When Ivania Zayas Ortiz was killed in a hit-and-run accident late at night on February 8 in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, police weren’t as concerned about “whodunit” as they were with another question: Why was Ivania walking by herself late at night?
In a bumbling press conference held the following day, police lieutenant Félix Bauzó presented the facts of the case that had been collected so far and explained how police were going about the investigation.
The nagging question cops had, Bauzó said, was why Zayas had been out so late, walking alone. Nothing was mentioned about the hit-and-run driver. After a voice off-camera, presumably a journalist, sought to clarify Lieutenant Bauzó’s primary concern, Bauzó reiterated, “Honestly, we need to know what she was doing, crossing the avenue at that hour.”
It didn’t take long for Bauzó’s remarks to spark indignation and a Twitter hashtag: #andandolacallesola (#walkingthestreetalone).
The “walking the street alone” hashtag was devised by three journalists — Laura Candelas, Mari Mari Narváez, and Ana Teresa Toro — who called upon women in Puerto Rico and around the world to post photos of themselves walking alone on Twitter, Instagram, and other social media networks.
The idea, the journalists said, is to insist that women have every right to claim the same spaces as men and to not have their actions questioned when those actions aren’t directly relevant to the issue at hand. In Zayas’ case, said Candelas, who was quoted in the Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Día, “If it had been a man who was run over, neither the hour, nor the place, nor whether he was with someone would have been mentioned.”
Over Valentine’s Day weekend, more than 400 people took to the street at midnight to remember Zayas. Among them was San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who called upon police to bring charges against the 28-year old driver who killed Zayas. The driver, whose name has not yet been made public, had an expired license and more than 50 transit violations.
Mayor Yulín was among one of the first politicians to speak out about Lieutenant Bauzó’s remarks. The day after Zayas’ death, Yulín made a public statement in which she minced no words: “The expressions of the Director of the Homicide Division of the Criminal Investigation Unit of San Juan denote an attitude that is dangerous and discriminatory toward the victim for the simple fact that she was a woman.”
Mayor Yulín, who also called upon Lieutenant Bauzó to apologize to the victim’s family and recuse himself from the case, continued, “That attitude, that the victim could be responsible for her own death, clouds the investigation with a sexist lens…. What message does this send to our daughters and young women: that they have to be accompanied and only in certain places if they expect that those who are called upon to mete out justice won’t look at them as responsible for the acts that are committed against them?”
Yulín concluded her remarks by saying that she hoped the death of Zayas and the subsequent outrage directed toward Bauzó might spark a nationwide conversation about gender equality. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be likely, as Puerto Rico’s governor, the highest public official, meets today with groups who describe themselves as opponents of gender equality.
Online, at least, the pressure will continue to be applied through the #andandolacallesola hashtag. Even former governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá has gotten in on the hashtag, posting the following to his Facebook wall on February 9:
#andandolacallesola “The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no ones [sic] has ever been before” – Albert Einstein
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