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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

Photos: Vigilante Justice in Mexico’s Drug War


A photojournalist documents the self-defense groups formed in Mexico as trust in the government wanes.

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With violence in Mexico at fever pitch, more citizens are taking matters in to their own hands. In 2013, photojournalist Kirsten Luce followed a group of vigilantes in Guerrero, Mexico’s second-poorest state, which has been plagued for years by drug cartel-related violence, extortion and kidnapping. In recent years citizens, who often increasingly distrust local, state and federal authorities, have banded together to form self-defense groups.

Luce’s dramatic photos show these vigilantes patrolling the streets and arresting suspected criminals in Ayutla de los Libres, Guerrero. Citizens have even formed their own justice system, whereby they arrest and try suspects in a “people’s court” and hold them in community centers. Though many citizens reportedly feel safer since the groups took control of the region, it remains to be seen whether their efforts are sustainable.

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Citizens of Ayutla de los Libres, Guerrero, Mexico, and surrounding villages take up arms in self-defense against drug cartels and criminals who they say are threatening their safety.

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A group of men are captured and taken to a remote location to be held. Later they will be presented in a “people’s court” and publicly shamed for their involvement in certain crimes.

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Most vigilantes are farmers and businessmen from the community.

Women in the community offering food and drinks to community police members after a mission in February 2013. Most of the community support the efforts of the group.

Women in the community offering food and drinks to community police members after a mission in February 2013. Most of the community support the efforts of the group.

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Detainees are locked and guarded inside a community center in a village outside of Ayutla.