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Redford update

Legal Summit of October 25, 1997
Kevin B. Zeese, President, Common Sense for Drug Policy

This is a report on a meeting held between town residents and attorneys concerning the legal rights of people who live in Redford, Texas regarding the use of the military in their community. The memorandum does not review legal strategies being considered by the town, rather it is intended to provide background information about the impact the fatal shooting of a high school student by a U.S. Marine has had on the residents of Redford.

Shortly after the death of Esequiel Hernandez on May 20, 1997 Maria Jimenez of the American Friends Service Committee, Immigration Law Enforcement Monitoring Program, Suzan Kern of the Border Rights Project and I met with town representatives in El Paso. They indicated they wanted to take legal action to demilitarize their community and seek justice for Esequiel (who many called Junior because he was the standard bearer of his father's name). We agreed that legal options for the town should be discussed and considered. A legal summit was planned for October 25. Prior to that meeting a group of attorneys met privately with Maria and me at the Drug Policy Foundation conference in New Orleans to prepare for the legal summit.

Lawyers who participated in the Redford meeting included: Dan Abrahamson of the Lindesmith Center, Steve Bunch of the Drug Policy Foundation of New Mexico and me, as well as Maria, who while not an attorney is experienced in border rights litigation. (Human rights abuses on the border are commonplace. Human Rights Watch has issued three reports in recent years documenting abuses by the Border Patrol.) Approximately 30 people from the town including several members of Esequiel's family were present.

Before the meeting Father Mel LaFollette took us to the site of the shooting. The site of the shooting was a powerful spot. Standing where Junior was killed you could see where he was born, the church he was laid out in and the cemetery where he is buried. It is surrounded by the mountains of Big Bend Ranch State Park and mountains in Mexico, with the Rio Grande in between. Two deserted buildings, barracks from the last time the town was occupied (as Father LaFollette described it) by the military during the Mexican-American war, stand where the shooting occurred. Looking at the scene there is no way the self defense claim described by the Marines would make any sense to any reasonable person.

The town had no knowledge the Marines were patrolling in camouflaged uniforms - ghillie suits which make them virtually invisible to the unknowing eye. The Marines had been out there for days within close range of homes and people were unaware of their presence.

Five months after the shooting the town is still traumatized by the event and the knowledge that Marines may be in their midst without their knowledge. Children are afraid to go out and play, parents often will not let them for fear of another Esequiel-like incident. One teenager, who normally would have been herding goats with Esequiel on that fateful day, has sold his goats and his grandparents do not let him go out in the afternoons. Grandchildren who used to come to visit in the summer were afraid to do so this year. Adults who used to stroll through the area in the evenings do not do so anymore - they just cannot enjoy it the way they have in the past.

The trauma of the children was especially noted by people at the meeting. They exclaimed that normally when there is a catastrophic incident the government sends counselors and psychologists to talk about it. Even though the Hispanic Caucus of the U.S. Congress sent a letter requesting such help for the children of Redford, no help has ever come. The town and their kids have had to fend for themselves.

The town's goat co-ooperative is not operational. Since the shooting all the members have been able to focus on is the fatal incident. The loss of Junior is significant to the town. He was one of their best and brightest. They hoped he would be a leader of the dairy co-op.

In addition to the ground activity, the town reports that military helicopter overflights are routine. Indeed, as we drove into town we saw an unidentified, black helicopter circling the area. Residents report nighttime flights with lights off, goats scared by low flying choppers chasing them and people on horseback being examined by helicopter fly-overs. Town residents recalled a recent 2:00AM flight that was so low it felt like it was a foot over their homes.

We warned the town of the difficulty of litigation. The town understands the problems but residents feel that they would be wrong to do nothing to prevent future incidents. The goal of litigation for the town is simple justice. They want Esequiel's name cleared of any wrongdoing and the government to admit they made a mistake. They are uncomfortable with the false description of the area as a major drug smuggling route and with the military talking about applying rules of engagement on American soil. They would also like the Marines not to be on patrol in their backyards.

Redford is a small town, of about 100 people. However, it is a town of dignity. There are two libraries in the town. The elementary school has a children's library and the Madrid family has a library for older kids and adults. In fact, Enrique Madrid, one of the town leaders and who along with his wife Ruby were members of a delegation that came to Washington, D.C. this summer, noted that his mother received two presidential medals from President Bush for the library she created for the town. He points to the irony of President Bush giving her the medals and being the president who approved the use of the military domestically - the military who ended up killing an adolescent who was educated at the library. Madrid, is an ironic story himself. He came to Redford after successfully challenging the legality of the draft in the 1960s. He is a well-read philosopher who follows the open society philosophy of Carl Popper -- the professor whose ideas are the basis for George Soros' Open Society Institute. He is a pacifist who came to Redford to escape the problems created by our military-industrial complex. And now, late in his life his town has been thrust into the debate about the use of the military against U.S. citizens within our borders.

Madrid is one of several impressive leaders this small town has produced. Father La Follette (known affectionately as Father Mel) is a Harvard divinity graduate who used to go from town-to-town along the border as a traveling preacher. When he retired he decided to stay in Redford. Jesus Valenzuela and his wife Diane, are the closest neighbors of the Hernandez family. Their backyard borders on the area where Junior was killed. Jesus cares for the farm while Diane drives the Redford school bus. They joined Madrid and LaFollette in Washington, D.C. this summer, ably representing the farmer-working class viewpoint of the town.

The family has retained a Texas attorney who is working on obtaining compensation and reparations for Esequiel's death. Dan and I spoke with the attorney and he appears interested in receiving the advice and input of other lawyers and recognizes the inherent difficulties of suing the government even in an outrageous case like this one. We have agreed to provide whatever assistance we can.

The residents of Redford take a level headed approach to the issue. They do not want to escalate the conflict but they know they must seek justice. While they fear retaliation for standing up, they also know they have no choice. To do otherwise would be unfair to the memory of Junior, their children and future border residents. They know one of the reasons we are put on this Earth is to leave it a better place. We all left Redford committed to helping them reach that goal.

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