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Juarez violence sparks Sun Bowl fears for OU fans

By Jake Trotter Modified: December 17, 2009 at 1:06 am •  Published: December 17, 2009
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photo - Residents wait for news on the periphery of a crime scene in this Nov. 19 photo, while a police officer and a soldier stand guard in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Two women and one man were killed by gunmen at a bar, police said. AP Photo
Residents wait for news on the periphery of a crime scene in this Nov. 19 photo, while a police officer and a soldier stand guard in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Two women and one man were killed by gunmen at a bar, police said. AP Photo

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In Ciudad Juarez, as drug cartels battle for control of the lucrative smuggling corridor around El Paso, daytime shootings and gruesome mutilations have become common occurrences.

But in El Paso, only 18 people were killed last year, a remarkable number for a city of about 742,000.

That figure is down to 12 this year, a major reason why El Paso continues to top the safest-city charts, according to the El Paso Times.

"I’d raise a kid here, as much as I would raise a kid in Claremore, Oklahoma,” said Sun Bowl media relations director Trent Hilburn, who grew up in Claremore, and worked for several years in Durant. "This is a nice, safe place.”

While cartel-related kidnappings have become problematic in places such as Phoenix, El Paso has largely avoided that crisis.

In fact, only two people have been kidnapped in El Paso this year, city officials said. And both were believed to be people who were stealing from the cartels; one man had his hands cut off, a common sign of that offense.

"I was speaking to a neighborhood association recently, and one woman interrupted and said she was afraid the cartels were going to come get her,” Cook recalled. "I said, ‘My advice to you is to stop stealing from the cartels.’”

Howard Campbell, an anthropologist at the University of Texas-El Paso, said one major reason why the violence hasn’t come over from Ciudad Juarez is a high concentration of U.S. law enforcement in El Paso, which is home to several federal and local authorities, in addition to Fort Bliss, providing for a law-abiding atmosphere.

"The cartels have this obsession with avoiding U.S. law enforcement; they have this perception that U.S. law enforcement is 100 percent efficient,” Campbell said.

"That’s somewhat true when you compare it with Mexican law enforcement, which is basically 0 percent efficient.”

Campbell also pointed out that El Paso has a large immigrant population, members of which tend to be cautious and respectful of authority.

"El Paso is a city of immigrants,” he said.

"And studies show that immigrants, in general, commit fewer crimes than citizens.”

Sooner fans coming to El Paso will be as safe as any place in the country, Campbell noted, provided they stay on the U.S. side of the border.

"It used to be normal for Sun Bowl fans to go over there by the thousands,” Campbell said. "At this point, that’s not a good idea.

"But people shouldn’t fear El Paso at all. There’s a lot of things people can do; Mexican cultural things, which is what they would have gone to Juarez for anyway.”