Two American communities — El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio — remain stricken with grief after two mass shootings over the weekend. In El Paso, a 21-year-old shooter killed at least 22 people and wounded two dozen others at a Walmart on Saturday. Authorities are treating the massacre as a domestic terrorism case. In Dayton, a 24-year-old shooter fatally shot at least nine people — including his younger sister — and wounded 27 others in that city’s historic Oregon District early Sunday morning. He was shot and killed by police within a minute of opening fire.
In a televised address to the nation Monday morning, President Donald Trump was careful to blame the weekend’s horrific shootings on everything but the high-capacity weapons used by both the El Paso and Dayton gunmen.
“Mental illness and hatred (pull) the trigger, not the gun,” Trump said.
We don’t yet know what drove the Dayton gunman to kill. But hatred clearly motivated the gunman in El Paso. So the president was partly right.
But only partly.
“Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing,” American Psychological Association President Rosie Phillips Davis said in a statement Sunday. “Research has shown that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness. The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them.”
She continued: “One critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are being used in these crimes. Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster.”
Politicians — especially those who get funding from the National Rifle Association — often cite mental illness because they’re too cowardly to address gun violence.
Monday morning, the president found another scapegoat: “The Media has a big responsibility to life and safety in our Country,” Trump tweeted. “Fake News has contributed greatly to the anger and rage that has built up over many years. News coverage has got to start being fair, balanced and unbiased, or these terrible problems will only get worse!”
It hasn’t been the mainstream media ratcheting up anti-Hispanic sentiment in this country.
In an anti-immigrant manifesto posted online shortly before his rampage, the El Paso shooter referred to “fake news.” He wrote that he was “simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.” His act was, he said specifically, “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
A least seven Mexican citizens were among those he murdered Saturday.
Trump has sought to garner support for a massive wall at the U.S. Southern border by tweeting and speaking repeatedly about the “invasion” of migrants coming from Latin America.
“How do you stop these people?” Trump asked at a rally in Panama City Beach, Florida, in May.
When a member of his audience yelled, “Shoot them,’’ Trump suppressed a laugh and then quipped, “That’s only in the (Florida) Panhandle you can get away with that statement.”
As if it were a joke.
As if it wasn’t his responsibility as an elected official to counter such dangerously irresponsible rhetoric.
Nearly 39% of Lancaster city residents are Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring the growing anti-Hispanic sentiment in the United States — or any of its sources.
A Pew Research Center study last October found that a majority of Hispanics say “it has become more difficult in recent years to be Hispanic in the U.S.” And “nearly four-in-ten Hispanics say they have experienced at least one of four offensive incidents in the past year because of their Hispanic background.” These incidents: “experiencing discrimination or unfair treatment because of their Hispanic background, being criticized for speaking Spanish in public, being told to go back to their home country, or being called offensive names.”
So we’re taking this personally. Our friends, neighbors and colleagues are endangered by hateful rhetoric.
‘Time to rise up’
Let’s consider what another elected official, El Paso Sheriff Richard D. Wiles, posted on Facebook on Saturday: “This Anglo man came here to kill Hispanics. I’m outraged and you should be too. This entire nation should be outraged. In this day and age, with all the serious issues we face, we are still confronted with people who will kill another for the sole reason of the color of their skin. ... It’s time to rise up and hold our representatives accountable at all levels. I want representatives who will stand up against racism. Who will stand up and support the diversity of our nation and our state.”
He concluded: “El Paso will never be the same, because a racist came to our city to try and make a point. It didn’t work though, because the backlash of this community, as we hold national, state and local politicians accountable, will be the only point that will be made.”
That’s the point that must be made. We must hold our elected officials accountable.
Members of Congress shouldn’t be on vacation now. They should be in Washington, D.C., taking up — at the very least — the bipartisan background check legislation proposed by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.
Trump indicated Monday that he’d support such regulation, and Toomey tweeted Monday afternoon that he discussed it that morning with the president.
But Trump, on Twitter, suggested “marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform.”
Which makes no sense. The El Paso and Dayton shooters were U.S. citizens. While we agree that immigration reform is needed, these are vastly different concerns that must be addressed separately.
Both the El Paso and Dayton shooters used semi-automatic rifles with high-capacity magazines. They turned those weapons on families shopping for school supplies and patrons of a popular bar.
It’s unconscionable that we continue to allow the arenas of ordinary American life — schools, places of worship, shopping centers, festivals, theaters, restaurants — to be turned into killing fields.
‘Real and present threat’
In his address Monday morning, the president said, “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”
We could not agree more.
Trump appropriately used the phrase “domestic terrorism” to describe the El Paso massacre — a phrase politicians have been reluctant to use because of its implicit demand for action to counter it.
Republican Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, the son of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, showed no such reluctance Saturday when he noted on Twitter that as a Navy officer in Afghanistan, his mission was “to fight and kill terrorists.”
Bush wrote: “There have now been multiple attacks from self-declared white terrorists here in the U.S. in the last several months. This is a real and present threat that we must all denounce and defeat.”
If that’s to happen, it will require the federal government to stop treating domestic terror acts as if they are “isolated, unconnected incidents,” terrorism expert Clint Watts told The Atlantic magazine.
And it will require elected officials — including the president — to cease using rhetoric that seems to endorse the racism and white supremacist views of white nationalists.
No more talk of migrant “invasions.” We need responsible rhetoric backed by meaningful legislative action. Some soul-searching seems in order, too.