Rocks vs. guns at the border — both deadly weapons…

June 11, 2010

Police shootings, that is when police shoot civilians, are often tricky things to figure out.

This comes to my mind as I read about the 15-year-old Mexican youth shot to death by a U.S. Border Patrol agent earlier this week. The details still seem to be somewhat unclear, but according to the accounts I read the agent was on the U.S. side of the border and the victim was on Mexican territory at the time he was shot and killed.

Now I’m not sure whether he had come across the border, but apparently some others did and there was some type of confrontation and detention of some of them and then some on the Mexican side of the border started throwing rocks at a Border Patrol agent or agents.

And I understand this, rock throwing is something that happens frequently on the border.

According to one account I read, the contention is that at one point a lone agent was surrounded and threatened by the rock throwers — yes, as I said, the details certainly seem to be unclear. I mean if the agent was on the U.S. side and the rock throwers on the other, how could he be surrounded?

But anyway, at first glance, it might seem that shooting a firearm is a disproportionate response to having a rock thrown at you, but then again, rocks are deadly, and as one spokesman said: “these weren’t pebbles”. I would also add that anyone, including a 15-year-old Mexican youth, who throws a rock at a law enforcement agent should know that he is risking death, and rightly so. Officers have a right to defend themselves. That’s one of the reasons they are armed.

Besides the death, a troubling aspect of this incident, which by the way, happened on the border between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, is that the U.S. officer apparently fired at the young man while he, the victim, was standing on Mexican territory.

I’m not sure what Border Patrol agents should do when something like this happens. They could move back a little, but really their job is to patrol the border on U.S. territory. But then again, we shouldn’t be firing bullets into another country that we are not at war with (currently).

This may be a stretch, but this incident kind of reminds me of the one several months ago in which a transit cop in the city of Oakland, Ca., shot a man he had just arrested, with some speculation that he might have mistakenly grabbed his revolver rather than his taser gun while reportedly trying to subdue the man. There are accusations that the victim was not even resisting at the time, being that he was already pinned down on the ground by the officer. That now former transit cop is currently on trial in LA for murder, due to a granted change of venue motion.

It also reminds me of an incident years ago in the area where I live in which a California Highway Patrol officer shot a man in the back outside a barroom. I mean, how does the man pose a threat if he has his back turned? But maybe there was a tussle and by the time the officer got his gun out, and amid the confusion, the man had already turned his back.

And the incident I should have already referred to was one awhile back in which two Border Patrol agents were jailed after shooting at Mexicans fleeing them back into Mexico. As I recall the agents were finally released.

Also, the unfair and ugly thing about all of this, besides the fact a young man has died, is that there are reports the victim was no saint. In fact, Border Patrol agents contend he has a criminal record, to include acting as what is called a coyote, smuggling illegals into the U.S.

But Mexicans already angry over things like the new Arizona law aimed at stepped up enforcement against illegal entry into the U.S. and what they see as an anti-Mexican attitude north of the border, are spinning the yarn that the big bad gringos just wantonly killed an innocent young kid for doing nothing more than throwing rocks.

At the least, it appears, unless there can be evidence produced to the contrary, that a Border Patrol agent was responding to a threat to his safety (and life).

What with all the drug violence in Mexico, we know that law and order has broken down completely in many parts of that nation.

We in the U.S. have our own problems in that regard as well, but fortunately our drug violence has not escalated to the extent that it challenges the government and law enforcement head on as it does in Mexico.

Now this rock throwing and shooting incident was not as far as I know a drug-related incident, but the willingness or proclivity to challenge legal authority comes out of that mentality.

It is true that if a little kid threw a rock at a policeman, even if the policeman was afraid he might be seriously hurt, he would likely not be justified, and it would even seem to defy human decency, to shoot and kill the youngster.

But the 15-year-old was not a little kid. And there is an ongoing problem of hostilities between Mexicans and U.S. authorities.

And while some in Mexico may call the incident foul play on the part of the U.S., unless clear evidence comes out that it was all unprovoked, I would tend to call it law and order, something Mexico may not comprehend with its history.