On August 13, 2012, families who have lost loved ones in recent years to violence and kidnapping in Mexico came to La Placita Church in downtown Los Angeles. Led by Mexican poet, Javier Sicilia, and the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, the "Caravan for Peace" is traveling across the U.S. to raise awareness about the human costs of the U.S. led Drug War.
Mexican poet, Javier Sicilia, speaks to the press on August 13, 2012 while surrounded by members of the "Caravan for Peace." Since the murder of his 24 year-old son, Juan Francisco Sicilia Ortega, last year, Sicilia has become the leader of a movement calling for the end of the U.S. sponsored Drug War. The Caravan for Peace is traveling across the U.S. to Washington D.C. during August and September to raise awareness about the human costs of the violence and crime affecting the U.S. and Mexico.
Mexican poet, Javier Sicilia, shakes hands with a supporter after a press conference on August 13, 2012. Since the murder of his 24 year-old son, Juan Francisco Sicilia Ortega, last year, Sicilia has become the leader of a movement calling for the end of the U.S. sponsored Drug War. For the next month, he is leading a "Caravan for Peace" across the U.S. to Washington D.C. to raise awareness about the human costs of the violence and crime affecting the U.S. and Mexico.
Maribel Asención Gonzalez, holds a photo of her brother, Andres Asención Gonzalez - a U.S. resident who has not been seen since March 27, 2011, when he was kidnapped near the Texas-Mexico Border. She says neither the Mexican, nor the United States governments have done anything to help find out what happened to him.
The rally was a swarm of dates like "April 13, 2011" and "September 22, 2010 in Veracruz." Those were signs held up by family members of the dead and missing in Mexico's drug violence.
On Monday, the Caravan for Peace, calling for an end to the war on drugs, docked in downtown L.A. The event was part of a month-long tour of the U.S. by Mexican peace activist Javier Sicilia. Sicilia hopes to draw attention to the drug violence that's been felt heavily in Mexico, but not so much in the U.S. — at least not yet.
Between 2006 and Sept. 2011, the U.S. State Department estimates 47,515 people were killed in Mexico. During the same period, the Mexican Human Rights Commission estimated about 5,400 people went missing.
Sicilia paraphrased the famous poem about the Nazis, saying, "they came for the Colombians and I didn't say anything because I wasn't Colombian, and then the Mexicans, but I wasn't Mexican." When the violence hits the U.S., he said, no one will be left to protest.
Maribel Asencion Gonzales and her sister, Viviana Asencion, wore matching t-shirts bearing the face of their brother, Andres Acension Gonzales. He's been missing for the last year and a half.
Gonzales was driving in Mexico with some friends and talking on the phone to his mom, when he was apparently pulled over by a group of men and asked for money. Maribel Gonzales said the last thing her mother heard was her son yelling, "hurry, hurry!" to his friend before the line went dead.
No one has heard from Andres since. The sisters and their mother have travelled to Laredo, Texas, where Andres, a U.S. citizen, lived, as well as across the border, knocking on doors and doing their own investigation. They haven't turned up any clues as to where Andres might be.
"My mother is living dead," Maribel Gonzales said. "Our lives stopped."
Gonzales hopes to make it to the caravan's last stop, in Washington D.C., where she hopes to tell President Barack Obama about her brother.
"I just want to open their hearts and take a little pain from here and give it to them," she said.
Dulce Angelyne Rodriguez said her brother, who suffers from schizophrenia and had been in the U.S. since he was three months old, was deported to Mexico last year. He's since disappeared.
She said the man at the taco stand where he was last seen told her Jonathan Rodriguez Vasquez said he was going to wait right where he was for his sister to come get him. And she did try to, but by that time he was already missing.
"He knew I would come for him," Rodriguez said. "I missed him by one day. One day. Do you know how that feels?"
Stephen Downing, a former LAPD deputy chief, said those kinds of stories really got to him. "And being a police officer, I've seen a lot," he said.
Downing is now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibilition, a group that wants to legalize and regulate drugs.
Downing said he was working narcotics when President Richard Nixon first declared a war on drugs to fight addiction and reduce the drug supply.
"We've done neither," he said. "And then when you're no longer in a position, as a police executive, to defend the status quo, you look back at what you've done and say, 'it's not working.'"
All we've gotten from the effort, he said, is stronger cartels and more people lost to violence.