The Price of the Innocents

How many Suzie Maries are being killed daily in the crossfire in Iraq?

By Roberto Rodriguez
Published on LatinoLA: July 18, 2005

The Price of the Innocents

As a result of the recent SWAT police shootout in the Watts section of Los Angeles, this much is known: gunman Jose Raul Pe?a and his 19 month-old daughter, Suzie Marie, are both dead from police bullets.

William J. Bratton, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, immediately lay the blame on the father (a car dealer and ex-soldier from El Salvador) -- who used his daughter as a human shield during the shootout - characterizing him as a bad man.

Several investigations are already underway regarding the circumstances and tactics of the SWAT team, etc. However, three things are not in dispute: Suzie Marie was unintentionally killed; her death is a tragedy; and Suzie Marie's mother, Lorena Lopez (pictured), will be compensated.

The only question will be, how much? as in how much the price of a child?

There's little doubt Lopez will be receiving a sum with lots of zeroes. Yet no amount of money will soften the tragedy. No one disputes this. Not the chief, not the new mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, not anyone.

This unfolding tragedy serves as a reminder regarding the value that society places on human life. That officers would shoot at a gunman -- who is using a child as a shield -- is also an uncomfortable reminder of the dehumanization that our society has undergone since 911. One would have expected the opposite, but we do live in times of numbing dehumanization.

Suzie Marie's death has transfixed the City of the Future, causing it to collectively ask about the wisdom and limits of force in resolving conflicts and innocent bystanders.

Think about Iraq. (Others are recalling the 40th anniversary of the Watts riots, whose epicenter was nearby).

How many Suzie Maries are being killed daily in the crossfire in Iraq? We don't know, primarily because this administration - with seemingly full compliance from the mainstream media -- has intentionally shielded Americans from the actual horrors of the war. (The world media does not censor the news from the front).

Why? Because war is hell.

Suzie Marie's tragedy shows us that the death of a single child can stir the emotions and conscience of an entire city (along with the people of El Salvador). The political strategists at the White House know this full well.

This may well explain why the Pentagon does not count, much less name Iraqi casualties (unless it is to its political advantage). To do so might stir the American conscience. (The world conscience, particularly among Arabs-Muslims, has already been stirred as it is continually outraged by this dehumanizing practice).

The outcry over Suzie Marie helps to explain why we are not permitted to see those horrors of war, nor the funerals for U.S. service personnel. The collective emotions of the nation might be stirred.

Imagery is powerful and a lesson learned from Vietnam.

Yet the tragedy in Watts also points to another, even more uncomfortable truth. When force is used, it must be based on truth (including an accurate arrest warrant) and the threat posed by the situation must be credible and imminent. When there's an innocent party involved (Suzie Marie), another factor enters the picture: the force used should be both proportionate and measured. This is what the investigations will examine.

Across the ocean, Israel has engineered the controversial practice of ?targeted assassinations,? which require no trials. As long as the primary target is a known terrorist/combatant, it matters little if anyone else is killed. While clearly reckless, if not outright illegal, its chief ally (the United States) does not forcefully condemn the practice, thus, the Israeli Defense Forces do not feel morally constrained.

In the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars, the U.S. military has borrowed that same technique and rationale: it's the terrorists fault for hiding among civilians.

Obviously, the technique and frequency are greatly magnified in Iraq, involving thousands of deaths. However, unlike police departments that acknowledge when they raid the wrong house and/or kill innocent bystanders, the U.S. administration has undeniably raided the wrong country. Yet, the Bush administration continues the war as if somehow, because the war rationale has changed, it is somehow now the right house. (It can do this as long as the victims remain nameless and faceless).

In Los Angeles, the police chief has justified the killing and the tragedy of Pe?a and his daughter by claiming that he was a bad man. That cannot be the standard for use of force when it involves innocent bystanders? unless American cities are now also being regarded as actual war zones.

? Column of the Americas 2005

About Roberto Rodriguez:
The writers can be reached at: 608-238-3161 or or Column of the Americas, PO BOX 5093 Madison WI 53705. The bilingual weekly columns are archived at:

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