“CIUTAT MORTA” (2014): The police backroom in the window display city

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Poster of the film.

In Barcelona, between the 90s of the twentieth century and 2015, there were two sorts of bubble: real-estate (see the great films En construcción, by José Luis Guerín, and Mercado de futuros, by Mercedes Álvarez) and tourism (transformation of a city in a magnet for cheap tourism and a rich tourism which doesn’t benefit the whole of the city, but only a closed circuit of hoteliers and other private interests). In this period, Barcelona city council adopted a wildly capitalist logic, in which a very happy few got rich privatizing in their own interest public resources to the detriment of citizens. According to this logic, citizens should observe passively and peacefully the plundering of their own resources while the rents level and the cost of living rocket and tourists wander through the city as their owners.

¿What happens to the people who refuse to comply with this logic, who don’t dress as it is expected by the “normal” and dominant criteria, and decline to restrict themselves to working, paying taxes and tell tourists how to go to the places they want to photograph, the people who annoy because they hinder the good progress of this capitalist logic? Ciutat morta offers a crude, hard testimony with a particular event which destroyed or even ended the life of innocent people, and which reveals the structural corruption framework which governed the city for years, including all the spheres of power: political, judicial, and law-enforcement. From the high, elegant level of the city council and the tribunals to the sordid depths of police department’s dungeons.

¿What happens to the people who decline to restrict themselves to working, paying taxes and tell tourists how to go to the places they want to photograph?

During night of 4 February, 2006, there was a violent police charge in Barcelona center, in the neighbourhood of Sant Pere, Santa Catalina i la Rivera, in the district of Ciutat Vella. Inside an old, derelict building took place a mass party in the wee hours, extremely irritating to the neighbours. There was a confrontation between “Guàrdia Urbana” (city police) officers and some of the revellers: truncheon blows and throwing of blunt objects. At some point of the brawl, one of the officers suffered a hard impact in the head, and the blow left him in a state of coma from which he wouldn’t recover. There were immediate arrests: three South-American young men that were unlucky enough to be in the wrong place in the wrong moment -but not in the high place from where the objects were being thrown-, and a young man and a young woman who were not even in the street of the fight, but had gone to a hospital in the neighbourhood of Barceloneta, at the seaside, to be tended after falling from the bicycle they were riding that night.

The main reason for the five young people arrests was their peculiar look: strange hairstyles, piercings, big earrings. A person’s appearance shouldn’t be a motive of detention. But without any direct nor indirect evidence showing any link between these young people and the attack to the officer, the five of them were transferred to police premises, where they were brutally interrogated, beaten and tortured, as it is testified by pictures and witnesses. In an absolutely irregular trial, which included falsification of evidences, there was a denunciation against the three South-American young men and the bicycle couple, relating all of them to the attack to the police officer. A judge from the start adverse to the accused -to the point of dispensing of any appearance of the impartiality and objectivity which are expected in her profession- hastened to condemn the five defendants.

The documentary shows forcefully politicians, judge and police officers’ complicity in the forging of these accusations. It shows that the officers arrested the first people they found: the three young people wandering in the street and the couple who went to the hospital to be attended. That that night the first three of them were wildly beaten by some Guàrdia Urbana officers whom a well-informed and reliable journalist (David Fernàndez) calls violent hooligans, and who have been accused by other abuse victims (we see in the documentary images of the officers giving false testimony in a trial for one of these accusations).

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Left, the state of one of the accused, Rodrigo Lanza, after the “interrogatory” by the Barcelona Guàrdia Urbana. Right, Rodrigo Lanza, some years after the facts, giving testimony in Ciutat morta.

The five youngsters were condemned: two of the three South-Americans spent two and a half years in prison, the third, five years. The two of the bicycle were also imprisoned. When she was paroled, deeply depressed after all those unbelievable events, the young woman killed herself jumping from a high window. Only two of the four survivors accepted to participate in the documentary; the other two were too traumatized to put themselves in front of the camera.

The question that arises immediately in the spectator conscience is: how is it possible? Barcelona, the model city in fashion in the tourist circuits, which presents itself as modern and tolerant, has a group of violent cops in its underworld who enjoy the protection of political and judicial power. The second question: why did they arrest those particular young people? The third: the events of that night were an isolated accident or part of a general practice and scheme?

Barcelona, the model city in fashion in the tourist circuits, which presented itself as modern and tolerant, had a group of violent cops in its underworld who enjoyed the protection of political and judicial power.

