SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A photo showing a Border Patrol agent helping a child shooting a powder-filled ball at a target resembling a human in front of a metal wall at the border sparked outrage from activists, who said the image evoked the shooting of an immigrant.
But any suggestion the picture means the agency shows citizens how to attack immigrants is “patently false,” Border Patrol spokesman Paul D. Carr said in a statement Friday.
The photo, taken at a multi-agency law enforcement community relations event in June at a mall located near the Mexican border, shows the child shooting a device resembling a gun firing rounds full of baby powder meant to simulate the non-lethal pepper balls the agency uses. The target depicts a short man wearing T-shirt, baggy jeans and a baseball cap.
Pedro Rios, Chair of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, said the demonstration was inappropriate.
“The target is dressed to resemble a migrant and is located within 100 feet from Virginia Avenue where actual persons have been killed by Border Patrol gunfire,” he said. “While encouraging children to use guns to shoot at a migrant effigy is unconscionable, it is also symbolic of the agency's unabashed culture of violence which has grown from a lack of accountability, oversight and unprofessional standards that rebuke best practices in situations involving use-of-force.”
Rios was referring to the agency's decision last year to allow Border Patrol agents to continue using deadly force against rock-throwers, despite the recommendation of a government-commissioned review to end the practice.
For safety reasons, agents decided to put the shooting range against the wall, which is owned by the Border Patrol but is a barrier to mark the mall's private property from federal land, Carr said. The actual border fence is behind the wall, though the two barriers are both made of corrugated metal and look the same.
He also denied that the target was intended to resemble an immigrant.
“The target is a standard practice target used by law enforcement and even amateurs throughout the U.S., and is clothed in plain jeans and a t-shirt,” he said.
Rios' group released the photo Friday, and the Border Patrol acknowledged its authenticity while disputing the activist group's interpretation.
The agency said the event was “meant to bring members of the community together to build relationships and increase awareness about law enforcement,” and included all kinds of activities including a fun run to honor fallen border agents.
“This specific activity was meant to create awareness about law enforcement tools used to address some violent situations without the use of deadly force,” Carr said in the statement.