The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

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.

Thanks to David Boaz for the tip.

 

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23 Responses to “The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez

  1. #1 |  Lee | 

    It has been awhile since I had heard about this story, but IIRC it wasn’t that the Marines mistook him for a drug smuggler, it was the kid mistook the Marines for coyotes (they were concealed) and leveled a .22 in their general direction. Marines, doing what their training and orders told them to do, shot him.

    I’m pretty sure the Marines knew they were shooting an innocent goat herder but could not reveal themselves because they were under orders not to do so.

    Again, time steals the details (or it could all be wrong), but I think the Marines even asked if they could reveal themselves and prevent the shooting, but were denied.

    (USMC 84-92)

  2. #2 |  Edintally | 

    I can’t wrap my head around either explanation?

  3. #3 |  HtownGuy | 

    Marines, doing what their training and orders told them to do, shot him.

    Lee, I remember the same story. Wonder if it is the same as this kid’s encounter. Questioning the appropriateness of using the military for domestic policing is still valid though. I like that the Marines are spectactularly efficient at killing. So it’s a spectacularly bad idea to use them outside of war, especially at home.

  4. #4 |  Justthisguy | 

    A nice tall thick fence along the border would have obviated this problem.

    Yah, I know that traditionally, Mexes and Texes and Arizones used to go back and forth across the border, and nobody cared.

    These days, the rich white guys who have always run Mexico are shoving their social problems across the border, rather than fixing them.

    Edward Abbey, the environmentalist, believed in handing each illegal Mexican a rifle and a thousand rounds, and sending him home to finish the revolution.

    Really, if conditions didn’t suck where you live, there would be no reason to risk your life to go somewhere else

  5. #5 |  Justthisguy | 

    Which reminds me, Radley: Do you even actually _own_ a votin’ rifle? I don’t, but I’m not required to, being dang near 60 years of age.

    I do have the obligatory .22 rifle and bedside revolver, though.

    C’mon, Rad, are you a Beltway Blowhard or a real Citizen?

    If you are younger than 45 or so, I expect that you own some form of AR15, or at least _something_ chambered in the United States 5.56mm cartridge?

  6. #6 |  Lee | 

    Questioning the appropriateness of using the military for domestic policing is still valid though.

    I completely agree. My opinion is that the military should NEVER be involved with domestic policing.

    JustThisGuy,
    Guess I don’t pass muster either.

    43 and all I own is a Glock 9mm. I’ve been thinking about getting a shotgun, but that is about as far as I’ve gotten on that.

  7. #7 |  JohnMcC | 

    I’m a yallah dog Dem and a goldarned Liberal. And I’ll never see 60 again. And our arsenal consists of two .22 rifles, a Smith .357 wheel-lock and a 12 guage pump (1 in the chamber, 4 in the magazine. Here in FL, thinking of after-hurricane safety….

  8. #8 |  David | 

    I was watching the PBS special just now, and one of the Marines came off sounding like Col. Jessup, with a (paraphrased) “You people sleep under the blanket of freedom that I provide, and until you do my job, you have no right to question me about anything. You free because of ME.” Followed by endless speeches from politicians about how people(non-serving cowards all) don’t understand the sacrifices of the military.

    Having a few career military men(WWII-Vietnam) in my family, none of whom talked this way, I have to ask; when did the hero complex start? We see it with police too, but it seems to be something that’s started over the past 20 years or so. Am I wrong?

  9. #9 |  Bruce | 

    Exactly, that ignorant, uneducated “wetback” latino has no right in saying that. He is not even close to being close to danger in the U.S.-Mexican border. Drug dealers have all the resources they need to smuggle their goods into the U.S. or other countries, thats why there is so many drugs here in the U.S. I hate the fact that he tried to take credit for that, and as Latino, he does not know the meaning of freedom. I can tell you, that being a Latino, becoming a soldier is no progress. It is the easy way out, and it is not under our cultural values. We however, do praise the soldiers that risk their lives out there in the scorching heat, but not the hypocritical latino soldiers that just do it for the money, just like that marine did. I can assure you of that. I do hate the fact that he even had the nerves to state to us, that to wear the uniform, and feel what he feels. He sure doesnt feel shit, being in the border, since there is no danger there. I come and tell you this with experience, since i was born in the Rio Grande Valley, and it is barely becoming a trouble, BUT the Mexican military is taking care of it.

