Shame on the New York Times: The truth could have meant one less person would have been beaten, raped or murdered this year by US Border Patrol agents
By Brenda Norrell
(Photo: Angie Ramon at the site of her son Bennett Patricio's death/Photo Brenda Norrell; Photo 2: US Border Patrol spy camera focused on O'odham home; Photo 3: Migrant detention center called 'dog cage' by Indigenous on Tohono O'odham land. Photo Ofelia Rivas.)
SELLS, Ariz. -- Shame on the New York Times for failing to tell the real story of the Tohono O'odham border and the complicity between elected Tohono O'doham officials, tribal police and US Border Patrol agents. The truth could have meant that one less person would have been beaten, raped or murdered this year by US Border Patrol agents.
Today's article in the New York Times, "War Without Borders," is the typical mainstream article on the Arizona border, which supports more militarization and abuse at the border. News reporter Erik Echholm offers a superficial view of the situation, focusing on drug trafficking, rather than revealing the real story.
If the reporter had spent more time here, knew more Tohono O'odham, and listened more to the Tohono O'odham, instead of the profiteering politicians, the New York Times would have told a different story.
Ofelia Rivas, Tohono O'odham on the border, describes her encounter with the reporter and what he failed to include in the article.
"He came to my home under the pretense of writing about the real border issue. He tried to twist my words. He asked me the same question in several different versions so I told him that exactly, any written word about the ongoing American drug war will only justify in bringing more military and Border Patrol to my lands.
"The United States needs to stop their drug operations in South America, stop supplying arms to protect their drugs and stop using our lands for their passage way. Our people are sitting in prisons for drug smuggling charges as a result of American drug trafficking and their policies, which they hide behind. That is all I can say about the drug business. He didn't publish any of that.
"I told him do not twist my words to justify your story. I said, 'Are you going to write about all the Border Patrol abuses on the O'odham and that the American government waived all protective laws to justify all these violations?' I told him of the right of the O'odham to remain sovereign.
"I told him, 'The O'odham are endangered by these policies including our language and entire culture. Do not write anything that will further endanger my people.'
"It the same old business, nothing but that. And what does Ned (Charmain Ned Norris, Jr.) say, business as usual, justifying and verifying the loss of his authority to be a true leader for the people," Rivas said in response.
If you count the number of paragraphs written about drug trafficking in the New York Times article, then count the number of paragraphs quoting Ofelia Rivas concerning the human rights violations, you will discover that the reporter came in with a preconceived story to tell and did not listen.
If the reporter had spent time getting to know the Tohono O'odham and listened, he would have discovered that the Tohono O'odham elected leaders, the chairman and district officials, have been coopted by the United States government and work together with federal agents to violate the rights of the Tohono O'odham people. Since 9/11, a climate of fear has led the US Border Patrol and tribal police to ignore laws and basic human rights, and get away with it.
It is not just harassment. O'odham, including women traveling alone and the elderly, are terrorized and held at gunpoint by the US Border Patrol. O'odham are beaten and killed by the US Border Patrol.
Bennett Patricio, Jr., 18, Tohono O'odham, was walking home when he was run over and killed by a US Border Patrol agent. His family believes that he walked upon Border Patrol agents involved in a drug transfer in the predawn hours in the desert and was murdered. Patricio's family has taken the case all the way to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. (Nearby, the FBI had to shut down Operation Lively Green in Tucson because so many US soldiers, prison guards, military recruiters, etc., wanted to smuggle cocaine for cash, from Nogales, Ariz. to Phoenix.)
In federal court, in Bennett Patricio, Jr.'s case, as in the majority of cases filed against US Border Agents who have murdered people of color, injustice prevailed. The Border Agent was not held responsible. (The case files are in Arizona federal courts.)
The Tohono O'odham government is dependent on the US government for funding dollars and does not support the Tohono O'odham people who are abused by the US Border Patrol.
The testimonies at the Indigenous Peoples Border Summit of the Americas, held in San Xavier District on the Tohono O'odham Nation in 2006 and 2007, compiled for the United Nations, is available. (Audios at www.earthcycles.net) The summits were organized by Mike Flores, Tohono O'odham, to document the abuses of the US Border Patrol. This testimony reveals the long standing abuse by the US Border Patrol working in complicity with the Tohono O'odham government, including the chairman, legislative council, district officials and tribal police.
When members of the Mohawk Warrior Society visited the Tohono O'odham border, and witnessed the federal spy towers and arrests of Indigenous Peoples during the border summits, they were outraged, disgusted and saddened. An outdoor migrant detention facility, called "a dog cage," by Navajo Lenny Foster, was just one of the human rights violations.
Today, the US government has spy towers on the Tohono O'odham Nation and continues to arrest Indigenous Peoples. The Tohono O'odham Nation made it a crime for O'odham to offer water or aid to migrants, including Indigenous Peoples, even if they are dying. Still, many O'odham do offer aid to their fellow human beings.
"The US Border Patrol is an occupying army," says Mike Wilson, Tohono O'odham, who puts out water for migrants at water stations against the wishes of the Tohono O'odham Nation. Wilson points out that non-O'odham have failed to hold the Tohono O'odham Nation, the elected politicians, responsible for crimes against humanity.
Today's article in the New York Times only encourages the half-truths promoted by elected politicians and US federal agents. It fails to reveal the true story of the militarization of Tohono O'odham lands and the suffering of the people. Perhaps if this reporter had searched for one body, the body of a Mayan mother walking with her children from Guatemala in scorching temperatures over 115 degrees, his life and his story might have been different. Perhaps if he had talked to the family of one young man from Mexico, who was murdered at close range by a US Border Patrol agent, the reporter's story would have been different. Perhaps if he had seen the grave of one tiny child in the Sonoran Desert, draped with Mayan beads, his life and his story would have been different.
The New York Times article also fails to question the Tohono O'odham's lucrative Desert Diamond Casino, packed with crowds. The Times fails to question where the millions of dollars are going from this casino. It only takes a look around on the Tohono O'odham Nation to see that the millions are not going to the O'odham people. The people are suffering and in desperate need of housing and jobs. If you talk to O'odham, you will find that many need food and firewood, including women, children and the elderly.
The New York Times article fails to describe the abuse by the US Border Patrol when O'odham living along the border cross for family and ceremonial reasons.
The situation on the Tohono O'odham Nation is compounded by the fact that there is no freedom of the press here. In fact, news reporters who want to tell other than the politicians' side of the story are followed, detained and harassed by the US Border Patrol. (This was the case when I conducted radio interviews for BBC at the border and during other visits with news media.) In silence and secrecy, oppression and cruelty, these crimes against humanity flourish.
If the New York Times reporter had spent more time listening to Ofelia Rivas and other O'odham, he would have told a different story.
But that requires listening, and time. It requires spending years in an area and getting to know the people and the land. It requires knowing and listening to the people, instead of rushing in for a few days or a week and simply quoting politicians and US federal agents.
New York Times article: