El Paso mass shooting: Four years on, fear stalks Latino Americans

El Paso mass shooting: Four years on, fear stalks Latino Americans

Latinos being used as political pinatas, unfairly scapegoated by extremist politicians, media figures, says advocacy group

By Darren Lyn

HOUSTON, United States (AA) – It has been four years since a racist gunman killed 23 people in El Paso, Texas, and the ramifications of what remains the deadliest attack on Latinos still resonate painfully with America’s largest racial minority group.

“The Walmart massacre is a reminder that Latinos are the target of political attacks from extremists,” Lydia Guzman, the national immigration chairperson for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), told Anadolu.

“What happened in El Paso was because of political rhetoric scapegoating Latinos, and that’s all it took for an unstable extremist to act.”

On Aug. 3, 2019, Patrick Crusius walked into a Walmart store and started his shooting rampage with the sole intention of killing Latinos and immigrants.

It was the deadliest attack targeting Latinos in modern US history and resulted in injuries to 22 other victims.

Crusius, who was 21 at the time, professed his xenophobic and white supremacist beliefs in an online post right before carrying out the massacre, and federal authorities investigated the mass shooting as an act of domestic terror.

“Latinos have been unfairly scapegoated by extremist politicians and conservative TV and radio personalities – this in turn has given other extremists the green light to hurt, beat up, and even kill members of our community,” said Guzman.

“We are saddened that Latinos are being used as political pinatas, all for political posturing.”

Crusius was sentenced last month to 90 consecutive life terms after pleading guilty to the murders and hate crimes in February.

LULAC said the gunman should pay for his crimes and was satisfied with the sentence, but family members of the victims condemned Crusius for his hatred during the sentencing phase of the trial.

“You’re an evil parasite,” said Thomas Hoffman, whose father, Alexander, was murdered by Crusius.

“You killed my father in such a cowardly way. I hope that every night you think about the people you shot and you can’t fall asleep. You’re a coward. You’re a mistake of society."

“In your act of hatred, you took a good man,” said Stephanie Melendez, whose father, David Johnson, was among the victims.

Melendez said Crusius’ act of violence had caused lifelong fear and trauma for their family, especially her 9-year-old daughter who survived the shooting.

“You showed her evil, you showed her monsters do exist outside of storybooks,” she said.

“I want you to remember my daughter’s cries. I want them to haunt you.”

Melendez’s daughter, Kaitlyn, had a blunt statement for Crusius: “I shall not ever forgive you.”

- ‘Migrants are villainized and dehumanized’

Even though the massacre took place four years ago, LULAC remains concerned about recent acts of violence against the Latino community, including last weekend’s incident in North Carolina, where a man plowed his SUV into six migrant workers at a Walmart in Lincolnton.

Daniel Gonzalez, 68, turned himself into police, according to local news outlets. His family told detectives that Gonzalez had stepped on the gas pedal accidentally while trying to park his car and left the scene in a panic.

However, detectives said they initially believed the assault was intentional.

The six victims were treated for injuries and released from the hospital. The FBI is also investigating the incident.

“LULAC hopes that a thorough investigation is conducted into the driver’s background and intent,” said Guzman.

“If it is discovered that it’s a hate crime as we suspect it is, the perpetrator should be tried and punished for this heinous act.”

In May, a man in Brownsville, Texas, drove into a crowd of Venezuelan immigrants at a bus stop, killing eight people and injuring 10 others.

George Alvarez, 34, has been charged with eight counts of manslaughter. Witnesses said Alvarez shouted anti-immigrant statements during the incident, but police said they could not validate those claims.

“The authorities have not ruled it a hate crime,” said Guzman.

“Our LULAC president personally called the leaders of the law enforcement agencies to inquire more about the incident and to inform them that we were monitoring the developments of the investigation into this crime.”

Guzman said the US Justice Department is not doing enough “to protect targeted communities,” including Latinos and other minority groups.

“The political rhetoric where migrants are villainized and dehumanized is the cause of increased attacks on our communities,” said Guzman.

“Not just mass shootings, but targeted hate speech taking place at grocery stores and parking lots, violence against workers like landscapers and dishwashers and random beating up of migrants, including of other nationalities like Asians.”

Guzman emphasized that Latinos are the “fabric that makes our country strong,” urging people to be more tolerant and accepting of immigrants in the US.

“Our children go to school with your children and are likely friends. We likely worship in the same places of worship. We shop at the same stores,” she said.

“Latino voters care about the same things that every voter cares about: housing, jobs, healthcare, the economy and crime.”

Guzman also pointed out that “communities that have embraced diversity have proven to be a stronger, more united community,” emphasizing that hate should be eliminated from the equation.

“Our country needs to learn from the lessons of the past and do more to fight against hate on the TV airwaves and radio.”

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