This article examines the role social imaginations play in legitimizing extrajudicial killings by death squads in the era of globalization. The role of popular imagining has expanded into a widespread social practice as people increasingly draw on images from all over the world via modern communication technologies. Drawing on Mary Douglas’ concept ‘matter out of place’ and Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ ‘symbolic apartheid’ we argue that to a certain extent, dehumanizing imaginations about socially excluded groups legitimize death squad killings. The article compares two case studies on death squads in the cities of Medellín, Colombia and Davao City, Philippines. We conclude that social imaginations in the era of globalization may be a driving force behind death squads in these and other major cities in the world.
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PREDA is the acronym for the People’s Recovery, Empowerment Development Assistance Foundation. The organization aims works to ‘win freedom and new life for children in jail, trafficked into brothels, living on the street, for abandoned youth, and those mired in poverty (...) helping battered women, indigenous people and protecting the environment’ (retrieved from the PREDA Web site, http://www.preda.org/intro.htm on 22 May 2008). The NGO is located in Olangapo City, the Philippines and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Price in 2001 and 2003.
Oude Breuil conducted a twin study on gang boys and girls in 1995 in collaboration with Ruben Boers. See Boers, J. L. R. (1999) Gevaarlijke jongens, Utrecht: Utrecht University (unpublished MA thesis); Oude Breuil, B. C. (1997) Girls just wanna have fun. ‘Buntogs’ in Davao City, Philippines, Utrecht: Utrecht University (unpublished MA thesis).
This does not necessarily mean the targets of the squads are powerless victims or, to stretch the argument, that the urban poor categorized as “unworthy” have no agency. Everyone is an agent in some sense, although always limited in his or her choice of behavior by structural factors. Bauman  illustrates in his book that the urban poor do resist ascribed labels and categories and rules that go with these ascriptions. This article does not however focus on potential death squad victims’ strategies of resistance. We would applaud further research on this topic.
Retrieved from The Official Web Site of Davao City, http://www.davaocity.gov.ph/about/business-leisure.htm on 10 May 2007.
Pilgrim might also be referring to the view expressed in Hedman [19:126] that the Alsa Masa strategies of armed neighborhood patrolling were supposed to be an experiment adopting the ‘low-intensity-conflict’ doctrine of the Reagan era.
Gang members often use indian panas, which are home-made catapult-like weapons that shoot rusty, pointed nails into the victim’s body at close range (fieldwork notes 1995, see also Boers 1999, see note 3).
In 2001, witnesses linked three police officers to the DDS because they were often near the execution scene. However, since no official testimony or complaint was filed, there was no official action. In 2005 the local newspaper Sunstar Davao reported that a confessed member of the Davao Death Squad was apprehended and charged with extortion. Although the report did not reveal the background of the perpetrator, it did mention that his companion was a police officer First Class. The Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines stated that the Philippine National Police is the worst abuser of human rights (in Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, 2004).
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Oude Breuil, B.C., Rozema, R. Fatal imaginations: death squads in Davao City and Medellín compared. Crime Law Soc Change 52, 405–424 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-009-9191-3
- Urban Poor
- Gang Member
- Poor Neighborhood
- Armed Group
- Street Child