May 11, 2013 -- Mexico City officials confirmed on Friday a rumor that had been spreading on social media since Thursday: Malcom X's grandson, 28-year-old Malcom Shabazz, was killed after a fight in a bar.
According to Mexico City's District Attorney's office, Shabazz died in the early hours of Thursday morning in a Mexico City hospital. In a brief written statement, officials said that Shabazz had arrived at the hospital in an ambulance, which picked him up near Mexico City's famed Garibaldi Square, a party area lined by seedy clubs, where Mariachis compete to perform for local and international tourists.
The statement said that Shabazz' body had sustained "diverse lesions that seemed to come from punches" and that a witness said that he had been out drinking that night, a sign that Malcom X's grandson may have died from wounds sustained in a bar fight, or during an attempted robbery.
This news is sure to make headlines in the U.S. media, and it will probably raise questions about how safe Mexico is for tourists. But don't get swayed by the media hype. Mexico is still a pretty safe place for international tourists. Here's why:
1.Mexico has a relatively low murder rate
While Mexico's murder rate of 19 killings per 100,000 residents is about four times higher than the murder rate in the U.S. and 20 times higher than Canada's, Mexico's murder rate is significantly smaller than the murder rate of nearby Latin American destinations like Honduras, Venezuela or Guatemala, which had 39 murders per 100,000 people in 2012. Brazil, the country that will host millions of tourists for the next year's World Cup, has a murder rate that is similar to Mexico's at 21 murders per 100,00 residents.
2. Safety in Mexico is all about location
While some border cities like Ciudad Juarez and ports like Veracruz have become notorious for drug-related violence, other parts of the country that do not fall undermajor drug trafficking routes are quite peaceful. Mexico City for example, has a murder rate that is lower than that of Detroit, Chicago or New Orleans. Violent attacks against tourists are rare in small highland towns that are major tourist destinations like Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende or Oaxaca, where you will generally find dozens of backpackers peacefully -- and sometimes drunkenly -- strolling around colonial streets. This map developed by The Economist, provides a useful overview of where murders happen in Mexico.
3. Tourists in Mexico are usually not targeted by criminal groups
Several crimes against foreigners in Mexico have garnered a lot of media attention this year, including an incident in which six Spanish women were raped in Acapulco. But if you go to the stats and look at the big picture, you will find that violent crime against foreigners is not a common phenomenon in Mexico.
Each year for example, around 6 million Americans visit Mexico as tourists who arrive by plane. The worst year, security-wise, for Americans in Mexico was 2011, when 120 Americans were killed in that country, according to data gathered by the Houston Chronicle. The number of Americans killed in Mexico rose from 37 in 2007 to 120 in 2011, according to the Chronicle. That is a worrying trend. But that is still one murder for every 50,000 Americans in Mexico.
It is also worth noting that several of the Americans killed in Mexico in 2011 were actually ex-pats living in small towns in Jalisco, a state in which drug violence has become a problem over the past few years. Others were people who were visiting friends and relatives in violent border cities, like Ciudad Juarez, and were caught in the crossfire of gang violence.
But most tourist spots in Mexico are still quite safe. Even Acapulco, which recently ranked as the world's second most violent city, has a heavily guarded hotel strip where violent crime rarely occurs, as we discussed in this report. It must be said though that the nightlife in that city has quieted down over the past few years, as people feel reluctant to brave Acapulco's streets in the late hours of the night.
After seeing all this data, you will probably feel safer if you go on holidays to places like Canada, Norway, or Australia, where murder rates are even lower than in the U.S.
But Mexico still does well in safety terms in comparison to other Latin American destinations as the data above suggests, and you won't get to climb Mayan pyramids in Australia, or learn how to speak a language that is spoken by just two people.
The murder of Malcolm Shabazz should not lead to blown-up claims about anarchy or crime against "gringos" in Mexico City. As the investigation into this murder unfolds, we will also have to see if Shabazz made any mistakes that put him in harm's way.