“What I wanted to know was the killer’s surname”

On NPR yesterday, Daisy Hernandez, co-editor of Colonize This!: Young Women on Today’s Feminism, told her reaction and the larger reaction of the Latino community to the attempted assassination of Rep. Giffords on Saturday:

My eyes scanned the mobile papers. I held my breath. Finally, I saw it: Jared Loughner. Not a Ramirez, Gonzalez or Garcia.

It’s safe to say there was a collective sigh of brown relief when the Tucson killer turned out to be a gringo. Had the shooter been Latino, media pundits wouldn’t be discussing the impact of nasty politics on a young man this week — they’d be demanding an even more stringent anti-immigrant policy. The new members of the House would be stepping over each other to propose new legislation for more guns on the border, more mothers to be deported, and more employers to be penalized for hiring brown people. Obama would be attending funerals and telling the nation tonight that he was going to increase security just about everywhere.

In short, the only reason the nation is taking a few days to reflect on the animosity in politics today is precisely that the shooter was not Latino.

In November 9, 2009, this is how The Wall Street Journal contextualized the Fort Hood mass shooting that had taken place three days earlier: Muslim Population in the Military Raises Difficult Issues.  It said:

The push to boost Muslim representation has proven to be a double-edged sword for the military, which desperately needs the Muslim soldiers for their language skills and cultural knowledge, but also worries that a small percentage of those soldiers might harbor extremist ideologies or choose to turn their guns on their fellow soldiers.

I think Hernandez has a point, don’t you?

Unlike Loughner, who apparently existed in his own crazy bubble devoid of context or politics (Palin yesterday referred to him as “apolitical“), Hasan, who the WSJ disclosed had “said he had “no religious preference” and didn’t identify him as a Muslim” in his official military record, was the poster child for the military’s Muslim problem within three days of the shooting.

I thought when people did this sort of killing they were simply – how did Palin put it? – “a single evil man”.  Because as she argued, “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state.”  Unless your skin is brown, I guess.


Here is the WSJ from today (Jan 12) defending Rep. Michelle Bachman’s use of the phrase “armed and dangerous” against Paul Krugman’s claim that such rhetoric is “eliminationist.”  The article says this:

Dick Morris published a column Monday titled “There Are No Politics in Murder.” Morris is right, of course, but his sanctimony grates on anyone who remembers that he did not practice what he now preaches. As we noted Monday, Morris was the mastermind of Bill Clinton’s effort to capitalize politically on the Oklahoma City bombing.

Huh.  I’m sure that article about Muslims in the military wasn’t political at all, right?


6 thoughts on ““What I wanted to know was the killer’s surname”

  1. Meanwhile, I would have been more relieved if he’d been Muslim, because I’m white and have a psychiatric history and value my freedom, and now the pundits are all talking about how we need to intervene earlier to get people like that “help” i.e. forced hospitalization and drugging. It’s like these political grandstanders don’t find punishing the actual criminal enough, no, they need to find a whole class of people to scapegoat and punish for the acts of one.

  2. I wish we could actually have discussions that included nuance and multiple causes all at once, instead of having to scapegoat an entire group of people (be them Muslims, Latinos, or people with psychiatric histories). The answer is never simple and never boils down to a single cause. I agree with you completely that the focus on Loughner being “insane”, which seems to be across-the-board accepted without any actual evidence, is incredibly problematic. And the calls for locking people up or drugging them because of their psychiatric history is absurd but scary. I’m sorry that you are having to worry about that in the wake of the assassination attempt.

    At the same time, I still think Loughner was part of a larger society so simply seeing him as an individual void of his context is wrong, too. But I think us looking at his context should lead Americans to seriously consider how many services and how good those services are for people who need psychiatric treatment (that is true whether Loughner was mentally ill or not). We need to consider, discuss, and dismantle the stigmas that are attached to people who seek out psychiatric help. We need to consider the impact of loose gun laws (which most certainly matters in this case) and the ubiquity of violent rhetoric (whether a link to Loughner can be found or not). Context matters but that context should not be used to punish a group of innocent people, they being people who have psychiatric histories, brown skin, or who worship Allah.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. I remember after the Virginia Tech shooting reading an article with the same theme: waiting to see the killer’s last name and which group was now going to be targeted.

    A Psychiatric Survivor: Yeah, because what Muslim Americans really need is another excuse to go after them. Wanting them to drop the problematic non-questioning acceptance of his “insanity” doesn’t mean we should let another group who doesn’t deserve it take the blame. Or, to use your own words, they shouldn’t “need to find a whole class of people to scapegoat and punish for the acts of one.”

  4. The VT shooting is interesting in this regard simply because I don’t remember people making a big deal out of his identity other than the fact that he was documented as being mentally ill. I wonder if that is because we don’t have narratives associated with Asians that include violence. I don’t know. I also must admit that I wasn’t as politically aware at the time of the VT shootings so may have missed a whole lot that was said about it.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. I don’t remember how much was among different Asian American groups and how much was portrayed by the “news”, but I remember different groups talking about how his identity was slowly let out – first Asian, then East Asian, then Northeast Asian, then Korean – and how each group got more worried as his identity was narrowed down. And a lot of different groups talking about how relieved they were he wasn’t Indian/Cambodian/Indonesian/etc. His race wasn’t played as much in the news after the first few days (too busy focusing on his documentation of mental illness and his fiction writing), but the day of especially had a lot of talk about his racial identity.

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