EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Latino leaders are pleased the alleged murderer of 22 people in El Paso will face federal hate-crime charges. But they worry about further attacks against Hispanics, as election-year politics rekindle the anti-immigrant rhetoric that reportedly inspired the shooter.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Thursday announced a 90-count indictment against Patrick Crusius, the 21-year-old Allen, Texas, man who on Aug. 3 allegedly arrived with an AK-47 style rifle “to kill Mexicans,” taking the lives of 22 people and injuring two dozen more. Crusius was already facing state capital murder charges in connection with the attack that shocked this otherwise peaceful community.
“I’m happy that the wheels of justice are turning and that we are bringing justice to this individual. It’s very imporant that we do everything right because the world is watching,” said Ray Mancera, an El Paso businessman and national parliamentarian for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). “We need to send a loud and clear message that we will not tolerate these type of acts against Hispanics or African Americans or any other group.”
However, LULAC officials and other Latino advocates worry that politically divise campaign speeches and federal immigration agencies’ blitz on asylum seekers from Latin America and elsewhere could encourage more attacks.
“A family becomes strong when the parents teach their children. A company thrives when the boss sets a positive tone. At the national level, government starts with the top elected officials setting a good example, but I don’t think we’re seeing that example,” Mancera said. “In any other election we’d be talking about health care, education and other matters that affect the lives of every American. It’s sad to hear racism and bigotry” regarding immigration.
Earlier, LULAC national president Domingo Garcia had called out President Trump for inspiring the Walmart shooter.
“The xenophobic hate speech of President Trump continues to fan the flames of hatred in this country. And today, President Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric and policies inspired the killing of innocent women, children, and men at a Walmart in El Paso,” he said after the shooting.
The El Paso mass shooter allegedly posted an online manifesto on Aug. 3 lamenting the “Hispanic invasion” of Texas and the ethnic replacement it was bringing to the state. Latino activists point out that Texas was originally part of Mexico and did not join the United States until 1845.
LULAC, the nation’s largest and oldest Hispanic rights organization, applauded the indictment of Crusius and advocates for stricter gun control laws to curb further incidents of violence.
Judges to determine order of prosecution
Speaking at a Thursday evening press conference on the federal indictment, John F. Bash, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, said it will be up to the judges to confer on whether Crusius will be prosecuted first in federal or state court. In both instances, he faces a maximum penalty of death.
“The (El Paso County) District Attorney is doing a wonderful job in this case and we’re working closely on making sure logistical issues get smoothed out. In terms of when the trials will be and who goes first, that’s ultimately up to the judges and when they want to schedule trails,” Bash said.
When asked about Hispanic leaders’ concerns about a fair trial given the misgivings they have expressed about Trump’s immigration rhetoric, Bash indicated that’s not an issue of concern for prosecutors.
“We prosecute crimes of violence, we don’t prosecute speech,” he said. “What I can say to the Hispanic community is that the Justice Department is totally engaged in stopping people that, for whatever motivation, but in particular for hateful motivations, would plot acts of violence on other people.”
FBI El Paso Field Office Director Luis Quesada said all agents involved in the case were deeply affected by the tragedy, both on a personal and professional level. “That being said, they have maintained a focused, unwavering inexhaustible dedication to the investigation,” he said.
And Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband, who heads the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, reassured the community that the investigation is unbiased.
“We want to let all members of our communities know that they are valued that their protection matters. We will protect them and their rights,” he said.
Dreiband said the Department of Justice has brought hate crimes charges to other communities that endured mass shootings, such as the synagogue attack in Pittsburgh and the attack on a black church congregation in Charleston, South Carolina.
“Here in El Paso, we will seek justice for the victims and we will prosecute the defendant to the fullest extent of the law. We stand committed to enforce hate-crime law,” he said.
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