Why we wear the red ribbons

Story by Emily Hoover

Red Ribbon Week. Another year of those irritating plastic red bracelets and speeches that say the same thing.

“Don’t do drugs! They destroy your brain and ruin your future!”

Most people know that already, getting the point way back in second grade. What’s not well known, until this year, was what those little red bracelets actually stand for.

Enrique “Kiki” Camarena was a Drug Enforcement Administration officer stationed in Mexico in 1985. He had been involved in the investigation and persecution of several narcotic drug cartels. On February 7, 1985, while investigating the largest gang of his career, Kiki was kidnapped. He was found March 5, 26 days later.

Kiki had been tortured to death. Drugs had been administered to keep him alive and aware during questioning, as the tortures inflicted upon him would have ordinarily shut his system down. The entire torture-murder was videotaped.

When United States officials attempted to extradite the men they believed were responsible, they met with enormous resistance. The drug cartel Kiki had threatened enjoyed great power in the Mexican government, and Mexican officials were implicated in covering up the murder. It took years to prosecute everyone the United States government suspected.

The traditional red bracelet began in California, in memoriam of Kiki’s sacrifice in the war against narcotics. The red ribbon is not a simple statement against drugs, but a sharp reminder of the violence and power drug lords possess, and the continual loss of life in a war that is never won.