Friday, October 12, 2012

Does the Border Patrol Require Better Supervision?

[Border fence between Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Mexico.]

The latest fiasco from the Border Patrol, the powerful federal police bureaucracy that has militarized the border region, especially in southern Arizona:

A Border Patrol agent in Nogales, Arizona, fired shots across the border into Nogales, Mexico on Wednesday night, killing a 16-year-old boy who was part of a crowd throwing rocks after Border Patrol agents disrupted smugglers who had tossed a bundle of drugs across the wall.

The Tucson and Phoenix media have the story of course, mostly based on a press release from the Border Patrol. But, per usual, they have not asked basic questions about a very troubling incident involving the Border Patrol:

1. If the Border Patrol agent felt threatened by rock-throwers who were on the other side of the international border, why did he not simply retreat away from the fence? This, after all, was a situation where it would seem that a retreat from the flying rocks, to a position where the rocks simply could not  reach, would have resolved the threat -- given that the assailants were blocked from advancing by a fortified border fence that kept them in Mexico.

2. How many shots were fired by the Border Patrol? (A Mexican newspaper report says the dead teenager had eight bullet wounds, which would fit the description of the phrase "body riddled with bullets." Other reports say that more than a dozen bullets struck a nearby building on the Mexican side).  Did more than one agent fire a gun at the crowd across the international border? How many agents fired?

3. What specific international and national laws pertain when a U.S. federal law enforcement officer opens fire across an international border, killing a citizen of a foreign country?

I don't expect that the timid daily media in Tucson and Phoenix will do much more to cogently report this developing story, given the prevailing fear of right-wing criticism that drives editorial decisions here. After all, the media must be exhausted from all that pious coverage of the Border Patrol agent who tragically (precise use of the word here) died last week near Bisbee -- after that agent had recklessly opened fire on two other agents, who returned fire in the dead of night in the desolate desert near the border. Initially, the media fully went along with speculation by the usual crowd of Phoenix statehouse loons and national right-wing crazies that that incident involved Mexican bandits, rather than Border Patrol agents who were engaged in that most inexcusable of police misadventures, death of a fellow officer by friendly fire.

This was the latest of four fatal shootings by Border Patrol agents of Mexican nationals at the border since January 2010. Two of the earlier ones also involved Mexican nationals throwing rocks from their side of the border. Here's some background on those.

Throwing rocks at a cop is always stupid and ill-advised.

Throwing rocks at anyone at all is a local crime. Shooting across a border is an international incident. Both should be pursued by the appropriate law-enforcement authorities, and the Department of Homeland security owes us a detailed explanation.

By the way, while the daily media in Arizona predictably fear to venture too far into explaining this story (their standard excuse is "we don't have the staff," which is a way of saying, "we stink because we don't make the effort not to stink"), a twice-a-week paper on the border, The Nogales International, is doing actual reporting. See this initial report in The Nogales International by Cesar Barron and Jonathan Clark. 

It quotes a Border Patrol spokesman: "Preliminary reports indicate that the agents observed the smugglers drop a narcotics load on the U.S. side of the international boundary and flee back to Mexico,” McKenzie said in an emailed statement. “Subjects at the scene then began assaulting the agents with rocks. After verbal commands from agents to cease were ignored, one agent then discharged his service firearm. One of the subjects appeared to have been hit.”

But then it goes further, describing how the rock-throwing incident began after the two alleged smugglers fled back into Mexico:

"At that point, four more males arrived on the Mexican side and began to throw rocks toward the fence in an apparent effort to help the two suspects escape. That's when an agent began firing, the witness told Barron. Some of the bullets reportedly struck the walls of a medical office behind Rodríguez. Luis Contreras Sánchez, the physician who operates the office, was quoted by the newspaper Expreso as saying the building was hit 14 times. Other news outlets put the count between five and “12 or more.”

Contreras Sánchez’s building and the sidewalk where Rodríguez's body was found are located below a point at which the border fence begins rising up a hill, and are approximately 12 feet below the base of the 25-foot fence. The fence is comprised of interconnected steel poles with 4 inches of space between them."

That's called reporting, and we need more of it on the border.


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