Is lethal force ever acceptable?

Stories of border patrol agents using lethal force against individuals on the border or on the other side of the border have created major controversy. The clash between the criticism of the ethics of such acts and the justification of safety protocol by border patrol agents has summed up the national debate over such topic. Historically, border control has been majorly debated and it is through tragic stories of murder that notions of nativism or indignation towards discriminatory acts ignite the controversial topic.

On October 11th in Nogales, Arizona a U.S. border patrol agent opened fire on a group of people throwing rocks from across the Mexican border, killing a teenage boy. The Mexican government was outraged over the use of lethal force. On that Wednesday night, the agents had responded to reports of two suspected drugs smugglers near the border. According to Border Patrol, the agents watched the two abandon a load of narcotics, then run back to Mexico. The agency states that as the agents approached to investigate, people on the Mexican side of the border began throwing rocks at them and ignored orders to stop. Therefore, one agent opened fire.

“The Sonora state attorney general’s office in Mexico said in a statement Thursday that Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, 16, from Nogales, Sonora, was found dead at the border from gunshot wounds about midnight Wednesday. However, the office didn’t definitively confirm the boy had been shot by the agent, only noting that police received reports of gunshots, then found his body on a sidewalk near the border barrier.”

Critics may say that the U.S. patrol agents were trying to hide or deny committing such crime. Nevertheless, others may support the agents’ justifying the occurrence as an act of  self-defense and security protocol. The polarized opinions that result from stories like this one spark speculation of researchers on the reason for why people have such radical standpoints.

In a study conducted to identify predictors of whether or not voters would vote in support of Prop 187, also known as California’s “Save Our State” proposition with the purpose of excluding undocumented immigrants from going to public schools, getting welfare, and getting state provided health care, Lee and his colleagues concluded that race and one’s own identification with a group of people based on race are major indicators of having a pro-Prop 187 perspective or not. The study concluded that voters’ empathy towards a specific group of people is majorly influenced by race. Ethnic identity, prejudice and commitment to rule of law are some of the major indicators the study finds of one’s perception towards acts such as the border patrol crimes. For example, Hispanics more empathetic towards Mexican immigration and oppose Prop 187, while Anglos cannot identify and therefore do not have empathy towards Mexicans. The study helps Lee and his colleagues construct hypotheses of what influences attitudes towards illegal immigrants and Prop 187. The ethnic ingroup favoritism hypothesis is based on ingroup favoritism and identity. For instance, Hispanics will view Mexicans more favorably or have more empathy towards them. On the other hand, the prejudice and racism hypothesis suggest that endorsement of Prop 187 is fueled by prejudice against Mexicans.

Controversial immigration topics such as the one described are viewed differently by society, but are the standpoints valid? How should we, as a society, classify acts such as this one on the ethical spectrum? How do we know when to label acts as unethical without allowing our own prejudice based on race influence our judgments?

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One response to “Is lethal force ever acceptable?

  1. Wow. This seems to be excessive force along the border! It makes me wonder why U.S. police were not in touch with Mexican police to coordinate. Who manages and controls the border? It’s obvious, but should it be so?

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