Who deserves to die?
by Vanessa Johnson
Posted on September 13, 2009
“No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” – John Donne, excerpt from a Devotion
There is a piece of our humanity that is being sacrificed, both in El Paso and Juarez, as the drug war persists. A story from last week’s El Paso Times was a clear illustration of this, in recounting the horrific abduction of a man screaming for help in broad daylight in a sleepy suburb, and the subsequent discovery of his body, mutilated and humiliated, in Juarez.
Andrea Simmons, from the local FBI office, was quoted as saying, "People should not get alarmed over this, that violence is spilling over into El Paso. Because if it's drug-related kidnapping, it is not an average person in El Paso being snatched up and taken into Mexico.”
Sheriff Richard Wiles echoed her comments. "Clearly, their targets are specific.”
A few months ago, REDCO President Bob Cook gave us his “local perspective” when he termed the spillover as nonexistent and the violence as something not to be concerned about:
“There has been much written about the 1,600 homicides that occurred last year in our sister city, but the reality of the situation is far different from what is generally reported in the media. More than 98 percent of these homicides were perpetrated against drug cartel members, police, and military personnel.” [link]
I wonder if Cook is counting children as cartel members, as roughly five percent of the murders in Juarez this year have been children under 17, with 77 casualties to date. [link]
Even if factually correct, there is a disturbing subtext in these comments, as well as the comments from countless others who have sought to minimize the violence in Juarez. The subtext is that it is understandable and justifiable if the victim were involved in the drug trade – that somehow, they had it coming to them.
Never mind that Bob Cook and others are hardly experts, not having researched the individual circumstances of the numerous deaths daily. Never mind that the authorities in Juarez are hardly reliable sources; the criminal justice system in Juarez has historically terrorized and blamed victims of crimes. Especially, we dare not think about the ethical question of culpability as a drug-consuming nation.
Clearly, law enforcement has an interest in reassuring the public, which is not always good at evaluating risk. And clearly, those who promote El Paso have an interest in portraying the violence as minimal, and we should not begrudge them their assigned roles.
But there is a moral problem with our conversations, the way we discount, smear reputations, and assume culpability. This thinking is present on both sides of the border, and it is dangerous. It fundamentally devalues life. It is the demonizing of the “other” that has led to war and genocide.
It is not a question of naiveté. There have been murders of high-level and low-level drug traffickers, of rich and poor, of people considered “delinquent.” There have been murders of those who simply witnessed the wrong people at the wrong time, murders from domestic violence, murders of the mentally ill, and murders of social activists. There have been murders of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, lovers. Who are we to say in essence that some deserved to die and others didn’t?
Latin America is not unique in the world for having an ugly and complicated history of civil wars, social cleansings, disappeared persons, and high levels of crime. There is a human tendency to become inured to violence and horrific events, especially when they endure over time.
The political thought which emerged from the Enlightenment attempts to fight that tendency. We must honor life and the pursuit of happiness. We must fundamentally be safe in the world. It is in our direct political tradition to decry this type of anarchy, to seek to uphold the rule of law when we can, and to vocally lament pointless death. We should not be excusing it.
Every person is not born to equal circumstances. Every person does not achieve the same amount in life. We all naturally mourn some deaths more than others. But that does not mean that we should minimize and devalue the lives of others that we do not know. We should not impugn the victims. It is wrong.
Every person murdered was loved by someone. Every person killed was murdered by someone, whose own life is diminished by his crime. The unfolding slaughter in Juarez should chill us all. We need to be humane in our treatment and thoughts of the victims.
We need to be reminded that each death diminishes us all.
Vanessa Johnson is the former publisher of Newspaper Tree.
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