Abuse on the border

The dark video of a man lying on the floor while a group of police officers surrounds him and Tasers him is horrifyingly similar to one from 20 years ago, which we have remembered a lot lately because of the upcoming anniversary of the Los Angeles riots.

We think it’s appropriate to compare the images of Rodney King’s beating with the new images of a dozen Border Patrol agents surrounding Anastasio Hernández Rojas, a Mexican migrant worker caught trying to enter the country illegally near San Diego on May 28, 2010.

Of course, there are some differences. Rodney King survived the blows, while Hernández Rojas, 42, died as a result of the blows, kicks and electric shocks he endured that night. The San Diego medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.

Hernández Rojas had previously been deported, and had methamphetamines in his blood. Rodney King also had drugs in his system when he got arrested. However, the police protocols that are generally followed in a civilized country with laws set limits on the use of deadly force, especially when there are alternatives.

Last year, Alan Bersin, commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), admitted during a public hearing that the rapid growth of his agency’s staff has been to the detriment of their quality.

Between 2004 and 2010, the number of Border Patrol agents more than doubled. The staff is younger and less experienced, and their number has made it harder to conduct the required background reinvestigations every five years. As a result, there have been numerous corruption cases.

What happened to Hernández Rojas is not the only case of apparent excessive use of force against migrants that has emerged in the past few years. It is necessary not only to reopen the investigation of the case and punish those responsible if warranted, but also to evaluate and publish protocols on the use of force.

Border Patrol agents have a job to do, but they should not accomplish it by violating the constitutional principles this country is based on and even less by breaking the law.