LA JOYA, November 1 - The RGV Equal Voice Network has issued a statement saying the shooting of two unarmed Guatemalan immigrants by a DPS sharpshooter was "callous."
The group, which represents various non-profits that work for immigrants in Rio Grande Valley colonias, said the death of the undocumented workers last Thursday has "enraged" its members.
"The sniping of the unarmed immigrants who were riding in the back of a pickup by an officer armed with high-powered rifle took place at 3 p.m. on an isolated gravel road north of La Joya. The shooting was senseless in the deepest sense of the word - a game warden 'suspected' that the truck was carrying drugs, someone else felt that the truck speeding along a lonesome stretch of dirt road was 'endangering the public'," the group said, in a news release.
The two Guatemalan workers were killed last Thursday. Six passengers, all believed to be undocumented, were traveling in a truck on a rural gravel road north of La Joya when they were shot at by a Department of Public Safety (DPS) sharpshooter pursuing them in a helicopter. According to Texas Park and Wildlife, its wardens suspected the truck was carrying illegal drugs and called DPS for help.
DPS agents arrived and instigated a chase. DPS called in a helicopter and a DPS sniper opened fire on the truck from the helicopter. According to reports the helicopter was about 450 to 600 feet away from the truck when the shots were fired. According to reports, the two men that were killed were lying in the truck’s bed, clearly visible to the sniper and not dangerous. No drugs were found in the truck. The DPS sniper has been placed on 'administrative leave' and the Texas Rangers have started an investigation.
"There were no drugs. There was no public. The only ones immediately in danger in the incident were the two men who died, and their families that are now left without husbands and fathers," said Ramona Casas of ARISE, a non-profit group within the Equal Voice network that works in colonias in Las Milpas, Alamo and Edinburg.
Daniel Diaz, a community organizer for La Unión del Pueblo Entero, agreed with Casas. “What is at risk with all of this is that trust that the community must have in its law enforcement officers. In a time in which there is a real, present fear of violence, our families feel that they must be able to trust their peace officers. Incidents like this one, along with the way that DPS blew off the murders as ‘justifiable police actions’ leaves that trust shaken,” Diaz said.
Michael Seifert, the coordinator for the Equal Voice Network, questioned why DPS troopers were doing the work of Customs and Border Protection.
"That game wardens and highway patrol officers are engaging in activities properly belonging to Customs and Border Patrol is yet one more, mortally clear sign of the need for a comprehensive, just and humane immigration reform. The Equal Voice Network supports such a reform and looks forward to the day when workers looking to support their needy families can safely migrate through our region," Seifert said.
Seifert said Equal Voice joins with ACLU of Texas and the South Texas Civil Rights Project in calling for "an immediate, comprehensive, and open investigation of last week’s tragedy." He said Equal Voice is also calling on the state of Texas to remove responsibility for investigating the shootings from the Texas Rangers, as the Rangers work under the Department of Public Safety.
The RGV Equal Voice Network comprises Alamo-based ARISE (A Resource in Service Equality), Brownsville Community Health Center, Harlingen-based Casa de Proyecto Libertad, La Unión del Pueblo Entero, which is based in San Juan, Proyecto Azteca, which is also based in San Juan, Proyecto Juan Diego, of Cameron Park and Brownsville, the START Center (South Texas Adult Resource and Training Center) of San Benito, the South Texas Civil Rights Project, which is based in Alamo, and the Texas Organizing Project of Edinburg.
Equal Voice will hold a news conference near the scene of the killings at 2 p.m. today. It is being held near the site of the shootings, north of the town of La Joya, at the intersection of FM 2221 (Jara Chinas Road) and Mile 7 Road. Speakers will address issues of public safety, government accountability, use of force policies, and demand a full investigation of the shooting deaths.
Following the news conference, members of the community will gather for a vigil to remember the lives of the Guatemalan immigrants and pray for the recovery of another man injured in the chase. A video of the press conference will be available on the ACLU of Texas website.
In a separate statement, the South Texas Civil Rights Project said DPS troopers showed "reckless actions and callous indifference" in the shooting of the two migrant workers from Guatemala and the wounding of another. STCRP is angry about a DPS director's comments that the state agency was "really not apologetic" about putting snipers in helicopters.
"DPS claims that the vehicle was driving at 'reckless speeds,' but speeding is a traffic offense, not a death sentence. It’s just another example of DPS’ shoot-first culture, regardless of the danger to innocent people,” said Elliott Tucker, an attorney for STCRP.
“DPS wrongly assumed the truck carried drugs, which it did not, instigated a chase in a rural area, called in a helicopter, and then a DPS sniper shot the three men lying in the bed of a truck from a helicopter, killing two. Nothing can justify this bloodshed. There is no law enforcement use-of-force policy anywhere in the country that would justify the kind of callous killing DPS did this weekend. This is inexcusable and wholly unjustifiable. It is tantamount to manslaughter.”
STCRP is demanding DPS discloses its policy on the use of force and also conduct an internal investigation into the shooting. STCRP is also demanding DPS make reparations to the families of the two men.