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Violent demonstrations sweep Bogota after death of man detained by police

A demonstrator kicks a police officer during protests in Bogota on Sept. 9. (Ivan Valencia/AP)

At least seven people died and hundreds were injured amid violent demonstrations in Colombia on Wednesday after the death of a man who police had shocked repeatedly with a stun gun, during a dispute about social distancing.

Javier Humberto Ordóñez, 46, a father of two, had been drinking on a Bogotá street early Wednesday when officers approached him for breaking covid-19 measures, police told Reuters.

In a video shared on social media, two officers can be seen forcing Ordóñez to the ground and shocking him. He and several bystanders repeatedly ask the police officers to stop. “Please, no more,” Ordóñez says.

Police arrested Ordóñez and took him to a police station. Friends quoted by Colombian news outlets said he was already unresponsive. He was later moved to a hospital, where he died.

The footage of Ordóñez’s arrest was shared widely online, often under the hashtag #ColombianLivesMatter. Many people compared his death to that of George Floyd, a Black man in a United States city who died after an arrest by White police officers in May, setting off a global wave of racial-justice protests.

Crowds gathered in Engativa, the neighborhood where Ordóñez was arrested, and surrounded the small police station where he had been held. Protesters in Bogotá set fire to police stations and vehicles over the course of Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, and crowds also gathered in other cities.

Police confirmed Thursday that at least one minor was among those who died during the violence. The mayor’s office said that 248 civilians were injured. Bogotá Mayor Claudia Lopez said that there had been at least 58 cases of injuries caused by firearms and that in some cases police officers appeared to have used guns “indiscriminately."

Local and national officials condemned the behavior of the arresting officers but appealed for calm.

“My condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed or injured,” Lopez said in a video shared on social media. “Destroying Bogotá will not fix the police.”

“The national government rejects what happened to Javier Ordóñez. As Colombians we also express our solidarity with his family, and we join the pain of thousands of Colombians,” Daniel Palacios, a vice minister in the Interior Ministry, said at a news briefing.

Authorities pledged to investigate the death of Ordóñez but announced that more than 1,500 additional officers, along with 300 soldiers, would be deployed throughout Bogotá to prevent further rioting and property damage.

Police violence has been the subject of protests in Colombia before. Last year, teenage protester Dilan Cruz died after being hit by a projectile during an anti-government protest in Bogotá.

Colombia has been hit hard by the novel coronavirus, with more than 680,000 confirmed cases and 22,000 covid-19 deaths so far. The country imposed a strict lockdown in March and kept those measures in place longer than most other nations, amid a period of economic and social hardship for many Colombians.

Ana Vanessa Herrero in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.