In the wake of the tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin, has Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law has given leniency to anyone who uses deadly force under the pretext of self-defense. Martin’s death echoes back to the 2007 shooting deaths of two men by Joe Horn. Who under Texas’ “Castle Doctrine“ was not prosecuted for the shootings, despite shooting the two men in the back as they retreated, after burglarizing the home of Horn’s neighbor. Laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground,” and Texas’ “Castle Doctrine” have given way to 24 other states enacted similar legislation. Ushering in new era of vigilante justice, where proving if a shooting was in self-defense has shifted from the shooter to the state.
According to the New York Times, on the evening of February 26, 17 year-old Trayvon Martin was on his way home from a convenience store, he would not make it home alive. On the night of his death, Martin was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head, something that caught the attention of 28 year-old George Zimmerman.
Since the shooting, the hooded sweatshirt had become a lighting rod for activists in support of Martin and even Geraldo Rivera, who has apologized over a comment he made, suggesting the hooded sweatshirt Martin was wearing led to his death.
On the night of incident, Zimmerman called to report a “real suspicious guy,” that was “up to no good and on drugs or something.” After giving the police dispatcher a description of Martin, an African-American male, Zimmerman tells the dispatcher ”they always get away.” Zimmerman then proceeded to follow Martin, disregarding the dispatcher telling Zimmerman not to.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer took his position seriously. According to the NY Times article, Zimmerman, “a criminal justice major in college, often patrolled the streets in his car. In the last 14 months, Mr. Zimmerman had made 46 calls to the police, officials said, reporting everything from alarms and disturbances to reckless driving and, most commonly, a “suspicious” person.”
What happend next is up for debate. According to ABC News, a phone call between Martin and his 16 year-old girlfriend caught the last moments of Martin’s life. According to Martin’s girlfriend, whose identity is being withheld, said Martin had noticed Zimmerman following him.
Martin girlfriend stated in the article,‘“He [Martin] said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man,” Martin’s friend said.” I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run, but he said he was not going to run. Eventually, he would run, said the girl, thinking that he’d managed to escape. But suddenly the strange man was back, cornering Martin.”’
She added, “Trayvon said, ‘What are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again, and he didn’t answer the phone.”
Zimmerman claims that Martin had attacked him first when he was returning to his vehicle, punching Zimmerman in the face and slamming his head onto the pavement, according to The Huffington Post.
What is known, is a scuffle did ensue between Martin and Zimmerman. Ending in Martin being fatally shot by Zimmerman. Who was licensed to carry a concealed weapon, despite being “arrested in 2005 on charges of resisting arrest with violence and battery on a police officer. The charges were later dropped,” according to the New York Times. Zimmerman stated in the 911 call when he had originally spotted Martin, he witnessed Martin reaching into his waistband, giving the impression of Martin being possibly armed. Martin was in fact unarmed, having in his possession only a can of iced tea and a pack of skittles candy that he had purchased at the convenience store.
When the police arrived, they found Zimmerman armed with a handgun, standing over the body of Martin. Zimmerman told police he killed Martin in self defense. “Taking him at his word, police do not arrest him, nor administer a drug or alcohol test.” According to ABC News. Zimmerman has yet to be arrested or charged for the shooting, and is currently in seclusion due to the intense backlash from the shooting.
Due to the statue of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, law enforcement officials will have a hard time pressing charges against Zimmerman. The Florida law “grants immunity to anyone who uses deadly force, inside or outside his home, if he can reasonably claim he was defending himself.” Since the passing of the law, “The Tampa Bay Times found 130 cases in Florida in which Stand Your Ground was invoked. In more than 70 percent of the cases, someone was killed. But only 28 of the cases went to trial, and only 19 resulted in a guilty verdict.” It will be up to a Florida grand jury to deicide on April 10, if Zimmerman should stand trial.
Given the tragic consequences that legislation like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” have evoked, how is it possible for such a law to pass in the first place and spred to over 20 other states. It all has to do with the National Rifle Association (NRA). Who according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, are using “fear and paranoia” to expand laws like Florida’s into other states.
In 2004, the NRA honored Republican Florida state legislator Dennis Baxley with its Defender of Freedom award. The following year, Baxley worked with the NRA to pass Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, allowing citizens to use deadly force if they “reasonably believe” their safety was in danger. “People no longer would be restrained by a “duty to retreat” from a threat while out in public, and they’d be free from prosecution or civil liability if they acted in self-defense,” according to Susan Ferriss of The Center of Public Integrity.
The law has open the flood gates to “justifiable homicides” in Florida, which spiked from “an average of 34 yearly to more than 100 in 2007,” according to Ferriss. The terms in which the law was meant to be applied are so vague, it may just help to shield acts of violent aggression as self-defense. The controversy over the shooting had led Baxley to state ”that his law shouldn’t shield Zimmerman at all, because he pursued Martin,” according to Ferriss.
In 2007, “the Virginia-based National District Attorneys Association issued a report, “Expansions to the Castle Doctrine,” warning that the phenomenon “could have significant implications for public safety and the justice system’s ability to hold people accountable for violent acts,” stated Ferriss. Given the broad protection that Florida’s law gives people who act in self-defense, a type of justice first seen during the days of the wild west will rear its ugly head around. Where a court, a judge and a jury were unnecessary. The one holding the six-shooter decided it all. Where as if these laws remain common place, the justice system will be taking a page out of a Charles Bronson movie.
I had my first dabble in politics during my senior year in high school, when I agreed to help a close friend run for student body president. What started out as a harmless venture into high school politics so he could meet girls, turned into an ugly, downright shameful campaign that would have made Mitt Romney proud. Our campaign strategy was simple, we would raise money for the campaign by collecting donations from a few friends in return for political favors. Which really meant nothing at the time, this was high school after all. Our political influence was limited to perhaps a free lunch.
We collected a small fortune of about $200 dollars. The money went to finance a smear campaign against our rival in the race, that amounted to us passing out flyers around campus, suggesting that our political rival had a love child with a handicapped student. My friend showed no remorse and pulled out all stops on his dirty election run. Leaving me thinking that he would have even taken out a hit against the other guy, if he would have gotten away with it. In the end, our political ambitions got us suspended from school, costed us a few friends and the election.
