Monday, October 17, 2016

Timeline of a Song: Drive-by Truckers "Ramon Casiano"

Sometimes it takes awhile for a song to develop.

March 3, 1931: Harlon Carter hunts down 3 Mexican boys after his mother told him they were loitering around their property. Carter, shotgun in tow, finds them and tries to force them to come onto the Carter property for "questioning." Carter is 17 at the time and has no legal basis to make such an "arrest." They refuse, 15-year-old Ramon Casiano pulls a knife. Carter, 17 at the time, pulls the trigger, hitting Casiano in the chest and killing him. Carter is convicted of 2nd degree murder and sentenced to 3 years in jail. Not such a stiff penalty for murder but, after all, Casiano was Mexican. Carter appeals. A Texas appellate judge overturns the conviction, stating that the original judge was wrong for giving jury instructions that excluded self-defense as an appropriate defense to the crime. I wish I could say "only in Texas" would willfully taking a gun to go hunting for Mexicans be considered self-defense, but there's enough evidence to the contrary.

1932: Originally established in 1924 to counter the entry of Canadian hootch into the US (prohibition), The US Border Patrol establishes a Mexican border division. Harlon Carter's father is a ranking official.

1936: The Border Patrol, seemingly having no reservations about hiring a convicted murderer (overturned or not) takes on Harlon Carter.

1950: Harlon Carter rises through the ranks to head the US Border Patrol.

1951: Harlon Carter joins the National Rifle Association, primarily a sportsman's organization at the time.

1954: As head of the Border Patrol, Carter initiates a campaign to round up illegal immigrants. Its official title? Operation Wetback.

1973: Carter is investigated for the theft of 50,000 rounds of ammunition during his employment at the Immigration and Naturalization Service. No charges are filed.

1975: Carter heads a newly created division of the NRA, The NRA Institute of Legislative Action and commences to change the NRA from a hunting and sportsman organization to one with a far-right political agenda.

1977: Carter leads a movement against the leadership of the NRA and is named its Executive Vice-President, establishing a position that no gun control (including background checks) is acceptable. Carter also deems all existing gun laws at the time as unacceptable. He holds office in the NRA until 1985. Carter quotes from the period can be found here.

1981: News reports that Carter had been convicted of murder in 1931 surface. Carter denies it at first, but eventually admits to it. Still lying though, Carter states that the killing occurred on his family property.

November 19, 1991: Harlon Carter dies of lung cancer.

February 26, 2012: Trayvon Martin is shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed vigilante. Like Carter, he is charged with 2nd degree murder. Like Carter, he claims self-defense. He was scared of a black teenager wearing a hoodie. Unlike Carter, there is no need for an appeal. The jury finds him not guilty. 35 years of NRA propaganda apparently have infused the notion in our culture that killing non-whites is a valid pursuit for scaredy cats. September 30, 2016: The Drive-by Truckers release American Band, an album that includes the song "Ramon Casiano." Harlon Carter isn't mentioned by name, but he plays big in the narrative. Mike Cooley, instead, pays homage to Carter's first victim in the title. And provides the NRA with the legacy it deserves. (Bill Glahn) new link: