Mass shootings have Latinos worried about being targets

In this June 2019, photo, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Xiara Mercado stands at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (AP)
Updated 12 August 2019

Mass shootings have Latinos worried about being targets

  • Trump, as president, referring to migrants coming to the US as “an invasion” and viral videos of white people chastising Hispanics for speaking Spanish in public

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.: When Michelle Otero arrived at an art show featuring Mexican-American women, the first thing she did was scan the room. Two exits. One security guard.
Then she thought to herself: If a shooter bursts in, how do my husband and I get out of here alive?
Otero, who is Mexican-American and Albuquerque’s poet laureate, had questioned even attending the crowded event at the National Hispanic Cultural Center a day after 22 people were killed in a shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart.
That shooting and an earlier one in Gilroy, California, killed nearly two dozen Latinos. The violence has some Hispanics looking over their shoulders, avoiding speaking Spanish in public and seeking out escape routes amid fears they could be next.
A huge immigration raid of Mississippi poultry plants last week that rounded up 680 mostly Latino workers, leaving behind crying children searching for their detained parents, also has unnerved the Hispanic community.
The events come against the backdrop of racially charged episodes that include then-candidate Donald Trump referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” Trump, as president, referring to migrants coming to the US as “an invasion” and viral videos of white people chastising Hispanics for speaking Spanish in public.
“It’s almost like we’re hitting a climax of some kind,” said Jennifer Garcia, a 23-year-old University of New Mexico student originally from Mexico. “Some people, especially our elders, don’t even want to leave the house or speak Spanish.”
From Houston to Los Angeles, Latinos have taken to social media to describe being on edge, worrying that even standing in line for a Taco Tuesday special outside a food truck or wearing a Mexican national soccer team jersey might make them a target.
Although the motive in the Gilroy shooting is unknown, authorities say the El Paso shooting suspect, who is white, confessed to targeting people of Mexican descent. The suspect also is believed to have written an anti-Hispanic rant before gunning down mostly Latino Walmart shoppers with an AK-47-style rifle. The attack has rattled a city that has helped shape Mexican-American life in the US for generations.
The manifesto included anti-immigrant and anti-Latino language similar to Trump’s.
Garcia said she has seen widespread anxiety among immigrants since Trump was elected in November 2016 and the angst after the shootings “has reached another level.”
Alexandro Jose Gradilla, a professor of Chicana and Chicano studies at California State University, Fullerton, said he and his wife, also a professor, “know anyone can look up a class schedule and start shooting.”
“White supremacists don’t see the difference between immigrants to fourth-generation Latinos,” he said. “They see brown.”
Carlos Galindo-Elvira of the Anti-Defamation League in Arizona said that, in the days after the El Paso shooting, the organization received calls from concerned Hispanics seeking information about white supremacy and the website where the manifesto was posted.
Some worried whether a mass shooting could happen in Phoenix, a city more than 40% Hispanic, said Galindo-Elvira.
“What I tell people is that we cannot live in fear, but we also have to be vigilant and be aware of the rhetoric and our surroundings,” he said.
He said information is important and since last year the league has been training officials at Mexican consulates across the US about how to report hate crimes against their citizens amid the heightened anti-Latino rhetoric.
Still, Erik Contreras, 36, the grandson of Panamanian and Mexican immigrants, said the recent violence has left him nervously checking parking lots where he worries attackers could hit.
“The other day we went to the Oakland Zoo, and I found myself looking for the way out, just in case,” said Contreras, who works at a Union City, California, school and has three children. “I don’t want to live like that. This is our country.”
Otero, the poet, said she tries to make sense of the attacks by replaying facts in her mind.
“This is someone who drove nine hours to kill people like me,” she said of the El Paso shooter, holding back tears. “I don’t know what to make of that.”
In an effort to help, she is organizing a public reading by poets in Albuquerque to raise money for the families of the El Paso victims.
Flaviano Graciano of the immigrant advocacy group New Mexico Dream Team said activists are using the tragedies to organize residents. He says groups are planning forums to help educate Latino immigrants on their rights and how they can protect themselves against violence and anticipated raids.
Sometimes the best way to deal with anti-Hispanic bias is just to stand up to it, said Air Force Senior Airman Xiara Mercado. She grabbed attention on Facebook last month with her story of a woman giving her a hard time for speaking Spanish.
Mercado told The Associated Press that as a member of the military she couldn’t comment on the recent anti-Latino violence. But in her case, after suffering past discrimination, “I finally just decided to speak up.”
She said she remained silent when, years earlier, she was told to “speak American” during a stay in Michigan, then later when a police officer in Indiana questioned the authenticity of her Puerto Rican driver’s license.
But Mercado, 27, said she had enough when she was confronted by a woman as she chatted on the phone in Spanish with a friend from the US territory at a Honolulu Starbucks. The woman told her speaking Spanish was “distasteful” and “does not represent America and that uniform you are wearing.”
In a July 17 Facebook post shared more than 48,000 times, Mercado said she told the women: “The only distasteful thing here is that you are clueless to your discrimination, please educate yourself. Have a nice day.”
The 15th Wing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, confirmed that Mercado is with the 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, and backed her up, saying: “The Air Force recognizes our strength comes from diversity.”


Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

Updated 30 October 2020

Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

  • Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants
  • The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital

NAIROBI: A Kenyan court Friday handed prison terms of 33 and 18 years respectively to two men accused of conspiring with the Al-Shabab extremists who attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing 67 people.

Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants from the Somalia-based extremist group who died in what was then Kenya’s worst terrorist attack in 15 years.

The accused asked the judge for leniency, saying they had already served seven years behind bars and had family to care for.

“Despite mitigation by their defense lawyers on their innocence, the offense committed was serious, devastating, destructive, that called for a punishment by the court,” Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi told a Nairobi courtroom.

He sentenced the men to 18 years for conspiracy and 18 for supporting extremists, but ordered they serve both terms together. Abdi was also given an additional 15 years for two counts of possessing extremist propaganda material on his laptop.

He will serve 26 years and Mustafa 11, taking into account their pre-trial detention.

The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital and began throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately on shoppers and business owners.

A four-day siege ensued — much of it broadcast live on television — during which Kenyan security forces tried to flush out the gunmen and take back the high-end retail complex.

Although there was no specific evidence Abdi and Mustafa had provided material help, the court was satisfied their communication with the attackers amounted to supporting the armed rampage, and justified the guilty verdict for conspiracy.

The marathon trial began in January 2014. A third accused was acquitted of all charges.
The Westgate attack was claimed by Al-Shabab in retaliation for Kenya intervening military over the border in Somalia, where the extremist group was waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government.

Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which in 2011 drove Al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and other urban strongholds after a months-long offensive.

In a car the attackers drove to Westgate, police found evidence of newly-activated SIM cards used by the gunmen. Their communications were traced, including calls to Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa.

A fourth defendant, Adan Mohammed Abdikadir, was acquitted in early 2019 for lack of evidence.

The Westgate attack was the deadliest incident of violent extremism on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people.

But since the assault on the shopping complex, Al-Shabab has perpetrated further atrocities in Kenya against civilian targets.

In April 2015, gunmen entered Garissa University and killed 148 people, almost all of them students. Many were shot point blank after being identified as Christians.

In January 2019, the militants struck Nairobi again, hitting the Dusit Hotel and surrounding offices and killing 21 people.

Al-Shabab warned in a January statement that Kenya “will never be safe” as long as its troops were stationed in Somalia, and threatened further attacks on tourists and US interests.

That same month, Al-Shabab attacked a US military base in northeast Kenya in a cross-border raid, killing three Americans and destroying a number of aircraft.