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Waco Tribune-Herald August 16, 1997

Bad policy killed Zeke
Military shouldn't be used as border police force

The Marine who killed an 18-year-old goat herder near the border was following orders, it now seems clear.

That should be enough to indict the policy, not the Marine. What merits scrutiny is putting soldiers in the posistion of civilian cops.

Esequiel (Zeke) Hernandez apparently thought he was firing at rabbits or rocks when he shot his rifle in the direction of Marines doing drug patrols one night. The Marines, assuming they were being fired upon, requested and got orders to lock, load and return fire.

It appears Hernandize wasn't even facing the troops when he was hit with a fatal round. This was no menace to society. And it was no drug smuggler.

Comments since the no-bill decision by a Marfa grand jury would lead one to wonder if the military has learned anything from the incident. Some of the talk surrounds giving immunity from prosecution for troops in similar situations.

The Pentagon has said it has suspended military drug-intervention efforts at the border, but only until all the facts are known about the shooting. That would appear to contradict the Clinton administration's statements about changing the policy of putting the military in the role of civilian police.

The Marfa grand jury apparently judged this incident to be a tragic mistake - first with Hernandez unknowingly firing in the direction of the Marines; second, with the marines firing upon Hernandize under the false impression that he was a drug smuggler or sniper.

The idea of armed troops patrolling the border summons images of totalitarian countries, not the land of the free.

Since the shooting, President Clinton has talked about beefing up the border patrol. Recently an additional 69 border agents were hired. Certainly, that can accomplish only so much along the vast border area, 1,254 miles of which is in Texas.

But it's the only way to do it right. We shouldn't have policeman in combat gear.

This article copyright 1997 the Waco Tribune-Herald and is reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only.

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