Now fast-forward to 2012 and what has changed in American politics? Not much really.
As the 2012 presidential race is hot under way, the Republican front-runners are busy tearing at each other’s throats via proxy attack ads, such as a recent attack ad against Newt Gingrich financed by Mitt Romney’s super PAC, “Restore Our Future.” It’s a catchy name, isn’t it.
So what in the hell is a super PAC? The term is an abbreviation for political action committee and its birth came from the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v.The Federal Election Commission. Prior to the decision, political contributions were limited by the federal government to tune of $2,500. After the decision by the high court, previous limits on political campaign financing were prohibited, opening the floodgates for unlimited political contributions. Super PACs can now raise unlimited amounts of money in support for or against a candiate. The only catch is that the super PACs cannot “coordinate” with candidates they support. Is it just me, or does that not make any sense at all?
Given the complexity and absurdity of it all, Stephen Colbert invited the former chairmen of the Federal Election Commission, Trevor Potter, on his show early last year to explain what a super PAC is and how it works. Click on the link above to see the video.
So why even have a super PAC? For starters, its expense to run a political campaign. According to a recent article in Forbes, the cost of a presidential run has skyrocketed over the years. In 1996, Bill Clinton spent $153 million, compared to the $774 million Barack Obama spent in 2008.
Second, not everyone who wants to have some say in how the government is ran will run for office. So how can organizations, businesses or individuals have a say in goverment? By buying some political influence and that is now becoming easier to get then most people think. All it takes is deep pockets, leaving out about 99 percent of Americans from the political process.
According to Forbes, As of 2011, super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich raised over $32 million combined. Behind some of the largest contributions are mega millionaires, like Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who gave Romney $11 million as of January of this year. According to political strategist Douglas Schoen, when ever a political donor gives that much money, that donor is now someone with some sway, “you will be taken seriously in Washington by every player.” Where as “in traditional philanthropic giving, that’s a valuable contribution, but the president of the university doesn’t have time for you. The President of the United States does have time for you,” according to Schoen.
It’s A Man’s World
Skewed Sex Ratios in Asia
I’m going to start by asking a question, what would you want your first child to be? A boy or a girl? For most people this question may spark a little debate but have no serious consequences. For women in Asia, this question has amounted to a loss generation of female births and the wide scale exploitation of women. Several scholarly studies and reports have found that In countries like China and India, reproductive technology such as the ultrasound machine, is being used in a manner that favors a male dominated agenda. A wide scale gender bias towards male heirs has become common in these countries. Through the use of sex selective abortion and population control in some countries, female births are declining, leading towards a skewed sex ratio in many Asian countries, where men are now outnumbering women.
Reporting by author Mara Hvistendahl, found that “in most human populations, the natural sex ratio at birth is around a hundred and five boys for every a hundred girls”. Due to sex selective abortion, “the overall boy-girl birth ratio in China is 121 boys for every 100 girls. In one city, Lianyungang, the ratio was 163 to 100, and in India, the overall ratio was 112 to 100”. Sex selective abortion in Asia had led to an estimated 160 million women that are missing, whom should have been born, according to the natural sex ratio. Along with the discriminatory factors that affect females as a whole in sex selective births, women also suffer greatly as victims of infanticide and sex trafficking. Sex selective practices have also negatively effected males in sex skewed populations. Research has shown that among populations with high male ratios, there tends to be a higher crime rate.
Sex selective abortion is nothing new, the practice dates back to the Roman Empire, where infanticide was used to favor males, “abortion and infanticide were permitted under Roman law at the time of Jesus. Since abortion could not be done according to sex of the child, infanticide was the main way to sex select and the selection was predominantly against girls,” according to researcher Douglas Almond. More evidence of the practice was found in a letter that was dated at around 1 B.C., where a husband instructed his wife to discard their child if it was female, “If you are delivered (before I come home), if it is a boy keep it, if a girl, discard it”. The same social bias that favored sons over daughters during the Roman Empire, can be seen in modern Asian countries.
In China, sex selective abortion emerged on wide scale use starting in 1978, when China introduced its one child policy, restricting married, urban couples to having only one child. The policy was adapted to help alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems in China, due to its large and growing population. The policy is estimated “to have prevented roughly 250 to 300 million births in China since 1980” according to Hvistendahl. At the center of sex selective abortion in China, is technology, where the wide scale use of tools like ultrasounds has allowed for parents to determine their child’s sex before birth. “Sex determination using ultrasound visualization is the dominant form world-wide” as found in a study by Almond. Through a combination of social traditions that favor males and the use of technology in sex determination. Gender discrimination towards females has become common in Asian countries, contributing to the abortion of millions of female fetuses. The promenade bias towards females in Chinese culture can be best described by a traditional folk saying, where it is “better to have a crippled son than eight healthy daughters.”
Even though countries like China have banned sex determination since 1989, the practice is still widely used, due to poor regulation of the ban. Studies have found, that due to social and economic reasons, a bias towards male over female births has become common in Asian countries, known as “son preference.”
A study by the International Institute for Population Sciences found that in India, “son preference” has become common, due to long standing cultural traditions and economic pressures. The study found that among India’s population, the common view is that “sons are more likely than daughters to provide family labor on the farm or in a family business, earn wages, and support their parents during old age.” Along with the financial resources a son may bring to a family in India, males also bring social class mobility. Due to the male dominated culture in India, “another important advantage of having sons is their sociocultural utility. In the context of India’s patrilineal and patriarchal family system, having one son is imperative for the continuation of the family line, and many sons provide additional status to the family.”
Among the massive effect on unborn female populations in Asia, “sex selective abortion” and “son preference” has also created have a lasting effect on the adult women populations of Asia. Due to the skewed sex ratios created by the declining birth rate of women, Asian countries are experiences a shortage of females to a ever growing male population. According to research by Hvistendahl, the scarcity of females had created a prolific sex trade in Asia. Women are regularly sold into prostitution or as brides to men unable to find wives in their native country, “while the proliferation of prostitutes in China is especially striking, anti-trafficking workers stress that gangs sell women into both sex work and marriage” and “ninety percent of Burmese women trafficked to China end up in forced marriages.”
