Last week a Texas trooper in a helicopter fired on a pickup truck that state police were chasing through the desert near La Joya, a town close to the border with Mexico. He shot out the truck's tires, causing the driver to crash into a ditch. He also shot and killed two unarmed Guatemalans in their 20s—fathers of two and three children, respectively—who were under a tarp in the back of the truck along with seven other job seekers. The cops thought they were chasing drug smugglers, but it turned out they were chasing people smugglers. Either way, they were using deadly force to disrupt peaceful transactions, which is always immoral but seems especially egregious in this case, where the threat to public safety that supposedly justified shooting at the truck was 1) debatable and 2) created by the police.
"DPS aircraft joined the pursuit of the suspected drug load, which was traveling at reckless speeds, endangering the public," said Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). "A DPS trooper discharged his firearm from the helicopter to disable the vehicle." The San Antonio Express-News describes the site of the chase as "a desolate country road," so DPS may be exaggerating the danger to the public posed by the fleeing Guatemalans. In any case, a high-speed chase requires at least two parties. If the truck was "traveling at reckless speeds," so were the cops. Letting the truck go would have been a less deadly way to address the alleged traffic hazard.
"We need a serious and big investigation into this case because I cannot understand why DPS made the decision to shoot them," said Alba Caceres, the Guatemalan consul in McAllen. "I have never seen something similar to this." Likewise University of South Carolina criminologist Geoffrey Alpert, who told the Associated Press, "In 25 years following police pursuits, I hadn't seen a situation where an officer shot a speeding vehicle from a helicopter." Alpert said firing on the truck was "a reckless act," serving "no legitimate law enforcement purpose." He said such an action would be justified only if "you know for sure the person driving the car deserves to die and that there are no other occupants." The Express-News reports that survivors said the tarp covering the would-be wage earners "was flimsy and blowing off, enough so that the trooper in the helicopter could see them."
The trooper has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, but DPS sees no need to reconsider the practice of using sharpshooters to prevent drugs and labor from making their way to people who want them. "We need to protect those aerial assets," Vinger said, "and in doing so we put a sniper on those. And we're really not apologetic about it. We've got an obligation to protect our men and women when we're trying to protect Texas."