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Where Does the Slippery Slope of Militarization Lead?
by Kevin B. Zeese,
President, Common Sense for Drug Policy

It wasn't long ago that it was a criminal offense, a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, for active duty military troops to be engaged in domestic law enforcement. In fact, that was the rule for most of the history of the United States. A series of drug war amendments to Posse Comitatus during the 1980s under Presidents Reagan and Bush, has changed that and placed Marines on patrol at home.

A team of low ranking Marines, led by a Corporal, were on drug war patrol in Redford, Texas, on May 20. On that day a fatal shot was fired by Corporal Banuelos and a young US citizen, Esequiel Hernandez, Jr. was dead.

Zeke was herding his goats, carrying an old single shot .22-caliber rifle passed down to him from his grandfather. The Marines claim the high school sophomore fired two shots in their direction. They followed him for 20 minutes, then, they claim he raised his rifle again and the fatal shot was fired from an M16. The autopsy showed Zeke wasn't facing Corporal Banuelos when he was killed. Zeke lay on the ground unattended for 20 minutes and bled to death.

Redford citizens say they felt invaded, treated as if they were the enemy and had one of their best and brightest taken from them. A grand jury was convened, but this made the injustice worse. The grand jury was at best a mockery. It included the Assistant Sector Chief of the Border Patrol who was part of the administration that asked the Marines to come to the border and one of the people responsible for their supervision.

It also included the wife of a Border Patrol officer, a Border Patrol retiree, and two Customs Officers. The judge found no conflict of interest and District Attorney Valadez said it was good to have people on the jury who "knew how to get things done." The DA did not seek an indictment, he just presented the evidence. Unfortunately, that did not include the Redford residents who heard the single shot from the Marines, not the multiple shots that the Marines claim occurred.

Between the time of the fatal shooting and the no-bill by the grand jury this month the Department of Defense reacted strongly. They were upset that their soldiers would be subjected to criminal prosecution for doing their duty. On July 30, the first day of the grand jury, DoD spokesperson Navy Lt. Cmdr. Scott Campbell told USA Today this was "not fair to the members of our armed forces."

As a result Defense Secretary William Cohen reportedly will ask the border states to sign agreements to provide immunity to local criminal laws, just as we have "status of forces agreements" with foreign governments. This is protection that police officers in the United States do not have.

In fact, the reaction should have been an apology for the tragic incident and a change in policy. Secretary Cohen should have said it was a shame Zeke had to die in order for us to be reminded that military enforcement of civilian law is wrong. Our soldiers are not trained to make arrests, Mirandize and bring to justice; they are trained to kill.

The people of Redford are reacting with strength and forbearance. They have gone back to their history books and re-read the Declaration of Independence. Two of our grievances against King George were for using the British Army against us and "protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit. . ." They see the refusal to indict as the beginning of the battle against militarization, not the end.

The death of Zeke must be remembered. Militarization of the drug war must be stopped. If we do not act in his memory the slippery slope of militarization will pick up speed. We have come a long way in less than two decades, from prohibition of military involvement to discussions of immunity for fatal shootings. If we do not take action now, Zeke's death will become an excuse for greater militarization, not less.

Kevin B. Zeese
Common Sense for Drug Policy
Washington, D.C.
703-354-5694 (phone)
703-354-5695 (fax)

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