, I was probably 20 years old. I am now 40. I was headed home after a long day at law school, and distracted, I leaped on the wrong trolebus, one of the shambling, pale-green electric buses that still run in Mexico City. After I had paid the fee to the driver, I realized my mistake and asked for my money back. The driver refused, muttering, “I’ve already issued the ticket.” There was a long line of weary people behind me: some women with children in their arms, laborers, university workers, a few students, most indifferent to my predicament. “You could easily give the ticket to the man behind me and give me my money back,” I said. This drew only silence from the driver. It was the only coin I had. Giving it up meant a two-hour walk home. The driver shook his head. I decided to grab my money from the marimba — the wooden tray where drivers organized their cash. As I snatched my coin, the marimba crashed down, and hundreds of peso coins chimed on the metal floor. The passengers’ chatter dwindled into a bewildered silence. The man in line right behind me grabbed me by my trousers. He said he was an off-duty policeman. As he dragged me out of the bus, I held the coin high in my left hand and yelled, “This is about one coin!” Within minutes, two police cars arrived. I was put in the rear of one of them, which rolled off slowly into the red light, followed sluggishly by the empty trolleybus. From the rear window, I saw people throwing their coins at the rundown bus. Someone yelled, “Catch some real crooks!”