Smearing Immigrants: Exploiting the Tragedy of Death

by Burr Deming

It’s human nature, I suppose. Never let the truth interfere with a good story.

It happened half a century ago. Until recently, I missed some aspects of those days. Mostly I missed the clarity.

Clarity is all over us again now, and it comes to me that maybe clarity wasn’t all that great, even in those days. Immigration, religion, skin color are all reasons, once again, for some to hate those on the other side. The other side of the skin, the other side of the border, the other side of God Almighty.

The incident from 50 years ago was a minor one. A bit of vandalism by an anti-war group had led to arrests. A neighbor asked me for my opinion. He was a beefy hardworking plumber. I was with my folks, visiting his home. I mumbled something about the vandalism is wrong. He pressed me. Those unpatriotic thugs had gone too far, he said. It wasn’t enough that they hated America. Now they were breaking laws, destroying property. I could see that, right?

It was clear he had not read the latest news. So I told him.

The vandalism had been instigated, then led, by an undercover police operative. The agent had infiltrated the group. His mission had been to gather evidence against them. He had created an incident for the single purpose of getting them into trouble.

I told our angry neighbor that the only person who should be in legal trouble was the instigator, the one who led the vandalism, the one who then turned in everyone else. The undercover officer.

The plumber exploded in a rage. He moved closer, one hand clenched, the other waving a finger just under my nose. He yelled that he was tired of lawbreakers: young punks like me. I blurted out that I had broken no law. He stepped forward as I stepped back. We performed an accidental dance as he got louder.

“You broke MY law,” he yelled. “My law!”

My mom quickly spirited me out. We could hear him yelling as we walked down the street.

Then we heard the footsteps. The man’s son was chasing us. He had apparently witnessed the humiliation of his father, followed by the meltdown. He caught up, then stood to face me, blocking our way.

“Oh man,” he said. “Oh man, that was GREAT!

My thoughts go to the furious neighbor of my teenage years as I watch the conservative reaction to the death of a border patrol agent, and the hospitalization of another, near El Paso last November.

Both were found in a culvert aside a road. Rogelio Martinez died the next day. Stephen Garland eventually recovered. Officer Garland had no clear memory of what had happened.

It is a tragedy when an innocent person dies violently. It strikes us harder when it is an officer of the law. People who choose a profession that puts them in harm’s way deserve a special sort of mourning when that risk turns to injury or death.

Truth is a little harder to know with certainty when direct witnesses are lacking. When one victim dies, and the other is without memory, truth waits for evidence. It does not wait forever. Today, forensic science, medical examination, and widespread interviews can sometimes provide some eventual answers.

Those answers were in short supply at the beginning. If truth has to wait, speculation does not.

Fox News:

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez laid to rest in El Paso Saturday, one week after he was ambushed and some believe murdered while on duty.

– Fox News Television Broadcast, November 26, 2017

Speculation, but understandable speculation.

Law enforcement pressure was getting results. An informant had heard about a woman. The woman had overheard a friend. The friend was talking about what he had heard about drug smuggling. A couple of undocumented immigrants were picked up. What did they know about the border agents? They insisted they were clueless.

That all would strike most reasonable people as tenuous, but that seems to be the way many investigations have to start.

The FBI got a search warrant for the car in which the two had traveled with the woman who had overheard something about drugs. The hope was expressed in the application for the warrant, “will contain trace evidence relating to drug trafficking, the murder of Agent Martinez and the assault of Agent Garland.”

Red stains were on a cloth in the car. The two were arrested.

The FBI issued a statement.

We are still in the beginning stages to see if these people are connected to this incident.

– Jeanette Harper, spokeswoman, December 6, 2017

In most any large group where immigrants number in the millions, there will be some who will commit crimes. But if the two immigrants were guilty, they would be exceptions.

As a group, immigrants are among the least violent, least prone to commit crimes, of any of us in the United States. That’s a fact. Those here with no legal documentation are even less likely to commit crimes. Who needs the attention?

There is an unfortunate substrain within the history of humanity. We encounter bad behavior, horrible crimes, and we extend our anger and fear to include all those who share a skin color, or ethnicity, or religion, or undocumented status.

And so some speculation began to turn ugly. Shouldn’t we be afraid for our lives because of the presence of any undocumented immigrants?

So, when armed and trained federal agent murdered by blunt force, probably by rocks, why should that not scare the rest of us?

