Revolution #204, June 20, 2010

A Border Bathed in Blood: The Killing of Sergio Hernandez

"Up and down the Rio Grande,
A thousand footprints in the sand…"

From the song, "Across the Borderline"
(John Hiatt—Ry Cooder—James Dickinson)

In the early evening of June 7, 14-year-old Sergio Hernandez lay bleeding to death under the Puente Negro, a railroad bridge that spans the river between Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, USA. Sergio's face was shattered and a 40-caliber bullet was lodged in his head. The bullet had been fired by a U.S. Border Patrol agent, one of more than 17,000 heavily armed enforcers who prowl la frontera.

Sergio had gone from his home in a Juarez barrio to the border to see his older brother, who works sorting luggage in a customs house at a crossing point. He wanted to have dinner with his brother and borrow some money for school supplies. Afterwards, along with some friends, he went down to the river. "That was his mistake, to have gone to the river," Sergio's mother said. "That's why they killed him."

The cities of Juarez and El Paso form one metropolitan area of about two million people, the line between them crackling with tension. People from the countryside and cities of Mexico come to Juarez—people whose lives have been devastated by the crushing weight of U.S. imperialist domination that has long ransacked their homeland—seeking a way across, some to look for menial work in El Paso or the fields of west Texas and New Mexico, some to try a journey deeper into El Norte.

On June 7, that tension exploded into murderous violence. A Border Patrol agent jumped off his bicycle as a small group of men ran through a hole in a fence on the U.S. side. He grabbed one of the men and pointed his gun at another, who was standing in Mexico. He fired two shots in quick succession, then a third.

And Sergio Hernandez lay dying, his friends shocked and weeping beside his corpse.

An official story soon came out. The Border Patrol claimed that reports of the incident indicated U.S. officers on bicycle patrol "were assaulted with rocks by an unknown number of people." Border Patrol and other government officials claimed that their agent was surrounded by a rock-throwing mob and that the agent was attacked and stoned before he fired his weapon.

A video taken with a cell phone proved this account to be full of lies. CNN reported on its web-site that "a video obtained by CNN casts doubt on the Border Patrol agent's claim that he was surrounded by rock-throwing suspected illegal immigrants when he fatally shot the boy on the border at Ciudad Juarez. … The video contradicts [FBI spokeswoman Andrea] Simmons' account. She had said: 'This agent, who had the second subject detained on the ground, gave verbal commands to the remaining subjects to stop and retreat. However, the subjects surrounded the agent and continued to throw rocks at him. The agent then fired his service weapon several times, striking one subject who later died.'"

The video clearly shows that no one is "surrounding" the cop. He is clearly seen pointing his weapon at a group of people who are on the Mexican side of the river, which at this time of year in Juarez/El Paso is mainly dry, and 10 feet wide. Three cracks from his gun are heard.

Several vendors on a bridge overlooking the carnage also disputed the official story. Estelle Gonzalez, who sells hats on the Paso del Norte Bridge, said, "The kid wasn't throwing rocks. He was only watching." Another vendor, Luis Rodriguez, said, "The kid wasn't throwing anything. Then he [the Border Patrol agent] started shooting like crazy. He fired three shots."

Sergio Hernandez and his friends were in Juarez, huddled behind a cement column, when the incident broke out. As Sergio's mother said, "The man who shot my son is a coward. He shouldn't have done that. My son was in Mexico, not the United States."

It gets even more infuriating.

In the days since Sergio's murder, official spokespersons for the U.S. government have tried to portray young Sergio Hernandez as a hardened criminal and veteran "coyote," or "smuggler" of human beings. Fox News has put a video of the incident in heavy rotation, featuring commentary whipping up still further hateful anti-immigrant sentiment and condoning, justifying, and yes, promoting the murder of Sergio Hernandez.

T.J. Bonner, president of the union for Border Patrol pigs, said that any way it's looked at, the killing of Sergio Hernandez is justified and legal. Bonner said that the alleged rock throwing "is a deadly force encounter, one that justifies the use of deadly force." In an official press release, the U.S. Border Patrol said, "While the loss of this teenager's life is regrettable, it is due solely to his decision to pick up a rock and assault a United States Border Patrol Agent. We stand behind the actions of the agents who did their duty in El Paso, and are confident that the investigation into his incident will justify their actions."

Meanwhile, Sergio's funeral was held in Juarez. A picture of Sergio in a soccer uniform and his junior high report card were propped on his casket.

This is the world we live in. A young boy has his life savagely taken away in an instant. The killer walks away free, his identity still hidden. Officials and legal authorities are already doing an "investigation" aimed at justifying this crime. The mass media is being used to whip up racist hatred, paving the way for further violence against immigrants.

More than one commentary has compared the killing of Sergio Hernandez to the way youth in Palestine are shot down by Israeli soldiers for throwing stones. El Paso City Councilman Beto O'Rourke said he thinks the killing of Sergio Hernandez "reflects, and could further stoke, larger, festering border tensions. The rocks versus guns picture is not one we want here. It looks too much like Israel and Palestine for comfort."

Sergio is the second Mexican person killed in the past two weeks by the Border Patrol. On May 31, Anastacio Hernandez, who had lived in the U.S. since he was 14, died of heart failure after being repeatedly tasered by Border Patrol cops in San Diego.

The murder of Sergio Hernandez echoes bitterly across the planet: The wedding parties and celebrations in Afghanistan that are stalked by "special ops" death squads and bombed by remote control drones; courageous youth in Palestine who stand up against the tanks, phosphorus bombs, and machine guns of Israeli occupation; 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, murdered in her own living room by Detroit cops; Oscar Grant gunned down in cold blood in Oakland as he returned from a New Year's party.

This is the world we live in—a world urgently in need of revolution.

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