According to statistical information from The Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, an estimated 1.4 million women are victims of human trafficking in Asia each year, “95% of victims experienced physical or sexual violence during trafficking and 43% of victims are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation.” Sex selective practices also have been found to have a direct effect on crime rates. Studies have found that among sex skewed populations, where the male to female ratio is skewed towards males, there is direct correlation to higher crime rates. Hvistendahl found that “between 1992 and 2004, China’s crime rate nearly doubled” and another report by Valerie Hudson found a “strong correlation between state-level sex ratios and state-level rates of violent crime in India.”
The greatest irony found in sex selective practices in Asian countries is how the use of technologies like the ultrasound, was intended to help save lives. Instead, the technology has actually enabled the systematic loss of an entire generation of women. Through a combination of social discrimination, technology and sexual exploitation, women in Asian countries have been transformed into nothing more than an commodity. They are bought and sold freely into lives of abuse and neglect at the interest of age old traditions and social biases. Something to think about if asked by a nosy in-law or your spouse on what you would prefer your little bundle of joy to be.
April 23, 2011 | Carlos Villarreal | KPCC
Carlos Villarreal/ KPCC
In a tiny Silverlake gallery, a ragtag group of artists and DJs come together twice a month to showcase a new breed of experimental, beat-driven hip-hop that has begun to flourish in Los Angeles.
Held inside Santa Monica Boulevard’s Ronin Gallery, Sound Wavs features a hybrid of hip-hop that relies more on a complex arrangement of fast pace beats mixed with quickly changing rhythms, with the emphasis on instrument tracks over lyrics.
At its last incarnation earlier this month, a standing-room-only crowd gathered in the gallery’s showroom as a young DJ, bathed in the blue light of a video projection, was hard at work.
“I think right now, what’s going on with this type of music, is that there is no real genre to label it as,’” said Anthony Jusi, a resident DJ for the event who goes by the name “Teams.” “My music in a nutshell is hip-hop influenced, with some weird stuff thrown in.”
Damon Minaey, one of the gallery’s curators, said the event took hold at the Ronin more by gravitational pull than by planning. “These guys just started to loiter here all day and we decided to connect the dots,” said Minaey. “It all just made sense.”
Minaey hopes that event will grow in popularity and be an outlet for people interested in this music, and indeed, the event has been gathering force.
“I think that the sounds are big, loud and boisterous, sort of like all these hipsters,” said David Lesnik, who came to see a friend perform.“I think it speaks volumes about this tight little circle.”
“This is a good private venue, where you can come see people making beats and non-traditional music,” said Minaey. “People can come dance, rap, listen to music. I think also people are not intimidated by it. You get to see really cool stuff. And who knows where this can go? People may talk about who they got to see perform here someday.”
Sound Wavs will be held Saturday, April 23, at the Ronin Gallery, 4210 Santa Monica Blvd. Silverlake, CA.
Originally published on Southern California Public Radio
Originally published October 6, 2006, In El Vaquero.
An oldie, but a goodie. A feature story I wrote on a local street artist during the heyday of British street artist, Banksy.
A local street artist is reinventing art, leaving his mark on street corners instead of a canvas.
In a dimly lit bar off of Glendale Boulevard in the Atwater area of Los Angeles sits a tall, skinny, 20-something-year-old male only known as Netsil, which is listen spelled backwards.
This mysterious figure is sporting a brown hooded sweatshirt, with the hood over his head, a black bandana over the lower half of his face and dark skinny jeans with white paint drips on the legs; a look that does not stand out in this part of town, where the hipster elite part of east Hollywood is. He chooses not to reveal his face, just pulls the bandana up slightly over his mouth every time he takes a sip from his Jager and Red Bull.
“I just want someone to be walking down the street and see something [Netsil’s art] I put up, and stop in their tracks,” he said, “There, in that moment, I caught their attention and maybe made them smile a bit.”
Netsil pulls out a small digital camera and shows an example of his work, an image of a humanoid figure wearing a black and white suit with two old Victorian era phonograph speakers for a head and a pair of Nike dunks on its feet.
The image was printed on paper, glued with wheat paste (a mixture made of water and wheat flower) on to a low-level sign overlooking the intersection of Alvarado Street and Beverly Blvd. in Echo Park.
The humanoid also made a brief appearance on GCC’s campus on a power box located by the footbridge where Cañada Boulevard and Verdugo Road meet. The poster has been scraped off and painted over.
Another image shows a small black square in the corner of high-rise billboard above Sunset Blvd. in Silverlake. The billboard is an ad for “The Grudge 2” and it has a small subtle addition in the top left hand corner, an image of Netsil’s own face with trademark bandana.
“That was my first billboard,” he said, “After I finished pasting the image, a guy that was watching me from across the street started to yell at me, ‘What are you doing up there?’ I got kind of freaked and ended up jumping off the roof to the street below for my get-a-way. It was about a 15-foot drop.”
Because of such acts, Netsil chooses to hide his identity. The choice of canvas for street artists like Netsil may not settle well with property owners.
“I would never deface someone’s private property, I choose to keep my work in the public domain,” he said.
The California penal code bans such art from public property, fining heavy fees and possible jail time on those found guilty of defacing public property.
As for the billboard, he was quick to defend himself. “The movie is going to suck anyway, so I’m doing them a favor and spiced things up a bit,” he said.
Aside from the legal aspects, artists like Netsil keep their identity secretive for artistic reasons as well.
“I like my art to represent itself. If people know who’s behind the work, I think it takes away from its meaning. The work is famous because of the individual behind it and not its substance.” A good example of Netsil’s philosophy is legendary British street artist, Banksy, whose identity is also unknown. Banksy’s work is deeply political, so his alias keeps him out of hot water and allows his work to speak for itself.
“He’s an icon, but nobody knows who he is,” said Netsil, “He doesn’t want to be famous, just his work to bask in the limelight.”
