War Zone

Santa Cruz County Is Starting To Feel Like Occupied Territory.

By Jeff Smith

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, when my buddy Carla was hunting for a new place to live, I drove her down to bucolic Santa Cruz County and showed her this house in the woods with a terrific view of Mount Wrightson. As a friend of bunnies and hugger of trees, she loved its isolated and unspoiled setting.

Smith But as a woman alone, whose apartment in Tucson had twice been ransacked by men in ski-masks, she worried somewhat and wondered aloud if she could feel safe, so far from society and the quick reach of law-enforcement.

I offered my opinion, based on numerous episodes of Little House on the Prairie, that four-legged coyotes were less-dangerous than the bipedal kind, and that the farther one lived from civilization, the safer. Carla's subsequent study of crime stats in the area backed me up. The previous decade produced a single allegation of sexual assault, which subsequently proved to be a drunken encounter between an estranged husband and wife. They sobered-up and made-up, the sheriff said.

So Carla moved in and lived happily ever after.

A decade and a half later Santa Cruz County is blessed with many times its early '80s complement of law-enforcement personnel and paraphernalia. We've got more Border Patrolmen, more sheriff's deputies, more city cops and town marshals, more surveillance gear, more military patrols and training exercises--hell, my neighbor the game warden carries a Sig-Sauer semi-automatic that has all the retired law-dogs in Patagonia drooling with envy.

So Carla and I ought to feel safe as in our mothers' arms, right? I can't speak for her, but me, I'm made not a little uncomfortable by all these guys skulking around in earth-tones, carrying the latest in walkie-talkies and weaponry.

Not than I'm against guns or good-guys with badges carrying them--Sonny Showalter is my friend. I'm just concerned with the government mind-set that's flooded my neighborhood with all this unasked for, unwanted, and often inexpert police attention. In the name of education--a seeming Mom-and-apple-pie, unquestionable virture--and invoking the War on Drugs and the fight against the tide of illegal immigration, the U.S.-Mexican border is turning into a nursery school for the police state.

As a for-instance, I was waiting outside the market the other day while Pam rented a video, and got to talking with Eloise about the town council meeting, which led to the topic of deputy marshals and who was arresting whom for what, and she told me how she and Kitty were cruising the other night and the lights went on in her rearview, and the deputy asked her, "Ma'am, may I see your license, registration and proof of insurance?" and asked what she was up to and was she lost.

You need to know Patagonia to understand what an idiot question that is. Eloise lost? I don't think so. She is 52 years old and has lived every one of those years in Patagonia. She drove every kid in town to school on the bus. She knows the roads, knows the town, knows the folks, and could have told that cop who was up to no good at that particular point in Patagonia history, and how. What she did not know was who the hell this cop was.

What he did not know was dick.

He and a bunch of rookies like him are working essentially for free, getting some of their required training in Patagonia, and ostensibly helping out a town that has been short of bucks for its police budget. Patagonia has gone from having Sonny and Suzie and the other Sonny and Bill and Tim and the late Steve and the late Pat on the force, to hiring off-duty strangers out of Nogales and Sierra Vista and Tucson for higher hourly but no fringes, to taking on trainees for nothing. We've now got about one nothing to every 80 or 100 law-abiding citizens.

As to non-abiders, everybody in town knows who they are, so we don't need any detectives. And we don't need to be pulled over for no good reason by some kindergarten cop who doesn't recognize the town's leading citizen, role model, pool shooter, karaoke singer and bus driver on sight.

This may sound like petty whimpering, but intrusions upon the exercise of lawful freedom is no small matter. Nor, for that matter, is life and death. Outside of Marfa, Texas, last week, a kid herding goats was shot and killed by a Marine private who thought he was shooting at another Marine.

Why were the Marines patrolling the border? Were we at war with Mexico? Were we being invaded? Well, the Border Patrol says we are, and they play war games with real high-tech weapons along our borders, but this wasn't the case. This Marine and his unit were on duty on a peaceful border as part of the War on Drugs. The dead kid was watching a herd of critters and carrying a .22 rifle to scare away wild dogs and coyotes. The Marine who shot him had been through basic training and infantry school and was armed with the current battle rifle, but had next to nothing in law-enforcement or drug-interdiction training. The kid herding the goats took a shot with his dinky .22 at a coyote, and the Marine with the battle rife thought the kid was shooting at another Marine, and put a .223 round in his chest, killing him.

Given that this so-called War on Drugs is a sham and a failure, I'd call this killing negligent homicide by the federal government, at the very least. It used to be illegal for military forces to perform peacetime police work, except when called-out for emergencies. And then it was quasi-military units that were called. Like the Ohio National Guard. At Kent State. But in the early 1980s, in the name of this bullshit War on Drugs, the rules changed to allow regular military units to patrol the borders, policing drug smuggling, the occasional truckload of wets that might come their way...pot-shooting goat herders with .22s....

We've had the same sort of military training exercises along the border in the San Rafael Valley. Nobody's been accidentally killed yet, but it could happen. And non-criminal people have been non-accidentally killed by overzealous patrollers of the Arizona border. But they were tried. And they walked.

I am not out of sympathy with the various local, state and federal agencies charged with guarding our borders and our safety. I know many of them may squawk at the implications of this screed, to the effect that they seem to have money and man-power to waste. In candor, much of the present gang-bang on the border does not represent accurate normal levels of staffing and budgeting. It's TDY, temporary duty, training missions.

But it's still our tax dollars, from whatever sources, wherever. And it still comes down to an intrusion upon the free and lawful daily life and routine comings and goings of me and my friends and neighbors. And once in a while one of these friends and neighbors gets rousted, for nothing; or dead, for nothing.

Well, not nothing, truth be told. We're getting hassled and shot because our leaders like to pretend they're doing something to protect us from dangerous drugs and dangerous lettuce pickers and dish-washers, and because bureaucrats have discovered their El Dorado in keeping their budgets by keeping the border very well patrolled.

We were a whole bunch safer down here on the border before border safety became this huge government crusade. TW

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