In a matter of seven days, three deranged gunmen each armed with military assault weapons have shot their way to infamy. In Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, gunmen have killed thirty-three men, women and children. Many others remain hospitalized with wounds, some life-threatening. Worst of all, the carnage is neither new nor unexpected. The country now lives in a stealth reign of terror that has been identified, understand and poorly managed.
In addressing the most recent shootings, in Texas and Ohio, President Trump blamed mental illness and violent video games on the latest spate of carnage. He called on the nation to condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. He also blamed mental illness for the motivation behind these attacks. “Mental illness and hatred pulled the trigger. Not the gun.”
Others, however, do not see it nearly as cut and dry. “There is some truth that there’s mental illness involved,” said former U.S. Cabinet Secretary Federico Peña. “But the real issue is outright hatred and racism. It is alive and well in the U.S. and we have a President who refuses to address it.” Peña, who now works in the private sector, remains an active voice in social justice causes and has been vocal in speaking out against Trump’s and other’s pattern of denigrating minorities.
But Peña said that Trump is not alone as a leader who too often goes easy or does nothing about the wave of bigotry that has found normalcy. Peña also blamed Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner, a lock-step Trump supporter. “He (Gardner) says one thing in Washington and a different thing when he’s back in Denver.” Gardner has so far said little about Trump’s anti-minority bellicosity.
“There have been so many other anti-Latino actions across the country. We should not be surprised,” said Peña. Instead, Peña tells people, especially Latinos and other minorities, to vote. “Our power is in the vote and we, Latinos, I hope wake up to the importance of fighting back. Voting is our ultimate power.”
Peña has been outspoken in his criticism of the President’s vitriol and the role it has played in the many violent mass shootings over the last two years. “He has essentially encouraged white supremacists and other racists to act out on their beliefs,” said Peña. “Words matter and a president’s words matter even greater. He’s sending a message to people that it’s OK to act out against minorities.”
Since the days of his birther campaign against President Obama and his ascendency to the presidency, Trump has regularly taken aim at people of color or excused the violence committed against them by his supporters.
“Every marginalized community is under attack,” said Jeremy Shaver, spokesman for Denver’s Anti-Defamation League. Shaver pointed to the fatal attacks on Jews in Pittsburgh, Sikhs in Michigan, Muslims in New Zealand and African Americans in Charleston. The Charleston attack occurred before Trump took office.
Before he took office, Trump would follow the microphones to advance his birther theory, that President Obama was born in Africa and not, as public records showed, Hawaii. While the President has put the birther theory to rest, he has not stopped his attacks on people of color.
Since he took office, Trump has denounced a Mexican-American judge who oversaw the case against the fraudulent Trump University, characterized neo-Nazis involved in the Charlottesville, Virginia, rioting as “very fine people,” recently told four elected U.S. Congresswomen---all minorities and all U.S. citizens---to “go back” to their countries. Most recently, he lamented the robbery of Elijah Cummings’ Baltimore home, with a tongue-in-cheek sadness. Cummings, an African American, chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
Lawmakers and policy makers of both political parties say that while it was good to hear the President decry the latest violence, they complain that he didn’t go far enough. There was no mention, for example, of taking a serious look at the nation’s gun laws which allowed one shooter to cross state lines to buy his assault rifle in Nevada and bring it into California. In the Dayton shooting, the gun used to kill nine people carried a clip that held a hundred rounds of ammunition.
“Yet again, our country is suffering from a senseless mass shooting,” said Denver District Attorney Beth McCann. “I testified in support of Colorado extreme risk protection order,” she said. ERPO allows law enforcement with a court order to remove a person’s gun when that person is deemed too dangerous to possess a weapon.
Something has changed in the country, said Peña. “We’re living in fear and don’t feel safe,” he said. “You can’t go to a synagogue or a church or sporting event, even a picnic. There is almost nowhere you can go where you can feel safe.”
The White House has announced plans for the President to visit the cities of the most recent gun violence. He is scheduled to visit both El Paso and Dayton on Wednesday of this week.