Banksy hosted an exhibit in L.A. last month with a live painted Indian elephant and is infamous for pranking famed heiress Paris Hilton.
On the other side of the spectrum is Shepard Fairey, also known under the moniker of OBEY.
Fairey started his career as a street artist with his infamous “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” wheat paste posters back in 1989. After revealing his identity, Fairey became financially successful and artistically respected. His empire now includes a graphic design company and clothing line. His work is currently on display at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery in L.A. through Oct. 14.
Street art has been growing larger in popularity in the last 20 years. More and more artists are turning to the streets to get a message across through what had become a worldwide phenomena. Sites like ecosystem.org and woostercollective.com showcase photo galleries of street artists’ work from around the world.
Along with the traditional wheat paste posters and spray-painted stencils, some artists like Mark Jenkins are making a name for themselves with art installations.
Jenkins makes sculptures out of plain, clear plastic tape, then dresses the figures in clothing and places them in strange positions on busy street corners. One such sculpture has the shape of a person sticking out the side of a building. The headless figure makes the passersby do a double take; the look on their faces is priceless. Images of his work can be seen on his site, www.xmarkjenkinsx.com.
Whereas some may consider street art as just simply a masking for graffiti, they are clearly two different genres.
“It’s true that street art grew out of tagging and graffiti but what is different is the message,” said Netsil. “Graffiti isn’t always negative, the common misconception is that all of it is gang related, which is not true, or at least the good stuff isn’t. As for the case with street art, artists are using the streets to relay a message, be it political or simply artistic to the masses.”
One of Netsil’s messages includes an image of Vice President Dick Chaney holding a set of balloons in the shape of aerial bombs with children in the background, lining up for a free balloon.
As the definition of art is being reworked through a new generation of self-funded visionaries, art is now being used a means of communication, bringing to light issues such as politics to a broad population using the streets to convey the message.
“Art shouldn’t be confined to the frail walls of a gallery or museum, that charges a ridiculous entrance fee,” said Netsil. “It should be on the streets for all to see, where it can invoke free thought in a person, free of interference.”
As street artists continue to entertain a new generation of fans through means of spray paint or wheat and paper, be it plastered to the side of a freeway overpass or hanging in a pricey gallery, it shows the world that anyone can be an artist. It just takes some imagination and a blank wall.
As for Netsil, he will continue to plaster his toils of love as long as he is able to, bringing his vision to the streets.
“I like to stay productive,” he said. “I’d rather be making art to entertain others, getting chased off rooftops and reflect a message, than wasting time standing in line at some lame bar in Hollywood.”
This is a report I wrote on how guns from the U.S. are ending up in the hands of Mexico’s drug cartels. It is pretty down right shocking how easy it is to gun a assault rifle in this country. Read on and enjoy!
The Killing Business:
How Arms Trafficking To Mexico From The U.S. Is Fueling Mexico’s Drug War
In January 2007, during a routine inspection of the Carter’s County gun store in Houston, Texas, an operations officer from the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the federal law enforcement branch in charge of regulating firearms, found something suspicious. During a fifteen month period, twenty-three buyers had purchased a total of 339 military grade firearms, mostly AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifles and FN Herstal 5.7mm pistols worth a total of $366,450 (Goodman 3). The FN Herstal 5.7mm pistol fires a round that can pierce the body armor worn by police officers and is referred as the “matapolicias” (police killer) by Mexican drug cartels (Goodman 20-21).
In 2009, one of the twenty-three buyers, Juan Pablo Gutierrez of Houston, Texas, was convicted in U.S. District Court of eight counts of falsifying a material statement to a federal firearm licensee in connection with the purchase of a firearm. He is now serving a forty-six month prison sentence (Dodge 1). Gutierrez had bought “twenty-eight firearms for approximately $21,000 in cash” (Dodge 1). Most of the guns Gutierrez had bought would be illegally trafficked into Mexico and used to commit crimes by Mexican drug cartels (Dodge 2). Out of the 339 firearms bought, “Mexican authorities would recover eighty-eight of these firearms in Mexico and four were found in Guatemala (Goodman 3). In all, “eighteen Mexican police officers and civilians” were killed by guns acquired from the Carter’s County gun store (Goodman 3).
Stories like that of Juan Pablo Gutierrez and the Carter’s County gun store are becoming more common as illegal arms trafficking from the United States has helped fuel the de facto war on drugs, raging along the U.S. and Mexican border. A three-way war pitting the Mexican and U.S. government against Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations (DTO). A war intensified by American drug demand, lapse gun control, an arms black market and a lack of accountability from the U.S. government has caused the drug war in Mexico to escalate*, claiming approximately 28,228 lives in Mexico since January 2007, according to the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute. According to firearm traces conducted by the ATF of guns seized in Mexico by the Mexican government, over 90 percent of the guns traced in the last three years originated from the United States, 87 percent of guns have been traced back to the U.S. in the last five years (Ford 15). Between 2004 and 2008, 20,000 firearms were found to have came from the U.S. (Ford 15). According to ATF officials, “many of these firearms came from gun shops and gun shows in the Southwest border states, such as Texas, California and Arizona” (Ford 14).
As enormous amounts of lethal weapons continue to flow into Mexico unchecked from the U.S., a serious threat to security faces both the U.S. and Mexico, as drug related violence continues to spiral out of control on both sides of the border. According to a report published by the Rand Corporation, “organized crime (including drug trafficking and arms trafficking) is the primary security threat to the United States and Mexico” (Schaefer 17). U.S. and Mexican cities among the border have seen huge spikes in crime and violence related to the drug trade and arms trafficking. The once peaceful city of Phoenix, Arizona, is now the kidnapping capital of the U.S. In 2008, there were a reported 368 kidnappings, all related to the drug trade (Alonzo). Just across from El Paso, Texas, sits its sister city, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The drug trade has transformed this city into a battle ground. In 2008, the city’s chief of police was “assassinated twenty-four hours on the job, his predecessor had also been assassinated” (Schaefer 33). Ciudad Juárez has since become one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, it is estimated that 60,000 former residents of the city have fled to the U.S. or other parts of Mexico to escape the violence (Goodman 9).