– Tucker Carlson, Fox News, November 20, 2017

President Trump rushed to judgment. Within days of the incident, before anyone had been detained, he knew that this was a case of murder. And, if he did not know who had done it, he knew the next best thing. He knew the type of people.

And he knew we needed to build a wall to protect us from those people: 

Border Patrol Officer killed at Southern Border, another badly hurt. We will seek out and bring to justice those responsible. We will, and must, build the Wall!

Donald J. Trump, November 19, 2017

But today’s law enforcement tools, forensic science, medical technology, and patient investigation, can eventually contradict initial speculation. What we know for sure sometimes turns out to be flat dead wrong.

A new conclusion now comes into focus. The two were not killed by a barrage of deadly rocks from a mob of immigrants. More likely, a careless motorist struck the two, both of whom fell into the culvert alongside the highway. Hit and run. Maybe.

From the FBI:

To date none of the more than 650 interviews completed, locations searched, or evidence collected and analyzed have produced evidence that would support the existence of a scuffle, altercation, or attack.

– Emmerson Buie, El Paso Special Agent in Charge, February 8, 2018

Senator John Cornyn, R-TX, expresses regret at his own initial reaction, now that it seems the death was an accident. He is quoted by the Texas Tribune:

I just think that maybe it’s a cautionary tale that all of us need to take a deep breath when things like this happen and realize that we don’t have all the information and wait until we get a little more information before reaching conclusions.

If you listen carefully to Donald Trump apologize for his hair-trigger accusation, you are asleep and dreaming. Our President is not known for self-correction.

Fox News did cover the new findings of the extensive FBI investigation. The FBI says there is no evidence of an attack in the Border Patrol death, but who really knows?

Their February 9 report is a fair example of the rest of their coverage.

The mystery behind the November death of a US Border Patrol Agent is now deeper.

They do acknowledge the FBI findings.

The FBI announced there are no signs of an attack on agent Rogelio Martinez and his partner Stephen Garland.

That is all within the first 30 seconds of the minute and a half report. They mention the likelihood of a hit-and-run accident as merely one odd speculation. The next two-thirds of the report is composed mostly of theories about proof of an attack by immigrants being accidentally destroyed by rescuers, and interviews with skeptics who do not need evidence that immigrants are deadly, and that they are to blame.

One is the head of a Border Patrol Union who continues to embrace the now discredited idea that a mob of as yet unknown immigrants gathered around the two agents next to the highway, and beat them until one was dead.

There is another interviewee. It seems Fox News did not mind the search for someone to support their view that immigrants pose a deadly danger to the rest of us. They found a retiree right in El Paso, a former agent who had once, briefly, been a sector chief in Tucson. Tucson is not exactly next door to El Paso, where the tragic incident occurred. You can get there in 4 hours if go 80 on 70 miles an hour expressways. The retiree, Victor Manjarrez, did not mind expressing his opinion.

All that goes through my mind is if I was still the chief of the Tucson sector here in El Paso, is that God, I don’t know what to tell my agents. Because the investigative bodies that are responsible, don’t have a clue at this point.

– Victor Manjarrez, retired head of Tucson sector of Border Patrol

Or, as Tucker puts it on behalf of Fox:

So, when armed and trained federal agent murdered by blunt force, probably by rocks, why should that not scare the rest of us?

It does bring back youthful memories of a furious neighbor, angry and threatening at having his comfortable indignation interrupted by the mere truth.

You broke MY law.

Many thanks to our friend Burr Deming at FairandUnbalanced.

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Posted by on February 18, 2018. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION,Political,Social Issues. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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3 Responses to Smearing Immigrants: Exploiting the Tragedy of Death

  1. Rachael Reply

    February 18, 2018 at 8:28 pm

    It is a tragedy just like everything that happens in the Trump administration.

    • Michael John Scott Reply

      February 18, 2018 at 8:44 pm

      Rachael, you are so right, nothing is going to under given the state of our government. Immigration, like gun control, is/are a dirty word/s.

  2. Glenn Geist Reply

    February 19, 2018 at 10:07 am

    “truth waits for evidence. It does not wait forever.”

    I wish I had said that! but it’s an old story and it doesn’t just apply to Trump. It’s behind the lynch mob mentality of America, left and right. I lost friends in droves for warning the #metoo tribe of that tendency.

    It’s prosecutors who need to find somebody, anybody to get the public off their backs, it’s activists who need that perfect example to smear a whole race or gender with. It’s us.

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