A shooting rampage in El Paso, Texas on August 3 took the lives of 22 people and seriously injured more than two dozen others. Reportedly, the alleged shooter wanted to kill as many Mexicans as he could. Armed with safety glasses, ear coverings and an assault-style rifle, the shooter entered a Walmart store during a back-to-school sale.
Hector Tobar, an associate professor at the University of California at Irvine, called it an “attack on the Mexican heritage of millions of Americans – and also part of a history of white supremacist and nativist acts in Texas across three centuries” in a New York Times op-ed.
Later that day during evening hours and nearly 1,600 miles away in Dayton, Ohio, another gunman’s attack left 9 people dead and 27 injured in that city’s Oregon district. Like the Texas shooter, Ohio’s shooter was heavily armed, but he was shot by police before he could enter a nightclub where he could have killed far more. The victims of this shooting reflected the city’s diversity and included blacks, Latinos, and whites, including the killer’s own sister.
In response to these and other tragedies, a rainbow coalition of leaders held a noon rally on August 6 in the nation’s capital. In a joint statement, the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights was joined by key partners including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Voto Latino, the Center for Community Self-Help, and the Center for Responsible Lending.
“Our organizations are united in saying that members of Congress can no longer look away as communities of color are murdered with impunity,” said the leaders in a written statement. “We must all unite and demand accountability.”
The NAACP is additionally calling for the passage of the bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. Passed on a bipartisan House vote of 240-190 on February 27, the bill has yet to be taken up by the Senate. The bill would address both background check requirements for firearms and firearm transfers between private individuals.
The terror now facing America’s Latinos resurrects past horrors, particularly how blacks encountered racial hatred for more than a century during Jim Crow era and later during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.
Even in 1998 the body of James Byrd, a 49-year-old black man Jasper, Texas was ripped to pieces as he was drug over a mile and a half by whites driving a pick-up truck. Other and more recent heinous hate crimes remind us of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice – just to name a few.
According to researchers at Rutgers University, black men today are 2.5 times more likely than white men to be victims of violence, looking at 11,456 fatal encounters with police and members of the public reported between 2013 and 2017.
At the same time, the emergence of hate groups has been on the rise, according to the
Southern Poverty Law Center.
“The total number of hate groups rose to 1,020 in 2018, up about 7 percent from 2017,” wrote Heidi Beirich, who leads its Intelligence Project, which publishes The Intelligence Report. Its report released this February found that white nationalist groups grew from 100 in 2017 to
148 the following year, 2018 – a 50 percent growth. Other hate groups – anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-Muslim -- also grew from 233 to 264 during these same years. While the Ku Klux Klan dominated hate groups in the Jim Crow and civil rights eras, its presence across the country now appears to have been eclipsed by the growth of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and skin head organizations.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map by State shows that the largest number of statewide hate groups are located in California (83), Florida (75), and Texas (73). At the local level, additional hate organizations currently operate in Dallas, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Tallahassee. Beyond these three states, hate groups can also be found in 45 other states and in more metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, Sacramento, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Just as the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prompted the enactment of major civil rights legislation, now is another time to stand up to the many forms of domestic terrorism that plague the nation.
Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications deputy director. She can be reached at Charlene.firstname.lastname@example.org.