The Apoca-List: A look back at things that pushed us closer to oblivion in 2012, and a few that may have drawn us back from the brink.
Published: December 26, 2012
Wait, so they'll shoot at you from helicopters?
That's the unnerving question we were left asking after a Texas Department of Public Safety sharpshooter, from his chopper, fired at a truck of Guatemalan immigrants speeding along a rural border road in October. An audio recording of the chase later confirmed that troopers believed the pickup was carrying drugs, not immigrants, as it sped down the Hidalgo County road. But instead of shooting out the truck's tires, as intended, the DPS sniper shot and killed two Guatemalan immigrants hidden under a tarp in the truck bed.
The shooting underscored the unusual and potentially dangerous policy allowing state troopers to fire on vehicles during hot pursuit — other states rarely, if ever, allow the practice. But the incident also highlights how Texas is blurring the line between military action and policing.
Insisting the feds haven't done enough to secure la frontera, Texas lawmakers since 2007 have approved more than $600 million for border operations. Most of that cash has gone to build a small DPS army on the border, with specialized Ranger Reconnaissance teams, helicopters, and even high-speed gunboats armed with multiple .30-caliber, fully automatic machine guns to patrol the Rio Grande.
Meanwhile, even as the country at-large debates if, when, and how law enforcement should be permitted to use surveillance aircraft (like drones) over US soil, DPS ratcheted up its surveillance efforts in 2012. As the Center for Investigative Reporting first uncovered, DPS in July inked a $7.4 million contract with a Swiss company for a high altitude spy plane, complete with an array of surveillance cameras and high-resolution thermal imaging systems.
Happy to exploit border security for the hot-button issue that it is, state Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples has continued to call for militarizing large swaths of the borderlands, creating "sanitary tactical zones." Perhaps after 2012, we're already there.
While investigations first started in 2011, the scandal roiling the ranks at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland snowballed this year, unearthing a total 49 victim trainees, all female, and 25 military training instructors investigated for misconduct ranging from inappropriate sexual relationships to harassment, sexual assault, and rape. So far nine boot camp instructors have faced charges.
Advocates for victims of military sexual trauma say the scandal at Lackland exposes flaws in the military's system of handling rape or assault cases. Those fears were further validated in an Air Force investigation released last month, which cited "a culture too accepting of misconduct" that led to the scandal.
At evidentiary hearings against trainers, women have testified to succumbing to sexual advances after feeling they had no other choice, begging uneasy questions over the power instructors wield and when, if ever, such encounters should be considered consensual. Other women who reported harassment testified they were reprimanded for bad performance, removed from their units, and threatened to repeat parts of basic training.
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