Those young people were arrested, in addition to being in the wrong place in the wrong moment (the third first; those of the bicycle not even that) only because of their look. Barcelona Guàrdia Urbana captured and mistreated them due to the way they dressed and looked. They had no evidence or argument against them. As the forensic surgeon responsible for the case explains, the object that hit the officer couldn’t be thrown from the place occupied by the three South-American young men, at street level, because due to physic laws, the impact would have had a different angle. According to the forensic exam, the blunt object was hurled from a high location, probably from a window in the occupied theatre where the party was taking place.

Was it an isolated accident? Judging by the several denounces against the officers, we know it wasn’t. They had the habit of beating brutally the suspects (that is to say, people whom they regarded as suspects: it could be randomly anyone who was unlucky enough). Why no higher-up took action to stop these practices? No senior in the Guàrdia Urbana nor in the city council did anything about them. And they can’t say they were unaware of the case: for many time, the mother of one of the young man, accompanied by friends, stood every day in front of the town hall asking for justice.

The indescribable mayor of the time, the so-called socialist Joan Clos, declared unwisely the day after the facts that, according to the reports, the object had been thrown from a high location; afterwards he retracted and left the decision to the judge. So, Barcelona mayor looked the other way when he encountered prisoners’ relatives and friends claiming their liberation. He didn’t ask for an explanation in an irregularities-ridden case. And, as aforementioned, the judge was hostile to the defendants from the start: she accepted weak, inconsistent evidences, she ignored all the exculpatory arguments, she was clearly partial. According to the film-makers, “in that process the tried weren’t individuals, but a whole group. It was a generic enemy made up by the press and politicians of exemplary Barcelona. Barcelona, the city which had just used for the first time its ‘civility ordinance’, a hygienist law, perfect legal framework for the gentrification of some centre neighbourhoods, allocated to tourism”.

This statement contains the double key to the case. As the documentary shows, on the one hand there was a persecution of diverse outsiders, too irritating for the elegant rulers of the city; on the other hand, there was employed an aggressive strategy aimed to hollow out the city centre in order to demolish old buildings and replace them with new, luxury ones that would enrich some interest groups. It is extremely strange that a derelict theatre was allowed to be squatted: normally, squatters would have been shooed straight away. It is even stranger the city council allowed the raves without doing anything to prevent disturbances and the disgusting spectacle of drunkards lying on the pavement and shouting, a real nightmare to the neighbours. A member of the squatter movement explains the cause of this permissiveness: the people who made trouble in the theatre didn’t belong to this movement, generally characterized by  its calm and its cooperation with neighbours in organizing actions of community life. In allowing the feud between squatters and the neighbours, the city council aimed at creating a groundswell of public opinion against the squatter movement in general, in order to suppress it and expel it from the city centre.

In allowing the feud between squatters and the neighbours, the city council aimed at creating a groundswell of public opinion against the squatter movement in general, in order to suppress it and expel it from the city centre.

The unexpected event the council city stumbled into was that during that night of February 4, 2006, in the brawl, somebody hurt the officer from the theatre. And it turns out that, since the theatre is a property of the city council, if somebody committed a crime inside the building, the former would become subsidiary responsible for the facts. This explains in good measure the need to accuse people who weren’t inside the building: the awkward action of the mayor, the judge and the sadist Guàrdia Urbana officers. The documentary manages to link the three lines -persecution of anty-system outsiders, plan to expel squatters from the city centre, city council’s exculpatory tactics- and, in that manner, to explain why five innocent people served years in prison, with so deep emotional harm that one of them killed herself.

Ciutat morta manages to link the three lines: persecution of anty-system outsiders, plan to expel squatters from the city centre, city council’s exculpatory tactics.

Ciutat morta focusses in this young woman, Patricia Heras, who is portrayed from her friends’ testimony. She couldn’t overcome the emotional impact of torture and jailing. Like the other four, she spent two years waiting for the trial, trying to get money to pay a lawyer, and afterwards served three years more in prison.

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Patricia Heras, the young woman who killed herself because of the depression caused by the brutal mistreatment of Barcelona police in connivance with the city council.

No one who is reasonably aware of how things stood in Barcelona during those years can’t be extremely shocked by the revelations of this brave documentary; and even so, the amount of corruption, cynicism, and cruelty contained in the machinery and the logic of power proves to be chilling. We should thank the documentary filmmakers for having shown the hidden face of this window display where Barcelona trademark was exhibited, the obscene wings in the theatre where was staged the comedy of a city turned into pure representation.


Directors: Xavier Artigas, Xapo Ortega
Country: Catalunya
Original Language: Catalan, Spanish
Running time: 120 minutes
Trailer: https://vimeo.com/71703409
Film: https://vimeo.com/116564245

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