Drug Policy

The Ballad of Esequiel Herenandez

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Tonight, PBS will air the documentary The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez.  Hernandez was an 18-year-old resident of Radford, Texas killed in 1997 when U.S. Marines mistook him for a drug smuggler while he was out tending to his family's herd of goats.

The case illustrates the dangers inherent in blurring the line between military and domestic policing, a practice that's grown increasingly common over the last 30 years, particularly with respect to the drug war.  

As the PBS summary points out, the film takes on particular significance now that the Bush administration has ended a 10-year moratorium on military operations along the border.

Watch the trailer here.  Nick Gillespie commented on the Hernandez case for NPR back in 1998.

Thanks to David Boaz for the tip.

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  1. Marines get overzealous sometimes*. You need to put some Army Reservists out there**. Problem solved.

    *I know everybody does sometimes, but seriously. Marines.
    **Not the good ones, either.

  2. …Drug smugglers are OK to shoot on sight?

  3. It’s actually spelled “Esequiel”( with an “s”).

  4. Hope I remember to set up the DVR

  5. From the Marine Corps Report on the event, “This means 3.3% of the time Marines deployed on counter drug missions from 1st Mar Div a shooting occurred. If the incidents described in Findings of Fact 25 and 26 are counted as shooting incidents, the percentage increases to 5%.”

    That seems like a pretty high incident rate for a law enforcement effort. Maybe Art-P.O.G. is right.

  6. Nick Gillespie commented on the Hernandez case for NPR back in 1998.

    Another decade has passed following this insane policy of “Drug War”. And so it goes.

  7. Thank you for passing this along, Radley. I’m setting the DVR momentarily.

  8. The military is very good at killing people and breaking things, but very bad at anything else. When we put them on the border we should not be surprised to see a lot of dead people and broken things.

  9. There’s a reason we separate military and the police: one fights the enemy of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.

  10. There’s a reason we separate military and the police: one fights the enemy of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.

    And when we militarize the police, the same thing occurs.

  11. They weren’t supposed to go out before dark, but left early because they had to carry extra gear that night. Why oh why would you put a squad of enlisted men out there who’ve been trained to fight a war to deal with civilians in a sparsely populated area? Is the US government gonna pay the psychiatry bills for the Lance Corporal who shot this boy?

  12. I just watched it. God damn I’m pissed off.

  13. This is my third attempt on commenting on this documentary. I stop each time because I can’t find the right words to describe how depressed and angry I felt in watching this film. The killing of this young man was senseless and if anyone sees it differently, you need to go back, watch the film again and listen to the FBI agents who stated.if it had been anyone else who had committed this murder, they would be in jail today.

  14. if it had been anyone else who had committed this murder, they would be in jail today.

    I’m not so sure. The crucial judgment error on which the tragedy hinged is duplicated by civilian police all the time with nary an eye batted.

    The marines closed distance with a perceived threat, thus making it more of a threat and placing themselves in a situation where they might feel the need to defend their lives. Compare with police who jump in front of a car to stop a suspect and, when the suspect tries to drive the car, kill him because he might run them over. Intentionally escalating a situation into one that requires deadly action to defend one’s life should be against the rules of engagement of anyone acting in a civil context. But it certainly doesn’t appear to be.

    See also Radley Balko’s long list of people killed in paramilitary police actions. And for a case where the police were not even threatened when they killed a suspect, see Ruby Ridge. No jail time to be found in any of these.

    Of course, it’s quite a bit worse for marines who were trying to stay secret. There aren’t many ways to eliminate a threat if you can’t ask it if it’s a threat.

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