El Paso massacre a symbol of larger issues

By Tony Payan, Ph.D.
Center for the United States and Mexico

On August 3, Patrick Crusius walked into a crowded Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and killed 22 shoppers and wounded over two dozen others. As the investigation into the massacre evolved, it became clearer that Crusius was motivated by his dislike for the Hispanic “invasion” of Texas and by anti-immigration sentiments in general. His goal was to “kill as many Mexicans as possible.” His statements on social media and his apparent anti-immigration manifesto have made clear that Crusius is one of the too many minds that have been caught up in the angry rhetoric against immigrants in the United States.

Crusius’ statements and actions can hardly be delinked from the political and policy environment that prevails in the United States today. For nearly three years now, Americans have been intensely exposed to divisive rhetoric coming from the highest levels of government. Many Americans of European descent have been made to feel that they are “losing” their country. Indeed, immigration and ethnic change in the United States — a statistical fact —  have been politically profitable for President Trump, who has chosen to ignore the enormous contributions that immigrants make to the U.S. economy, society and culture.

The massacre in El Paso is a symbol of complex social phenomena that we are experiencing today — and is not simply a matter of mental health, as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other politicians have stepped forward to suggest. At the intersection of this heart-rending event are not only politicians, but also our inflexible policy on gun possession and use, race relations, the quantity and quality of mental health care for all, the speed with which ideas spread on social media, the role of government in promoting the general welfare, the complicated relationship between immigration and our national character, and even our uncertain place in the world today. The conversation that the tragic events in El Paso generates would ideally encompass all of these issues and consider a balanced, rational and compassionate policy response. Only this would ensure that these 22 lives, and the many others taken in mass shootings throughout the country, would not be lost for naught. Unfortunately, it is more likely that little will be agreed upon, and we will continue to stumble along, caught between social change and flawed policies regarding the range of issues represented by the El Paso mass shooting.

It is quite possible that it will take generational change to develop good policies on many of these issues. For now, judging by many of the responses of our current political class, it seems that a number of our leaders are unable to consider innovative, inclusive and more socially-oriented policies.

As it happens, I drove to El Paso on August 3, the day of the fatal shooting. And today, as I stand in the streets of El Paso and call friends and family in the binational community of El Paso and its sister city, Ciudad Juárez, I can see a town shocked and saddened for the victims and for what the mass shooting represents. No El Pasoan that I have spoken to since the massacre has had the time to reflect on what is to be done. Most are still facing inward, mourning their losses and asking how this could have happened in their community — a question all too familiar in Connecticut, Missouri, Illinois, Florida, California, Colorado, elsewhere in Texas and beyond.