I could have gone a very long time without running across a report of a law enforcement officer containing this quote: “He said: ‘I’m the policeman of the world, and I can do what I want.’” But the rest of the story is so sad that it really breaks my heart. Or maybe it just infuriates me so much that I really can’t focus well on exactly what I’m feeling reading this:
The Border Patrol says its agents were attacked nearly 1,000 times during a one-year period along the Mexican border, typically by assailants hurling rocks, bottles and bricks. Now the agency is responding with tear gas and powerful, pepper-spray weapons, including firing into Mexico.
“The counteroffensive” from border agents, “has drawn complaints that innocent families are being caught in the crossfire.”
“A neighbor shouted, ‘Stop it! There are children living here,” said Esther Arias Medina, 41, who on Wednesday fled her Tijuana, Mexico, shanty with her 3-week-old grandson after the infant began coughing from smoke that seeped through the walls.
Witnesses in Arias’ neighborhood described eight attacks since August that involved tear gas or pepper spray, some that forced residents to evacuate.
The Border Patrol’s top official in San Diego, Mike Fisher, said his agents are taking action because Mexican authorities have been slow to respond. When an attack happens, he said, American authorities often wait hours for them to come, and help usually never arrives.
“We have been taking steps to ensure that our agents are safe,” Fisher said.
Mexico’s acting consul general in San Diego, Ricardo Pineda, has insisted that U.S. authorities stop firing onto Mexican soil. He met with Border Patrol officials last month after the agency fired tear gas into Mexico. The agency defended that counterattack, saying agents were being hit with a hail of ball bearings from slingshots in Mexico.
U.S. officials say the violence indicates that smugglers are growing more desperate as stepped-up security makes it harder to sneak across the border. The assailants try to distract agents long enough to let people dash in the United States.
The head of a union representing Border Patrol employees said the violence also results from the decision to put agents right up against the border, a departure from the early 1990s when they waited farther back to make arrests.
“When you get that close to the fence, your agents are sitting ducks,” said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council.
The United States Government, our government, is now exhibiting the arrogance of believing that it is okay to attack the rock throwers in a foreign country when all that’s needed to remain completely protected is to move back a short distance out of rock range. They throw rocks at us out of whatever frustration, and professionals that our guys are, they choose to escalate rather than defuse. But let me continue.
Agent Joseph Ralph estimates he has been struck by rocks 20 times since joining the Border Patrol in 1987, once suffering a broken a shoulder blade. “You find yourself trying to take cover,” he said.
In October, agents in California and Arizona received compressed-air guns that shoot pepper-spray canisters more than 200 feet. Agents already had less powerful pepper-launchers that lose their punch after about 30 feet — even less if absorbed by thick clothing or cardboard.
The Border Patrol says the pepper weapons are a less lethal alternative to regular guns, but they have caused at least one fatality. In October 2004, a college student died after she was struck in the eye by a pepper-spray canister that officers fired to control a celebration of the Red Sox’s pennant win.
Border Patrol SWAT teams along the 1,952-mile U.S.-Mexico border are also equipped with tear gas, “flash bombs” that emit blinding light and “sting ball” grenades that disperse hundreds of tiny rubber pellets.
U.S. officials say the new tactics may spare lives. In March, an agent shot and killed a 20-year-old Mexican man whose arm was cocked back in Calexico, Calif., where rock attacks have soared in the last year. Two years ago, an agent fatally shot a rock thrower at the San Diego-Tijuana border.
No criminal charges were filed in either case.
I guess that it would be bad enough if our police were killing our own citizens on our own soil under these circumstances. And can’t you just see someone who could rationalize “counterattacking” in this way yelling “I’m the policeman of the world.” I imagine that if one were to politely tap him on the soldier and point out the utter illegality of taking lethal police action against innocent Mexicans on their own side of the border the repercussions would be staggering.
Is there any thinking person who would not completely reject the concept, employed by those paid to do our bidding, of killing innocent people and causing an international incident rather than simply backing up 50 feet? We provoke, we kill in response to the response to our provocation, and then we fall back on the rationalization that this is our entitlement as Americans. And then we expand this to the world scene, “shock and awe” whole nations of neighborhoods, and collectively cry “we are the policemen of the world”.