Border Killings Stoke Tensions
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
In a few minutes, we'll hear a different view on the gay marriage debate in this country. A self-described queer activist says: marriage, who needs it? We'll have that conversation in a few minutes.
But, first, we wanted to tell you about rising tensions along the U.S./Mexico border. There have been two fatal shootings of Mexican citizens by U.S. Border Patrol agents in the last two weeks. And the FBI and some witnesses say that Mexican security forces pointed their rifles toward U.S. authorities investigating one of the shootings.
This week, a young man - and he's been described as either 14 or 15 years old -was shot in the head by border agents at the border crossing for El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The agents say he was throwing rocks as they made arrests along the border.
The incident has sparked outrage in Mexico, coming in part because it follows so closely on the death of a 32-year-old man who died after he was hit by a Taser gun near Tijuana.
To help explain what's going on, we've called Diana Washington Valdez. She's a longtime reporter for the El Paso Times and she's been following this story. And she joins us from her office in El Paso. Diana, thanks for joining us once again.
Ms. DIANA WASHINGTON VALDEZ (Reporter, El Paso Times): Glad to be with you.
MARTIN: Do we know anymore about the details of this latest death involving this teenager? Do we know exactly what sparked this?
Ms. VALDEZ: Well, we know that the Border Patrol agents who were patrolling the area on bicycle came across a group of people who had crossed onto the U.S. side of the border, right there. It's a just dry riverbed. Anybody could walk across it very easily.
And as the - one of the agents tried to detain one of the persons he encountered, several others ran across to the Mexican side of the border and began throwing rocks - according to the FBI began throwing rocks at the agent who had this one fellow down on the ground. And then the agent pointed his weapon and shot toward the Mexican side, and that's when the 15-year-old fellow fell to his death.
MARTIN: There have been competing allegations at one side or the other agents from either side crossed inappropriately each other's border. Do we have any information about that?
Ms. VALDEZ: Yes. There are videos, you know, there are security cameras at the border that can be pointed at the moment, that there is a call for help or a report of an incident that can be pointed in that direction. And according to the FBI, there's a video that shows that the Border Patrol agents never crossed onto the Mexican side, that quite the contrary, security forces from Mexico crossed onto the U.S. side to recover bullet casings, which would amount to, you know, evidence for the crime scene. And this is the video that the FBI will use as part of its investigation.
MARTIN: And does the Mexican side have any response to that?
Ms. VALDEZ: No. All they're - all they have said so far is, well, let's review all the evidence. Let's review the videos. Officials from the Mexican side are also asking for access to evidence that we have on the U.S. side - for example, the weapon that was used to fire at the victim. Well, the gun is on this side of the border. And so in order to match a bullet with the gun, you have to have both things together.
MARTIN: I do want to ask, though, why is it that what do the U.S. officials think about why agents fired their guns at people throwing rocks? One can understand that that's not something you want to experience, and it can be dangerous. But are they saying that their threat was such that felt do they think that they saw a gun, also? I guess what I'm trying to understand is why was that the right response to rock throwing? I also have to assume that rocks are sometimes thrown. It's not the first time that this has happened.
Ms. VALDEZ: Well, we can only estimate or guess and speculate what was in the agent's mind at the time. But the rules of engagement are reflect a clear policy for all U.S. law enforcement officers at the border. And this is the they may use force, this kind of force, if they feel their life is threatened or if they perceive a threat of serious bodily harm, or to protect the life of another person.
MARTIN: Well, obviously, this is a story that's going to continue, and so we'd love it if you'd keep us posted on this. Diana Washington Valdez is a reporter for the El Paso Times. She joined us from her office in El Paso. Diana, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Ms. VALDEZ: You're very welcome.
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