LOS ANGELES – Rafael Trujillo Herrera, 35, held up a sign showing the faces of four of his younger brothers.
They didn’t join Herrera in front of Los Angeles City Hall Tuesday to campaign against drug war violence because they disappeared in the Mexican state of Colima— two of them in 2008, and the other two in 2010.
Herrera, who is from Michoacán, Mexico, said his brothers were innocent victims of the U.S.-Mexico drug war.
In the past six years, more than 55,000 have been killed.
Some 140,000 people have been displaced by drug cartel violence since 2007, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, and Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has documented over 5,000 disappearances.
We come to sow a seed of consciousness in the minds of U.S. people and government officials.
- Rafael Trujillo Herrera of the Caravan for Peace
Mexico’s bloodshed brought Herrera to the other side of the border to travel for a month on a trans-national journey with the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, an organization of U.S. and Mexican activists stopping in more than 20 U.S. cities to promote a bi-national dialogue on drug war violence and the policies of both countries that activists say fuel this violence.
“We come to sow a seed of consciousness in the minds of U.S. people and government officials,” Herrera said in Spanish. “Unfortunately, we have seen that the United States has supplied the firearms, and we (Mexico) get the casualties, the bloodshed, and those who have disappeared.”
About 69 percent of guns recovered in Mexico from 2007 to 2011 were U.S.-manufactured, according to an April 2012 report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
But the violence from the drug war affects those on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
At one of the Caravan’s Los Angeles stops at La Placita Olvera, a Mexican marketplace, 16-year-old Jorge Moreno of Los Angeles held a picture of his uncle as he listened to stories of others who lost family members to the drug war.
Moreno said his uncle, Mauricio Aguilar, went missing two years ago in Mexico.
And drug traffickers make victims of people across all social classes, said 55-year-old Pietro Ameglio of Morelos, Mexico, who is a professor and an activist with the peace movement.
“I like to ask taxi drivers, people on the street—everyone could tell a story of someone who’s disappeared, who’s been extorted, displaced, or someone who has died,” Ameglio said in Spanish.
Irene McPhail, 71, a retired psychotherapist from Berkeley, CA, who now calls herself an “activista,” made her way to Los Angeles Tuesday to support the peace movement.
McPhail said her daughter, who is married to a Mexican national, lives in the Mexican state of Morelos. “We are shocked at what’s happening. We’ve experienced it personally,” McPhail said.
She recalled when she visited two years ago there were tanks on the streets, and authorities weren’t allowing people in some areas because of a murder. “When I read of a gruesome killing…[my daughter] said, ‘Mom, we live with it everyday.’”
Along with peaceful bi-national dialogues, members of the Caravan for Peace are calling for U.S. and Mexican leaders to take concrete steps to effect a change.
In an online petition to President Barack Obama, the organization proposes that the United States prohibit gun imports into the U.S. because many assault weapons are then smuggled into Mexico. More than 43,000 people have signed the petition.
The group also asks the United States to increase regulation of gun sales and to devote more resources to prevent gun smuggling. The ATF does not publish the names of U.S. gun dealers whose weapons are traced to Mexican crimes scenes, but records obtained by the Denver Post in 2010 found that guns bought in stores along the border were the most likely to wind up in the hands of criminals in Mexico.
The investigation showed hundreds of guns that ended up in Mexico were bought in four stores just 10 miles north of Reynosa, Mexico.
About 68,000 guns recovered in Mexico were traced to the United States over the past five years, according to the ATF.
Other activist organizations would like to see drugs in the U.S. strictly regulated instead of being illegal.
“Our national policies have made our children’s safety at more risk than if we had a more appropriately regulated drug market, if we treated heroine and cocaine and methamphetamine addiction as a public health issue, and then if someone commits a crime, then we deal with that crime,” said Diane Goldstein, a former lieutenant of the Redondo Beach Police Department in Southern California.
Goldstein was born in Mexico City and is also a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization traveling with the Caravan. She had a brother who died of an accidental overdose, and said she can relate to family members of those affected by drug violence.
“It’s so important for our country to see the face of pain,” Goldstein said, “to see what our policy does.”
The Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity was started by Mexican poet Javier Sicilia after his son and six of his friends became innocent victims of drug war violence. Their beaten and asphyxiated bodies were found in a car along a highway in the state of Morelos in March 2011.
Raquel Estupinan is a freelance journalist who recently received her master's degree from the University of Southern California. She is formerly a fellow for News 21, a national reporting initiative.