A light in the underworld


By Sarah Esther Maslin—Columbia Journalism Review—November 21, 2016—

Óscar Martínez raced to the central jail. He’d just watched six of his sources get arrested. Earlier that day in June 2015, members of the 18th Street gang had shot a policeman in a nearby auto repair shop. The thirtieth officer killed that year in a bloody war between the gangs and the Salvadoran government, his death heated up the neighborhood. Police in the capital, San Salvador, started rounding up anyone who looked like a gang member.

In a bout of bad timing, Martínez’s sources had stepped off a bus just as a patrol car passed by. They fit the profile: male, young, dark-skinned, baggy-clothed. Although they came from a different part of the country, belonged to a rival gang, and had been nowhere near the auto repair shop that morning, they were cuffed and thrown in the back of a police truck.