  10. #10 |  Bruce | 

    P.S: If people are wondering about the “wetback” name I instilled in that marine, is that the reason behind it is that he is an uneducated, ignorant, Latino, that deserves that name. He should be ashame of himself, that even the Mexican people(originally from Mexico) despise him. He is someone that does not know his history, and he sure shouldnt be taking credit for what others have done in the past. He seriously needs to go to college and do something with his life, instead of getting that easy money just posting by the border and not doing anything.

  11. #11 |  MacK | 

    This program will not air until Friday 11 July, 2008 at 2:00 AM here in NC on the local PBS station of UNCTV, so I suggest you check your local listings to find it’s air times.

  12. #12 |  Nick | 

    I’m pretty sure the Marines knew they were shooting an innocent goat herder but could not reveal themselves because they were under orders not to do so.

    So, you are claiming that Marines’ training directs them to willfully murder a lone teenager, even when they know that person is an innocent civilian, one of the people they are supposed to defend? Seems a pretty good definition of Evil to me.

    I liked the incompetence explanation better.

  13. #13 |  ParatrooperJJ | 

    He pointed a weapon at Marines. They had the right to use deadly force.

  14. #14 |  Nick | 

    He pointed a weapon at Marines. They had the right to use deadly force.

    He pointed a weapon at concealed marines, on U.S. soil, in a situation that was not combat. They chose to shoot him instead of revealing their position. If they knew he was an innocent civilian and were following orders and training, then their orders were immoral. If they knew he was an innocent civilian and weren’t following orders, then they were incompetent and immoral. If they mistook a goat herder for a dangerous drug dealer, then they were incompetent. Your choice.

    What do you suppose would have happened to Hernandez if the roles were reversed and a concealed civilian shot a marine who pointed a gun at him.

  15. #15 |  David | 

    He pointed a weapon at Marines. They had the right to use deadly force.

  16. #16 |  Chance | 

    I agree they had the right to use deadly force. I just wish they had had the judgement to not excercise that particular right, unless forced to.

  17. #17 |  David | 

    He pointed a weapon at Marines. They had the right to use deadly force.

    How exactly is a person supposed to know that a rustle in the bushes is a Marine? I doubt that there were announcements made to locals that the USMC would be doing drug patrols in the area, because that would defeat the purpose of covert drug policing. I notice that untrained “civilians” seem are always held to a higher standard when it comes to mistakes.

    I won’t say that the marines in this case should be imprisoned or punished, as I think that cause of the incident was not the fault of the individuals, but the policy of doing drug patrols with soldiers(although I will note that supporters don’t even concede that this is a bad idea).

  18. #18 |  nobahdi | 

    The kid had no idea the marines were there.

    The marines, on the other hand, hunted and killed the boy.

    Twenty minutes passed between Hernandez firing his rifle and the fatal shot by the marines, which is plenty of time to avoid conflict if that was the intent.

    One of the marines’ comments equated to, “I defend your freedom so I’m entitled to kill whoever I want.”

  19. #19 |  Lee | 

    Another question is did anyone see any other outcome from them deploying the Marines than an incident like this?

    You deploy killers, people are going to get killed.

  20. #20 |  Ike | 

    this is a tragic story on both ends. The Marines who provide us the freedom to breathe and to live free sadly killed the people that they were supposed to be protecting. Marines are not peace officers nor were ever intended to be. The only people who did not answer what was needed was Our Government who put Our troops in this bad situation. They thought it was a quick fix to an everlasting problem and it is not. I feel for the families on both ends and I hope that other families will not have to endure this. What is sad is Our Government seems to not have learned from this history lesson and this will happpen again and again both sides suffer and Our freedoms will again take another giant step backwards

  21. #21 |  max | 

    David: The “I am a hero” business started with the volunteer military. (yes, I am a vet; married to a retired career guy).

  22. #22 |  Lowell | 

    “Hernandez firing his rifle ”

    This is seldom mentioned anywhere. Does not fit into the “ballad” concept.

    Someone also mentioned using “Peace Officers” on our borders. There is no such thing as a peace officer. The role of the police is law enforcement and that entails acting after a crime has been committed or a law has been broken.
    Police have no legal requirment to “protect anybody”. That concept has been tested and reputed in the courts.

    Do not shoot at US Marines, they may shoot back. I learned this when I was younger than this “child’s” age and serving in the USMC.

    Semper Fi

  23. #23 |  Ezequiel hernandez | Cardinalmortga | 

    [...] The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez | The AgitatorJul 8, 2008 … Tonight, PBS will air the documentary The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez. Hernandez was an 18-year-old resident of Radford, Texas killed in … [...]

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