As the death toll rises, members of both the U.S. and Mexican government have began to criticize the role The United States has played in combating the drug trade, an issue largely to blame on American drug demand and lapse gun control in the U.S. attributed for the increase of arms trafficking into Mexico from the U.S.
A 2009 report on arms trafficking to the U.S. Congress by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), found that the “United States lacks a comprehensive strategy to combat arms trafficking to Mexico” (Ford 52). The report uncovered many troubling issues, such as a total lack of coordination between federal law enforcement agencies in charge with policing arms trafficking, a lack of appropriate funding to combat arms trafficking and the need for new laws restricting the purchasing of firearms. If the U.S. government does not adopt new reforms, aimed at addressing arms trafficking, the violence will continues to escalate in Mexico’s war on drugs, which ultimately could cause Mexico to become a failed state as warned in a 2008 report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command, “in terms of worst-case scenarios, two large and important states that are at risk of rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico” (Schaefer 47).
Despite overwhelming amounts of evidence, there are critics who call claims of U.S. guns ending in the hands of Mexico’s DTOs as false. Much of the criticism comes from the pro-gun lobby controlled by the U.S. gun industry. Chris W. Cox, the executive director of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Institute for Legislative Action said, “to suggest that U.S. gun laws are somehow to blame for Mexican drug cartel violence is a sad fantasy” (Grimaldi). Cox stated “guns are coming to Mexico from other Central American countries,” a claim that both the GAO’s report and ATF officials found to be incorrect (Grimaldi). The NRA claims that Mexican DTOs are after military grade weapons, such as AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifles that are not available in the civilian U.S. gun market. A report from the Violence Policy Center (VPC) stated that the NRA is using a “campaign of disinformation” to mask the fact that these weapons are easily available from the U.S. civilian arms market (Rand 1). According to U.S. government documents, the VPC found “by the make, model, caliber, manufacturer and retail source, that the military style semiautomatic firearms easily available on the U.S. civilian gun market are a significant component of the weapons being trafficked and utilized by the Mexican cartels” (Rand 1).
The NRA have accused U.S. law makers of using Mexico’s drug war as an excuse to increase gun regulation and challenge the Second Amendment. In a May, 2010, speech to the U.S. Congress, Mexican President, Felipe Calderon, urged Congress to reinstate the “Federal Assault Weapon Ban.” The ban prevented the sale of military grade, assault weapon to the public, the ten year ban expired in 2004 (Charles). Due to the expiration of the ban, assault weapons have become readily available among the Southwest U.S. border, where the majority of arms are trafficking into Mexico. Some members of the U.S. government are also skeptical of the U.S. involvement in arms trafficking. In a June, 2009, article from the Los Angeles Times, Republican representative, Connie Mack of Florida, said the GAO’s report on arms trafficking was based on “assumptions rather that facts” (Meyers). Mack questioned the claim that 90 percent of firearms seized in Mexico came from the U.S., “Mack noted that out of the 30,000 firearms seized in Mexico in 2008, the report says only 7,200 were submitted for tracing” (Meyers). “Where did the other 22,000 guns that were seized come from? Venezuela? Europe? Ecuador? Nicaragua?” stated Mack (Meyers). The GAO’s report acknowledges that its findings are based on a percentage of the gun seized (Meyers). Among the critics of the report were some member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In a letter response to the GAO’s report, officials from the DHS called the claimed percentage of firearms traced back to the U.S. as “misleading” (Ford 69).
The DHS stated they found “numerous problems with the data collection and sample population render this assertion as unreliable” (Ford 69). GAO officials who authored the report, disagree with the DHS’s findings. According to “ATF trace date each year since 2004 identified that most of the firearms seized in Mexico and traced came from the United States” (Ford 72). The GAO report also detailed the issue preventing more firearms seized in Mexico from being traced. All firearms traces are conducted by the ATF’s electronic firearm tracing system, “eTrace.” The ability of Mexican government officials to submit firearms to be traced were hampered because a Spanish language version of “eTrace” was under development for months and was not deployed across Mexico at the time of report (Ford 4). The system has since been updated to support Spanish.
Mexico’s war on drugs started in December of 2006, with the election of Mexican President Felipe Calderon. President Calderon took a hard line approach against Mexico’s drug cartels and DTOs. He “mobilized the Mexican military and law enforcement in series of large scale counter-narcotics operations throughout the country” (Ford 7). A total of 24,000 soldiers and federal police were sent to nine states to combat the cartels (Cook 15). Prior to the mobilization of Mexico military and law enforcement, “Mexico has struggled to articulate a cohesive national security strategy” (Schaefer XIII). As the Mexican government began to pursue, capture or kill the leaders of Mexico’s largest DTOs, drug related violence increased dramatically (Ford 7). Countering pressure from the government and law enforcement, Mexico’s drug cartels responded with increases in violent crime against the state, resulting in the killing of innocent civilians, law enforcement officials and politicians. Between 2007 and 2009, “a total of 915 municipal police officers, 698 state police officers and 463 federal agents have been killed” (Goodman 4). In June 2010, a leading gubernatorial candidate, Rodolfo Torre Cantu was shot dead just days before an election (Goodman 8).
