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A Law Enforcement Crisis in the Making

Written by Right Side News

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September 10, 2008
National Association Of Former Border Patrol Officers

A crisis looms for U.S. law enforcement and our society, one unlike anything in this nation’s history.
It is not inevitable, but unless action is undertaken soon to forestall the crisis, it will come to pass. It originates with the demand for illegal drugs.  It is a demand that will be filled, and because those drugs are illegal, it is a market that will be managed by criminals. 
Because the profits are staggering, those who deal in illegal drugs at the wholesale level draw no lines in what they will do to those who interfere in their trade.

Our concerns originate with Mexico.  While individual instances of violence in Mexico draw occasional interest from U.S. media, the American public is generally uninformed about the degree to which drug cartels are using terrorism to challenge Mexico’s government for control of their streets and institutions.  Mexican media daily describes events that are bloody and violent beyond civilized comprehension.  Viewed day after day after day they paint a bleak picture of a society under assault.  The cartels are better financed, better equipped, and often more highly motivated than the police. They have the advantage of drawing no lines about what they will do to whom.  

 The cartels have assassinated police at the highest level and the lowest, and the assaults extend beyond law enforcement.  On August 28, 2008, for example, Milenio, a major newspaper in Mexico City, reported that 71 police officers had been assassinated that month in Mexico.  That is more than are killed across the U.S. in a year. In the state of Chihuahua alone, 206 civilians were murdered in that period.

 Police, prosecutors, judges, newspapermen, and even clerics are targets.  Cartel gunmen have murdered them in front of their families, on the road, in restaurants, and in their own beds.  They have murdered families, both incidentally and by way of example.  They torture before they kill.  They behead after, or while, they kill—last week eleven bodies were found neatly stacked, all without heads, outside Merida, Yucatan.  The heads were found later, burned. 

 There have been firefights with military small arms in the streets of major cities that are military engagements in all but name.  Bodies are left scattered like leaves to terrify and discourage others.  They publish hit lists and make good on them.  Officers fear for their lives to the degree that in Ojocaliente, Zacatecas, recently 51 officers resigned en masse.  That is not the first, or even the largest, instance of flight.  This month, one-third of the officers (400 total) of the Juarez, Chihuahua, police department were fired for being “unreliable.”  High-ranking officers have sought refuge in the U.S.

 The cartels recruit overtly for their terror squads, and many police respond, both out of fear and out of greed.  No act of violence is too vile because, after all, it is their aim to terrorize and demoralize.  In that, they have succeeded. 

 We go on at such length about cartel violence and success because it is impossible to overstate what they are willing to do to supplant the law with their own will.  That fact is not firmly grasped by many of us accustomed to the rule of law, and there is no reason to believe that those methods will not work on this side of the border.  The U.S. public must understand that. 

There are straws in the wind.  Earlier this year several armed men from Mexico invaded the home of a Border Patrol officer in Tucson.  He successfully fought them off, killing one.  Earlier this year, gunmen disguised in the uniforms of the Phoenix Police SWAT team kicked down the door of the home of a drug dealer in Phoenix.  They made the assault while firing 150 rounds from automatic rifles in a residential neighborhood.  They killed him.  Last month, in a demonstration of savagery similar to that seen in Mexico, five Mexicans were killed in Birmingham, Alabama, their throats cut after they were tortured.  The killers are suspected to be cartel hit men who came to settle a drug debt of nearly half a million dollars.  There have been other, less notorious examples of cartel assassinations in this country.

 The tool of first choice when dealing with officialdom is money, money backed up by the credible threat of violence.  There is a saying in Mexico, an offer:  plata o plomo, that is, “silver or lead.”  When the offer is backed up by credible threats of appalling violence against oneself and one’s family, many people who could not be corrupted by the plain offer of money become more pliant. Few are equipped to refuse, especially considering the reach that the cartels have demonstrated; they gunned down the head of Mexico’s version of the FBI and his bodyguards as he went to lunch.  His schedule was secret, but he was betrayed. 

  There is no reason to believe that Americans have an innate immunity to that offer, plata o plomo.  We do not say, nor do we believe, that corruption would become as endemic here as it is in Mexico; the U.S. does not have Mexico’s history of tolerance for corruption.  But we will see dangerous levels of corruption here unless it is forestalled.

 Corruption is contagious and corrosive.  Both effects are destructive of the trust upon which a civil society depends.  In law enforcement it is trust in our fellow officers, and in society at large, trust in our institutions and those who manage them.  To a degree remarkable in the world, Americans trust each other.  

 Mexico, to the contrary, has no tradition of trust and the results can be seen.  After nearly two centuries of independence Mexico still has not constructed a society in which the average Mexican can pursue a decent, secure life. If we allow trust to be destroyed in this country the long-term effect will be a society similar to what we see south of the border.  A civil society is fragile, and if the cartels are allowed to entrench themselves in this country the trust we take for granted will be destroyed.

 Because we were immigration officers we look for ways in which immigration laws can be used against the cartels.  We do not suggest that enforcement of immigration laws is a sole solution, but we do believe that it is a valuable, often underrated tool.  In a future editorial we will offer what we believe must be done from that standpoint. 
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Since February of 2007, this organization has monitored news reports from media sources in Mexico and Central America and has published a daily digest of those reports. Until now, we have refrained from editorializing about what we report. However, the civil situation in Mexico has deteriorated to the point that it is spilling onto U.S. soil; we can no longer stand silent. There are repercussions for America in trends seen below the border. From time to time, we will explore them here. Kent Lundgren Chairman

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