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Demilitarize the Mexican border
San Francisco Examiner July 8, 1997

Contact letters@examiner.com

By Carlos Munoz, Jr., Berkeley

ON MAY 20, a U.S. Marine shot and killed Esequiel Hernandez Jr., an 18- year-old Mexican American high school student in Texas. President Clinton and the members of Congress responsible for deployment of U.S. troops at the southern border must share the blame.

This tragedy took place because the U.S.-Mexico border has become a war zone. Democrats and Republicans alike have convinced most American people that immigrants are to blame for the nation's drug problem.

But Hernandez was not a drug smuggler or a narcoterrorist. He was not an immigrant. He was an American high school student, born and raised in Redford, Texas, where he was killed.

He was a hard-working student, a typical country boy who enjoyed riding horses. He planned on becoming a game warden or park ranger. He loved to watch over his family's 45 goats with his grandfather's .22 caliber rifle, keeping them safe from wild animals.

That's what Hernandez was doing the day he became the first U.S. citizen killed by military troops on U.S. soil since 1970, when National Guard troops killed several students at a Vietnam War protest at Kent State University in Ohio.

More will die if the United States maintains a militarized border. The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker human rights organization, has documented that upward of 4,600 soldiers engage in day-to-day "counter- drug operations" along the U.S. Mexico border.

Special Forces troops provide year-round training to local and state police agencies. The Pentagon spends $800 million a year on this low-intensity warfare.

The Marine who shot Hernandez was part of a four-person squad of the Joint Task Force Six, a military unit assigned to anti-drug operations under the jurisdiction of the Border Patrol.

They were on patrol looking for drug smugglers. They were dressed in camouflage battle fatigues and hidden in the bushes.

The Marines followed Hernandez for 20 minutes before they shot him. More than likely, young Hernandez never saw them. The Marines were trained to remain invisible to the "enemy." He lay bleeding for 20 minutes before he died. One of the Marines was a medic, but he did not give first aid or attempt to save Hernandez's life.

According to the Marine who actually shot him, Hernandez fired at them twice with his rifle. The Marine shot in self defense, he said. Those within earshot said they heard only one shot. And people who knew Hernandez all testified that he was incapable of hurting another human being.

The Texas Rangers have uncovered serious inaccuracies in the Marines' story during their investigation of the incident. A ballistics study indicated that Hernandez was shot in the back.

Unfortunately, the death of Esequiel Hernandez is not compelling Washington to stop the militarization of the border. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., D-Ohio, is attempting to push through legislation authorizing the deployment of as many as 10,000 Department of Defense personnel at the border. President Clinton has plans to increase the Border Patrol by 25,000 additional personnel.

That's a bad idea. If we are to prevent the killing of another human being by U.S. troops, the border must be demilitarized.

Carlos Munoz Jr., who teaches in the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC-Berkeley, is writing a new book: Multiracial Democracy or Apartheid: America's Choice for the 21st Century. He wrote this commentary for the Progressive Media Project in Madison, Wis

This article copyright 1997 the San Franciso Examiner and is reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only.

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