Because of the threat now posed by Mexico’s DTOs, The Congressional Research Service released a report to the United States Congress on Mexico’s Drug Cartels (DTO) in 2009. The report was also released on Wikileaks.org. The report detailed the major DTOs operating in Mexico and the trends in violent activity associated with the DTOs. Mexico’s DTOs or cartels have existed for some time, but became more propionate and powerful after the fall of Colombian drug trade, with the dismantling of Colombia’s Cali and Medellín drug cartels in the 1900s (Cook 1). “Mexican drug cartels now dominate the wholesale illicit drug market in the United States” (Cook 1). “In 2006, the National Drug Intelligence Center estimated that Mexican drug trafficking organizations annually generate between $8.3 and $24.9 billion in wholesale drug earnings in the United States” (Cook 4). “In addition to drug trafficking, Mexican cartels have been tied to both human and arms trafficking, auto theft, and kidnaping” (Cook 6). The seven major DTOs currently operating in Mexico are the Gulf Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Juárez Cartel, Colima Cartel, Oaxaca Cartel, and Valencia Cartel. The largest of the seven, the Gulf, Sinaloa and Juárez Cartels are present in much of Mexico (Cook 1). Among the majority of the cartels being composed of violent criminals, most of these cartels also use their own private armies of enforcers to intimidate or murder anyone that stands in their way. The Zetas are a private army, made up of former member of the Mexican military’s Special Air Mobile Force Group (Cook 10).The Zetas are employed by the Gulf Cartel to carry out executions, kidnappings, collect drug payments and traffic arms (Cook 11). In response to the Zetas, the Sinaloa Cartel created their own heavily armed army of enforcers, the Negros and Pelones (Cook 11).
From January 2000 through September 2006, the Mexican government arrested over 79,000 people on charges related to drug trafficking, 78,831 were of low level drug dealers (Cook 3). Mexico officals also arrested 15 cartel leaders, 74 lieutenants, 53 financial officers, and 428 hitmen (sicarios)” (Cook 3). As top drug cartel leaders were being imprisoned or killed, a power struggle developed between rival drug cartels, fighting over drug smuggling routes into the U.S., which has led to an increase in violence plaguing the border today. The sight of decapitated heads placed on public display and mass graves filled with cartel members, killed by rival drug cartels and murdered civilians are now a regular occurrence stemming from these turf wars. In December of 2009, “the severed heads of six state police investigators were found in a public plaza in the Mexican State of Durango” (Olson). Through the smuggling routes, an estimated twenty-five to thirty-billion dollars worth of illegal drugs are smuggled into the U.S. each year. (Schaefer XVI). “About 90 percent of cocaine that enters the United States is trafficked through Mexico” (Schaefer XVI). Mexico has now become the main supplier of marijuana and methamphetamine in the U.S. Approximately 15,500 metric tons of marijuana was produced in Mexico and exported to the U.S. in 2007, all to supply an endless American demand (Schaefer XVI). “The Mexican government has urged the United States to increase its efforts to reduce U.S. demand for drugs, stating that it cannot succeed in its efforts against the cartels so long as cartels stand to earn billions of dollars annually from the U.S. illicit drug market (Cook 1).
As drugs flow north from Mexico into the U.S., guns and drug profits flow back south into Mexico. Due to strict firearm laws in Mexico, that bars the average person from owning firearms and lapse gun control in the United States, an arms black market has emerged in Mexico. The most sought after weapons by Mexican DTO’s are semi-automatic assault rifles (Goodman 19). According to date from the ATF, “in August 2010, the top two firearms recovered in Mexico that had been purchased in the United States in the past three years were in order, AK-47 type semi-automatic rifles (7.62 x 39mm caliber) and AR-15 semi-automatic rifle clones (.223 caliber)” similar to the rifles Juan Pablo Gutierrez was arrested for trafficking (Goodman 19). Another sought after weapon, is the .50 caliber Barrett rifle, a military grade sniper rifle, able to hit targets from more than a mile away and able to penetrate armored vehicles (Goodman 20). A Barrett rifle is believed to been have used in the assignation of Ciudad Juarez’s chief of police in 2008 (Goodman 7). Because of the demand for these weapons, once trafficked into Mexico, each rifle could be sold for “three to four times its original purchase price” and depending how far south the weapon is smuggled into the country, it may be resold for between “$2,000 and $4,000 above its original price” (Goodman 24).
Most of the weapons illegally trafficked into Mexico, are acquired through “straw purchases” through U.S. gun dealers (Goodman 22). A “straw purchase” is a scheme involving a person acquiring a firearm for another person who is legally unable to purchase firearms. According to U.S. Gun Control Act of 1969, obtaining a firearm for a person who legally cannot possess one is a felony. Among aiding arms trafficking into Mexico, “straw purchases” have also put guns into the hands of criminals in the U.S.
As in the case of Darryl Jeter, a 27 year old from Chicago, now serving a life sentence for killing Indiana State Trooper, Scott Patrick. Jeter had acquired the gun used to kill Patrick, a .380-caliber FEG semiautomatic handgun from another person who had originally bought it in a “straw purchase” (Thompson). In most cases, the buyers enlisted to perform “straw purchases” are people without criminal backgrounds, who are lured in by financial incentives. As in the case of Abram Sprenger, a U.S. citizen from Oklahoma arrested in March 2009 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), he was paid $4,500 to transport dozens of firearms and some ammunition from the U.S. to Oaxaca, Mexico (Goodman 24). According to the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, it is illegal to export firearms or ammunition outside of the U.S. (Ford 30). Among transport by vehicles, arms traffickers are finding other means to get their contraband into Mexico. According to officials from U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), “firearms traffickers are increasingly using sophisticated and unsophisticated tunnels under the U.S. and Mexican border to smuggle firearms” (Goodman 27). “62 tunnels have been found along the border in Arizona and near San Diego, California since September 11, 2001” (Goodman 27). In some case “firearms traffickers just throw firearms over the border fence, to be picked up by a cohort on the other side” (Goodman 27).
Aiding traffickers is the lack of screening at the U.S. and Mexican border. While northbound traffic heading from Mexico into the U.S. is heavy inspected by the CBP, most southbound traffic is rarely inspected, allowing for arms and contraband to easily be trafficked into Mexico. CBP officials noted that there are current twenty-four northbound lanes at the U.S and Mexican border, “with inspection booths and screening technologies that enable them to process about 110,000 vehicles and pedestrians crossing from Mexico into the United States every day with an average one to one and a half hour wait per vehicle” (Ford 35). “There are only six southbound lanes, none of which have the inspections infrastructure that northbound lanes have, and the majority of vehicles cross into Mexico without stopping on either side of the border” (Ford 35). In 2008, The CBP reported only seizing seventy weapons at southbound border crossings (Ford 34).
