Opinion: Waking Up as a Latino the Day After the El Paso Massacre

Protesters hold a rally against gun violence Sunday in New York City's Times Square in response to recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images)

If you’re human and not numbed by the horrifying repetition, each mass shooting stirs some measure of outrage and empathy. If the mass shooting targets a specific group and you are a member of that group, trust me, the feeling is far more pronounced, more visceral.

Millions of Latinos like me awoke Sunday morning, the day after a mass shooting in El Paso that claimed at least 21 lives, with that gut churning sensation. Call it anger. Call it fear. In this case, it was borne of the realization that people like you were the target. Every mass shooting has some degree of randomness — victims just happening to be at the nexus of hate and the shooters’ crosshairs. But being viewed a target because of who you are adds a sickening shock.

After the shooting at an El Paso Wal-Mart, authorities were examining an anti-Latino manifesto posted online. But even if it is ultimately not from the shooter, you have to wonder why a shooter — in this case, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, the suspect — would travel nearly 660 miles from a Dallas suburb to heavily Mexican and Mexican-American El Paso to find his victims.

Now, add to that gut-churning sensation the certainty — not the likelihood, not the mere chance — that your president regularly fertilizes this kind of hate. Your gut not just churns, it boils.

Add to that the certainty that this rhetoric has gained significant traction in the electorate. Donald Trump was elected, after all, in numbers that, while falling nearly 3 million short of the popular vote, still were far beyond outlier quantities. His bigotry was always more than dog whistle from Day One, the day he came down that Trump Tower escalator to launch a campaign significantly predicated on the notion that Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals. He embellished on that in his campaign and during his presidency, invoking such terms as breeding and infestation.

O. Ricardo Pimentel

And then add the certainty — not likelihood nor mere chance — that a significant number of our political leaders and voters will pooh-pooh the other factor aside from hate that spurs these mass shootings. That would be what shooters use — guns.

“Legally purchased.” Those words are used in far too many cases when describing the firearms these mass shooters use. Even if they aren’t, it is inescapable that the proliferation of guns — legal or illegal — is what makes this particularly deadly merry-go-round continue to go round and round and round.

But those words, “legally purchased,” hold particular significance. If a person misuses a gun to murder another, by definition that person should not have been allowed to have a gun. Yet, this country refuses to take common-sense steps such as more universal background checks, red-flag laws and bans on assault weapons and large magazines that have no other purpose but to kill other people in quantity and efficiency.

Guns are the tools of choice, but these mass shootings all start with hate. The president nurtures this. The El Paso shooting was the second in a week that seemed to have anti-Latino hate as a factor, the first being the Gilroy, California, shooting in which three died.

And then, the day after the El Paso massacre, a gunman killed at least nine in Dayton, Ohio.

Even before the El Paso shooting and Trump’s election, more than 1 in 5 hate crime victims were Latino. California, with the largest number of Latino residents in the nation, and not likely an outlier, reports an increase in that number. Texas, by the way, has the second largest number of Latino residents.

And the FBI says an uptick in “domestic terrorism” significantly has its roots in white nationalism.

The president decried the El Paso shooting. But he has not and will not accept any responsibility for stoking the white resentment in which such hate finds purchase. His words are far beyond dog whistle.

Not to you? And my gut churns even more.

— O. RICARDO PIMENTEL

The writer has been a journalist for about 40 years. He was most recently the editorial page editor for the San Antonio Express-News in Texas; the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before that. He has also worked in various editing and reporting position s in newspapers in California, Arizona, Texas and Washington D.C., where he covered Congress, federal agencies and the Supreme Court for McClatchy Newspapers. He is the author of two novels and lives in Wisconsin. This commentary originally appeared in The Wisconsin Examiner.

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