Where Seeing Red Means 'Cool It' Mayor Uses Shame to Soothe Murder Capital of the World

By Mary Matheson, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 14, 1995 | Go to article overview

Where Seeing Red Means 'Cool It' Mayor Uses Shame to Soothe Murder Capital of the World


Mary Matheson, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE crowd howls, police officers whistle, and then one policeman flashes a red card at a jaywalking pedestrian. Flushed with shame, the Bogotano hurries back to the sidewalk. The red cards, the latest fad initiated by Bogota's eccentric Mayor Antanas Mockus Sivickas, are an unusual way of controlling traffic and pedestrians here. They are a welcome sight to many. In the last 50 years, Bogota's population has increased 20-fold to 7 million. But the city's street system has failed to keep up. Rush hour is a bedlam of crawling cars, battered 1950's buses, and blaring horns. It is not unknown for a furious driver to shoot another for a traffic violation. But these days, drivers express their anger by waving four-by-seven-inch red cards at each other. In the country with the highest per capita murder rate in the world, Mayor Mockus is trying to encourage Bogotanos - and the police - to be less aggressive. Mayor Mockus, formerly a professor of mathematical logic and philosophy, hopes his new approach will spawn a "citizen's culture" out of a disintegrated society. "The crucial point of {a} citizen's culture is how to learn to correct others without mistreating them, or generating aggression in people," Mockus says in an interview in his office, where the red cards are given free to the public. "The cards are more gentle than a gesture or a word." Another of Mockus's offbeat programs for pedestrian control - mimes - can be seen in the congested center of town. A pedestrian running across the road will be shadowed by a mime mocking every move. "It's a pacifist counterweight," Mockus says. With neither words nor weapons, "The mimes are doubly unarmed. …

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