The San Diego Memorial Fallen Agents 5k Run last June was just your average family-friendly Border Patrol event — a race, live demonstrations, and, of course, teaching children to fire guns at targets dressed to look like immigrants. Nothing to see here! In fact, the event was so unremarkable that the San Diego Border Patrol Sector didn’t hesitate to put pictures of the event online. It took immigrant rights groups months to find them (an anonymous tip turned out to be the key), but once they did, they were furious. Now, the Border Patrol is under the gun from critics concerned about the human rights implications involved in their decision to teach children to fire weapons at other human beings.
In the images, children are posed with Border Patrol agents showing them correct shooting stances as they work with guns designed to shoot a “baby powder-like substance” (so that hits can be clearly seen). Their target? Not a conventional bullseye or silhouette, but a figure dressed in loose jeans and a tee-shirt, an outfit commonly seen on working immigrants throughout the United States — including those who have been shot with live rounds within spitting distance of where the demonstration was taking place.
Pedro Rios, an immigration rights activist, told NBC San Diego that: “Had they had a bulls-eye, had they had some sort of silhouette that’s used in shooting ranges, I think it probably would’ve not had been such a huge issue.” He zeroed in on what’s bothering many people who have seen the images: immigration rights advocates and organizations say the images clearly depict children being taught to fire at immigrants. Border Patrol agents have fired back, saying the demonstration was intended to show how it’s possible to resolve conflicts without use of force, and claiming the target is a standard design found throughout the country. Which side is right?
What is clear is that the Border Patrol in general is under very close scrutiny at the moment due to immigrant deaths, injuries and abuses at the hands of Border Patrol agents. Some have accused the agency of being “out of control” at the US/Mexico border, and express grave concerns about the health and welfare of immigrants in encounters with Border Patrol agents. The agency, for example, still uses deadly force against rock throwers near the fence separating the US from Mexico, in a rather outsized response to rebellion. The image of young children aiming guns at a human-like figure who looks very much like an immigrant is, in this context, rather chilling, no matter what the Border Patrol claims it intended to do with the exercise.
For that matter, the image of children holding guns in general is very chilling. In a nation where school shootings appear to be on the rise, with more horrible events being reported in the media on a regular basis, the thought of teaching children to handle guns is troubling. While it’s sensible to teach minors how to be responsible around guns, working with extremely young children in a context where you are encouraging them to shoot at a human-shaped figure is disturbing, given how many young children are shooting real live human beings. Does the Border Patrol really want to simultaneously give itself more bad press for its anti-immigrant sentiments and compound it with images of officers teaching little boys and girls to fire guns?
At the very least, the incident was highly insensitive, showing a lack of awareness and respect for ongoing social and cultural issues in the United States.
Photo credit: Still from NBC San Diego.