Late last month, state troopers in a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter shot and killed two young Guatemalan men who were hiding under a blanket in the bed of a truck.
On Sunday, the New York Times ran a story by Houston-based correspondent Manny Fernandez on the outrage swirling in La Joya over the the deaths. Protestors, depicted above, gathered last week near the scene of the shooting to call for justice for the two slain men, Jose Leonardo Coj Cumar, 32, and Marcos Antonio Castro Estrada, 29, who hailed from San Martín Jilotepeque.
"Mr. Coj, a father of three, was hoping to pay for arm surgery for his 11-year-old son, Guatemalan officials said. Mr. Castro had two daughters and a wife who is three months pregnant," Fernandez wrote. The protestors included Terri T. Burke, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, and Alba D. Caceres, the head of the Guatemalan Consulate in McAllen.
“They need to provide the basic things for their families in Guatemala, and that’s why they’re coming here,” Caceres said. “Six kids, they don’t have fathers, so that is a sad history.”
Fernandez went on to outline how Texas's policy on such use of force varies from other states:
The state police agency allows its officers to fire on vehicles during pursuits, whether the officers are seated in helicopters or cars or standing on a highway overpass. They can shoot to disable a vehicle, to defend themselves or others from death or serious injury, or to apprehend those suspected of using or trying to use deadly force, according to the agency’s general manual.
The policy sets Texas apart from other states, where firing at vehicles is rarely allowed, or forbidden. The Arizona Department of Public Safety does not allow its officers to shoot from moving vehicles or from helicopters. The California Highway Patrol permits firing on vehicles, but only to stop a threat and not to disable a car, and it forbids officers to fire from a helicopter in flight. The Nevada Highway Patrol, which does not use helicopters, does not permit shooting at vehicles during pursuits. Federal border patrol agents are not allowed to fire solely to disable a vehicle.
The New York Times editorial board tackled the topic on Monday, condemning the actions by the troopers and the reaction from their employers and at least one state legislator:
Which is more unbelievable: that a state trooper in Texas decided to stop a fleeing pickup by shooting at it from a helicopter, even though the truck was crammed with people, or that nothing in the official policies of the trooper’s employer, the Texas Department of Public Safety, forbids such lethal recklessness? ...
As appalling as the shootings were, a state representative who leads the committee overseeing the Department of Public Safety insisted they were no big deal and not worth a hearing or policy review. “It’s unfortunate some people died,” the lawmaker, Sid Miller , told The Associated Press , “but I guess the lesson is: don’t be running from the law. So there will be no hearing.”
For his part, state representative Lon Burnam would like to see DPS (which currently has what the Times editorial board dubs an "insanely permissive shooting-at-vehicles policy") revise its rules. “Neither human trafficking nor drug trafficking deserves the death penalty without a trial," he said.
On Taking Note , the editorial page editor's blog, Lawrence Downes, a member of the New York Times editorial board, reprinted some of the comments about the shooting that appeared on Freerepublic.com, a website, he writes "where you go to express your loathing for liberals, taxes, abortion, climate science and 'aliens' of the human variety. The site calls itself 'the premier online gathering place for independent, grass-roots conservatism,' which seems right to me. It’s an interesting place to visit, though I wouldn’t want to live there."
Downes noted that "Some commenters have condemned the La Joya shooting, because they hate when government sharpshooters in helicopters swoop from the sky and murder people in their pickup trucks." The comments from those people included the following:
– I don’t think a police sharpshooter in a helicopter shooting at people in a speeding vehicle is quite what we want happening in America.
– While I support most actions by border states to stem the flow, shooting from a helicopter, or any where else for that matter, is akin to murder.
– I’m just stunned. I would expect this from nazi Germany or soviet Russia… but the US?? so much for being the last refuge on earth to run to for help against evil and tyranny. just stunned
But the other side of the argument was also featured on the site, he noted:
– Looks like a lot of comments from liberals living well away from the combat zone, doesn’t it? They caught an illegal running a load of AK 47s from Dallas down to the front the other day. With the feds ceding the territory, it’s up to Texas to defend itself.
– I am becoming more ashamed that American citizens are willing to, not only let the invasion of the United States continue, encourage further invasion by demonstrating a weakness toward the invaders.
– And how is this not justified enemy combatant casualties inflicted during an in-progress criminal invasion (act of war) against U.S. sovereign territory?
– They were fleeing arrest. Their death was the result of their attempt to evade capture.
– Their deaths are no biggie.
– We can shoot invaders.