special update

Special reports:
Some people like to go out dancing; And other people, like us, we gotta work
Scenes from the Chinese New Year celebration at ATLAPA

American youth shot by Carnival rent-a-cop

A side of Carnival violence that the government-aligned mainstream media don't find "newsworthy"
15-year-old American youth shot by security guard
by Eric Jackson

The established script that forms the mainstream media framework into which Carnival violence is reported here is about vicious street gangs from the most dangerous slum neighborhoods looking for trouble and ever vigilant cops taking extraordinary measures to thwart the public enemies' evil intentions. To the extent that a few people get shot or stabbed to death during Carnival anyway, it's a matter of little gangsters being clever or the armed guardians of civilization being unable to be everywhere at once.

But there's another story line about the effort to maintain order during Carnival in Panama City. It's a tale of decisions taken without consulting the public, and particularly not the people in the neighborhoods most affected, mainly on the basis of political patronage; of bright ideas like charging a quarter to use the toilets and men urinating on any convenient wall or shrub to save two bits; of the streets by which the public comes and goes not being fenced as promised to keep gardens from being trampled; of cops and security guards not letting people come and go from their homes in the affected area and the Torrijos administration blaming it on a broken-down printing machine that kept it from printing the promised passes. Some of this latter story made its way into the mainstream media, particularly those not aligned with the PRD.

But just how extreme the police state atmosphere that was Carnival under the Torrijos administration became was not, however, considered newsworthy. No doubt there are editors and publishers out there who would consider it an unpatriotic attack on the national tourism industry to report how bad it really became.

Jonathan Adam Norcross, age 15, lives in the Oceania Tower, on a hill overlooking one of the main entrances to the Carnival site on the Transistmica, with his parents. Private security guards from the Central American Security Agency, owned by one Eric Ardilla, were put in charge of limiting access to the neighborhood. At about 11 p.m. on Carnival Tuesday he was in a car with several friends, headed toward his family's apartment. The rent-a-cops refused to let the car pass, saying that they had a list of area residents and there was no Norcross on it.

Jonathan asked the guards to call the security at his building, and was told that the apartment where he said his family lives does not exist. As it became clear that his friends and their car wouldn't be allowed to pass, he got out of the vehicle and walked past the guards in the direction of his home.

At this point one of the security guards whipped out his pistol and shot Norcross in the back of his left leg, with the bullet smashing its way into his knee from behind.

When the cops came, the Central American Security Agency claimed that Norcross was armed, which he, his parents and his friends who were at the scene all denied. No weapon was produced.

Norcross, accompanied by his father and was taken to the emergency room at Santo Tomas Hospital. Later, his friends went to file a criminal complaint against the security guards.

One of those friends, 19-year-old Dannett Sánchez, maintained in her sworn statement to prosecutors that Norcross didn't speak Spanish and while one security guard told him in Spanish that he couldn't walk up to his home, the other, one Nicanor Virrueta Zurdo, shot Norcross. "My friend didn't have any sort of weapon, wasn't drinking liquor, nor were any of us [his friends in the car.]"

According to Jonathan's father, Tom Norcross, the two security guards involved in the altercation with his son have been charged with assault by prosecutors.

At the emergency room the doctors were unable to extract the bullet from Jonathan Norcross's leg and scheduled him for further surgery. He was placed in a ward with an armed guard.

Santo Tomas reputedly has the best and most experienced trauma specialists in Panama and Tom Norcross has no complaints about the doctors' care. However, he and his family have learned something about the nightmarish conditions that prevail in this public hospital --- no blankets, no pillows, so their son was lying on a hospital bed covered with a plastic tarp; infrequent housekeeping and nursing services, so their son was left on sheets covered with blood that had seeped through his bandages and stains from an improperly maintained IV that was dripping the fluid that was supposed to go into his veins onto the bed; no pain medication available. Tom Norcross called the quality of nursing services at Santo Tomas "appalling."

The elder Norcross, who protested to the Consular Section of the American Embassy here, saves his most stern criticism for the Central American Security Agency. A former police officer in San Luis Obispo, California who works as a consultant here, he told The Panama News in an exchange of emails that "it is a real concern that armed guards are allowed to operate under the license of companies that are only concerned about their profit and not the safety and well-being of their clients and the law abiding public." In particular, he criticized the security guard agency for putting "these ill-trained and poorly equipped 'little' people who desperately need work" into situations that can lead to armed confrontations.

Sociologist Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo puts Carnival violence into a broader context. "The 2008 Carnival was put on with the disorder and chaos that everyone predicted. In Panama City, the disorder had as its backdrop the $4 million that went from the national treasury to subsidize the organizing committee's account." He compared this with celebrations in most of the rest of the country, where local committees --- the Calle Arriba and Calle Abajo organizations --- plan and put on the festivities with fewer problems and many local governments count upon Carnival income for much of their annual budgets. In the capital, by contrast, Gandásegui said that "they really don't celebrate the Festival of Rey Momo. The government organizes a spectacle with music, fireworks and police state controls."

Special reports:

Some people like to go out dancing; And other people, like us, we gotta work
Scenes from the Chinese New Year celebration at ATLAPA
American youth shot by Carnival rent-a-cop

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