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This film aired once on the PBS series P.O.V. in the summer of 2008,
and I was lucky enough to have caught it. It has not been rebroadcast
or distributed as a retail DVD. I consider it one of the most important
documentaries I've ever seen, and now that the immigration issue has
gotten overly heated and Obama is sending National Guard troops to the
Mexican border this film has become more relevant than ever.
The Marines were put on the border in Texas to observe activity of suspected drug smuggling at a river border crossing. They had been given false information relating to the local townspeople, which said that 75% of then were involved in drug trafficking. None of the local landowners were aware of their presence. (The reality was - it was the Sheriff of the County that had been driving cocaine across the border in his horse trailer for years. He was finally busted with 3 tons).
Esequiel, a local high school student, went out to graze his family's goats, taking his .22 rifle to protect the herd from wild dogs and coyotes as he always did. The Marines came upon Esequiel (with his goats) and immediately suspected him of being a criminal. The Marines were heavily camouflaged and hiding. Esequiel saw movement in their direction and fired his gun. It's not known if he fired at the Marines or something else. The Marines assumed he had fired at them, but the kid could not have known it was Marines in camouflage.
The Marines were angry and excited, and the squad leader wanted to pursue the kid and "neutralize" him, though this went against their order to follow the "Rules of Engagement". They stalked him for some time closing the distance between them. Then one of the Marines shot and killed the boy.
The story that was told was that Ezequiel had raised his gun to fire at them a second time, which was a fabrication according to the FBI and Marine investigators and other law enforcement officers, as well as three of the Marines involved. The forensic evidence proved that the boy was not aiming his gun at them but facing the other direction.
Both the Department of Defense and the Justice Departmant blatantly lied about the incident, covering up the truth that a Marine murdered a good Texan.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A documentary that personalizes the problems of trying to protect the
US border from illegal immigrants.
In patrolling the Texas-Mexico boundary, a Marine kills a young US citizen who is herding goats -- and just happens to be carrying a rifle like so many others in that remote part of the Texas backwoods.
Esequiel Hernandez became the first American civilian killed by the US military since the students at Kent State back in 1970. We meet the dead boy's father, brother, teacher, and others who miss and appreciated him.
There are also incisive words from a local historian who questions why we spend so much on protecting the border when those who live in the region suffer from severe poverty. We also meet the Marine who fired the deadly shot, and we see that his life went seriously downhill afterward though no one ever went on trial for the killing.
I liked that this movie tried to put a face on these struggles at the border -- forcing those of us on the sidelines to consider these problems in a far less conceptual way.
This movie's receiving a 9.1 rating seems a little excessive; it's a certainly a thought-provoking effort but I think "Ballad" fell short by failing to provide substantial context for its story. Isn't there some need for border protection at all? And if the way we're doing it is too fraught with risks, what would be a decent alternative?
I think the movie suffered by omitting such questions entirely.
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