Contributing to the success of arms traffickers is the sheer number of firearm dealers among the Southwest border of the U.S. and federal laws that make it difficult to stop arms trafficking. According to ATF data, “there is around 6,700 retail gun dealers along Southwest border of the United States, which makes up 12 percent of firearms dealers nationwide,” much of which are pawn shops and private arms dealers operating from their own homes (Ford 20-21). In Mexico, there is only one official sanctioned arms dealer, the “Directorate for Arms and Munitions Sales” in Mexico City, which is operated by the Mexican Military (Hawley). While the majority of arms dealers in the U.S. attempt to prevent “straw purchases.” In some cases, the ATF has found U.S. arms dealers that sell knowingly to arms traffickers. In 2008, George Iknadosian, owner of X-Caliber guns in Phoenix, Arizona, was arrested for trafficking more than 650 AK-47 rifles to Mexican DTO’s (Goodman 25). Iknadosian was caught on tape instructing an undercover ATF agent posing as a straw purchaser how to traffic arms into Mexico, “advising them to cross on weekends and Fridays when border agents might be off fishing” (Grimaldi). Ikandosian was quoted saying, “When you guys buy them [guns], I run the paperwork, you’re okay, you’re gone. On my end, I don’t give a crap” (Grimaldi).
Ikandosian was charged with violations of state fraud, forgery, racketeering and money laundering (Grimaldi). Despite a mountain of evidence against him, all charges against Ikandosian were dismissed by a state judge in March of 2009. The ATF did not have evidence proving that Ikandosian had “knowingly sold weapons intended for criminals” (Grimaldi). Despite in most cases, a sufficient amount of evidence proving that arms deals knowing participate in “straw purchases,” it has been difficult to prove the buyer is purchasing the weapon for a criminal and bring charges against gun dealers. These legal loopholes have aided arms traffickers and have frustrated the ATF. “If you’re a gun dealer and you see a 21or 22-year-old young lady walk in and plop down $15,000 in cash to buy 20 AK-47s, you might want to ask yourself what she needs them for,” said Bill Newell, the ATF special agent in charge in Phoenix. “If she says, ‘Christmas presents,’ technically the dealer doesn’t have to ask for more” (Grimaldi).
Due to limitations on recording keeping and purchase restrictions, ATF arms trafficking investigations are often hindered. Under current federal law, “the U.S. government is prohibited by law from maintaining a national registry of firearms” (Goodman 25). Further complicating arm trafficking investigations is the “Tiahrt Amendment,” an amendment passed in 2003, that banned the release of comprehensive gun trace date from crimes. Until the passing of the amendment, the data was readily available under the “Freedom of Information Act” (Rand 4). Federal laws regarding arms purchases also are problematic.
Any federal firearms licensed dealer (FFL) is “required by federal law to maintain records of firearm transactions and to provide information on the first retail purchaser of a firearm” but if firearms are sold by a private dealer, pawn shops or at a gun show, “these sales require no background checks of the purchaser and require no record be made or kept of the sale” (Ford 22). Because of the lack of record keeping, it takes the ATF an average of fourteen days to track firearms, which often results in the gun being traced back to the first owner (Ford 25-26). Federal law also mandates that if a “FFL that sells two or more handguns within five business days to an individual, it must report the information on the transaction to the ATF” (Ford 28). “However, the requirement does not apply to purchases of long guns (rifles),” such as AR-15 and AK-47 type assault rifles that are sought after by Mexican DTO’s (Ford 28).
Prior to the expiration of the “Federal Assault Weapon Ban” in 2004, all semi-automatic firearms were prohibited to be sold to the public, the expiration of this ban has contributed to the trafficking of military grade assault weapons. Even with the current restrictions, traffickers can easily go around the law, “traffickers can effectively purchase two or more guns within five business days without having such purchases reported as long as they purchase no more than one gun at any individual FFL” (Ford 28).
Addressing the evidence that arms trafficking from the United States is a culprit in Mexico’s war on drug, the U.S. government has taken some steps in preventing arms trafficking into Mexico. In 2005, the ATF developed “Project Gunrunner,” a joint operation between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement, aimed at disrupting arms trafficking. In 2009, the ATF had referred 497 cases for possible prosecution for firearms trafficking violations to Mexico stemming from “Project Gunrunner” (Goodman 5). “On June 30, 2008, U.S. President George W. Bush signed the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2008 (Pub. L. 110-252), which provided Mexico with $352 million in 2008 in supplemental assistance and $48 million in 2009” (Schaefer 52), this was know as the “The Mérida Initiative,” a plan aimed at helping Mexico combat drug trafficking by improving law enforcement.
In 2008, ICE created “Operation Armas Cruzadas,” also aimed at preventing arms trafficking. As of May 2010, 749 individuals were arrested due to “Operation Armas Cruzadas” (Goodman 13). For the first time, the 2009 edition of the “National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy” by the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy contained a chapter on “combating illicit arms trafficking to Mexico” (Ford preface). “Prior to the new strategy, the U.S. government did not have a strategy that explicitly addressed arms trafficking to Mexico” (Ford 5).
A 2009 report on arms trafficking by the GAO found that among the successes of U.S. government in curbing arms trafficking, some major issues were presented, mainly that the “United States lacks a comprehensive strategy to combat arms trafficking to Mexico” (Ford 52). The reported found that even though law enforcement agencies, like the ATF and ICE had strategic plans on arms trafficking, neither agency’s “plan focuses on arms trafficking to Mexico or lays out a comprehensive plan for how the agencies would address the problem” (Ford 52). The report found a lack of coordination between the ATF and ICE in their efforts to combat arms trafficking (Ford 28).
The report stated “the agencies have not coordinated and collaborated on some covert operations, potentially compromising the effectiveness of these efforts” (Ford 31). As in an example stated in the report, of an “ICE agent unknowing conducting surveillance on an ATF agent who was pursuing a suspected trafficker” (Ford 31). A more shocking case involved Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro, a Mexican drug runner with ties to the Juárez Cartel, turned confidential informant for ICE. While working as an informant for ICE, Peyro was payed close to $250,000 over four years for information he provide to ICE (Kahn).
His information help lead to the arrest of a corrupt U.S. immigration agent that was taking bribes from drug cartels and the bust of an international cigarette smuggling ring. While on ICE’s payroll, Peyro was still working for the Juárez Cartel. He was caught smuggling “more than 100 pounds of marijuana” and was implicated in a number of murders. In one murder, which he had secretly recorded, he admitted to holding the legs of a victim as he was being brutally strangled and beaten with a shovel. Peyro provided information regarding all the murders, including the locations where the bodies had been buried to ICE, but ICE failed to share this information with other U.S. and Mexican law enforcement agencies (Kahn).
Because of the Peyro case, ICE is now being sued by the relatives of victims murdered in association with Peyro (Kahn). Among the lack of coordination among U.S. law enforcement, issues raised by the GAO’s report included a lack of focus and funding on specifically combating arms trafficking. In 2008, The Mérida Initiative was created, aimed at helping Mexico combat drug trafficking. The initiative would provide law enforcement and counter-narcotics support but does not focus on arms trafficking (Ford 48). The Mérida Initiative also “included no details on which agency or agencies of the government should be responsible for developing and implementing a strategy on arms trafficking” (Ford 55).
As Mexico’s drug war continues to claim more lives, the U.S. government has to address their role in the violence. As more firearms flow south into Mexico and drug demand increases in the U.S., Mexico will be locked in a prolonged, bloody war that could ultimately destabilize the country. Factors to be addressed include curbing U.S. drug demand, strengthening and coordinating law enforcement efforts to combat arms trafficking, and better regulation of the U.S. firearms industry. Without reforms by the U.S. government aimed helping Mexico defeat its drug cartels, the violence seen at the U.S. and Mexican border will continue to spill over and affect security in both countries.
The financial backing and violence associated with Mexico’s drug war has to do with U.S. drug demand. The drug trade in the U.S. is overwhelming, an estimated twenty-five to thirty-billion dollars worth of illegal drugs are smuggled into the U.S. each year. (Schaefer XVI). Much of the U.S. government’s drug policy, focuses primarily on local eradication, incarceration of offenders (drug addicts) and preventing drugs from entering the U.S., not much effort had been placed on drug treatment and drug harm prevention. According to the 2009 edition of the Nation Southwest Border Counter-Narcotic Strategy, the U.S. administration is now “focusing on integrating substance abuse services into national healthcare systems with early screening, diagnosis, and intervention as regular preventative medicine,” aimed at preventing drug addicts as opposed to containing it (Kerlikowske 3).
Long term prevention is the only means by which the U.S. can reduce drug abuse and demand, as stated in the counter-narcotic strategy, “Effective prevention is essential to our efforts to reduce illegal drug use over the long term” (Kerlikowske 3). Among different approaches aimed at stopping drug related violence, there has been calls to legalize drugs in the United States. Recently in California, a ballot measure, Proposition 19, proposed legalizing marijuana for personal use, where the state government would tax and regulate the drug. The proposition was aimed at helping cut off drug profits for the Mexican DTOs, redirect law enforcement to more serious crimes and to generate money for the cash strapped state of California. The proposition failed to pass, 53 percent of voters, voted against it (Wikipedia).
In order to combat arms trafficking and cut off the supply of deadly weapons to Mexico’s DTO, the U.S. government will need to strengthen federal firearm laws and better coordinate law enforcement efforts aimed at specially addressing arms trafficking into Mexico. In efforts to prevent deadly weapons from being acquired by criminals, U.S. law makers will need to reinstate the ‘Federal Assault Weapon Ban” that expired in 2004, the ban would prevent the import and sale of military-grade assault weapons, such as the ones used by Mexican DTOs, from being sold to the public. The VPC has also called for the reclassification of assault weapons as “non-sporting” weapons, under the 1986 Gun Control Act, which would also restrict their sale (Rand 21). Under the same provision, guns like the FN Herstal 5.7mm pistol can be included, making these guns, widely used in the killing of police officers less accessible (Rand 21).
The U.S. Congress will need to repel the “Tiahrt Amendment,” thus repelling the ban on the public release of gun trace date from crimes. Without more government transparency, gun traffickers and gun dealers who knowing sell to arms traffickers will continue to flourish. Among the new federal regulations needed to stop arms trafficking, efforts among U.S. law enforcement will need to be increased. The GAO’s report found major issues with the lack of coordination between the two federal law enforcement agencies in charge of policing arms trafficking by default, the ATF and ICE. Among the lack of coordination, both agencies lacked “comprehensive plans for addressing arms trafficking” (Ford 52).
The ATF has the responsibility of regulating and investigating firearms trafficking in the U.S., while ICE enforces the illegal export of firearms and smuggling of goods from the U.S. to Mexico (Ford 30). Officials from both agencies have “cited examples of how unclear roles and responsibilities have hindered communication and cooperation during some operations” (Ford 30). The GAO’s report has recommended the creation of a “interagency, bilateral operational arms trafficking task force to conduct joint operations and investigations including both U.S. and Mexican government officials” (Ford 32). These joint task forces between the ATF and ICE would better unitize the expertise of both agencies and as well as cut down issues with unclear roles and lack of communication.
Without implicating new reforms, aimed at reducing U.S. drug demand and preventing weapons from entering Mexico, Mexico’s drug war will continue to rage on and claim thousands of more lives. As Americans carelessly continue to use drugs and the American Gun Lobby continues to scoff in the face of mounting evidence, a deadly game of cat and mouse is being played at the U.S. and Mexican border. As tons of drugs flow north, machines of death and the money used to fund this endless cycle of destruction are smuggled south. While once prosperous Mexican towns, have now become hollow, bullet-ridden shells of their former selves, where the people foolish enough to stay behind, do not dare venture out at night. Just while across the border, a person buys a gun for someone he just met, who offered him $50 and an ounce of cocaine for a gun able to penetrate body armor. After signing on the dotted line and waiting for the chrome plated taker of lives to be fetched from the stock room, the buyer does not notice the blood on his hands.
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