More on "Secuestro Express"


In my previous post I wondered why almost no one copies Mexico City's signature crime, the "express kidnapping," in the U.S. and in big and chaotic cities like Cairo. Via Reihan and a worried Matt Yglesias, Noel Maurer explains:

[M]y uncle Brent is a cop in Baltimore. So I asked him why it doesn't happen. His answer was fairly obvious: express kidnappings are not medium-risk in the United States. They are superlatively high-risk, in terms of being caught. An express kidnapper needs accomplices, needs to travel with a victim in tow, needs to visit public spaces that are often under electronic surveillance, and leaves a very exact trail showing where they went and when. If they don't want to commit murder, they also usually leave behind an eyewitness who has spent enough time with them for a positive ID. You'd have to be nuts to try it anywhere in the United States outside New Orleans. People do, of course, but they get caught, so it doesn't catch on.

In Mexico City, by contrast, the cops lack resources, respond sluggishly, and at times are in cahoots with criminals themselves. An express kidnapper's chances of getting caught are attractively low.

Maurer ends by noting the real mystery, which is why a city like Cairo, with an equally beleaguered police force, doesn't suffer from secuestros express, seemingly ever. I don't have any answer to his query, but would just point out that all the violence I saw or was warned about in Cairo involved politics and terrorism. Those incidents were few, and all the ones I witnessed personally happened at political protests. No one even bothered warning me about financially motivated petty crime, because it almost never occurred.

These differences meant having different preparedness stances for the possibility of violence in each city. If a random man approached me with a gun in Mexico City, I would expect to have to pass tense hours with a gun in my ribs and, if all went well, lose a large pile of cash but live to spend again. If the same man approached me in Tahrir Square, I would expect to be shot. These are very different types of worry, and if I have to live with one, my preference is for the latter.

UPDATE: Noel weighs in in the comments.

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Graeme Wood is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His personal site is

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