A fallen cadet

November 30, 2012

Bogota, Colombia

By Jose Miguel Gomez

When a television journalist called to her cameraman to come running, I thought it was just to get a better angle of some VIP arriving to celebrate the 121st anniversary of the National Police, and the new graduating class of the academy. I’m farsighted and didn’t have my glasses on, but I did have a 400mm lens on the camera.

A few more moments went by and I still didn’t catch what the fuss was about, and the only colleague near me was busy shooting. That was when I spotted the cadet on the ground, apparently fainted in the middle of the ceremony, and I instinctively began photographing. Help was so slow in arriving that I was able to shoot from different angles this curious scene of a policewoman lying unconscious, face down on the ground in her best uniform. It was at least five minutes before a couple of police officers finally carried her away.

In the meantime the ceremony continued with the presence of the presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica and Honduras, whom I assumed were asking themselves the same thing I was – why did it take so long amidst a formal ceremony to help this girl?

Her companions could only observe her out of the corner of their eyes, and their faces showed anguish when nobody rushed to help.

I wondered how many hours the cadet had been waiting on her feet for the ceremony to begin, and what her fellow cadets were thinking that kept them from rushing to her aid. Maybe they would have been punished for breaking protocol, or even expelled from the academy.

Days later I heard that the fallen cadet wanted to quit the force, pero the generals didn’t accept her resignation. She considered herself a victim and expected others to side with her protest, even though this kind of thing happens everywhere. After what was otherwise a very boring ceremony, a striking photo of her on the ground in a forest of legs fronted the next day’s national newspapers, ready to provoke either jokes or compassion in a country immersed in its own war for several decades.

This cadet will never forget her collapse, nor will I ever forget my farsightedness, although I had enough time to take the right photos.

At the end of the ceremony an officer told us not to send the photo, but of course we did. Maybe there was a reason to be ashamed of the events because the ceremony was tainted by a cadet who fell asleep for five minutes on the grass during the 121st anniversary of Colombia’s embattled police force.

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