Mourning in America

Pasadenans call for gun control and immigration reform at a Villa Parke vigil for the victims of recent mass shootings

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 8/15/2019

Americans across the country are demanding action on gun violence and white supremacist extremism, which has manifested in a decidedly anti-immigrant flare.

On Wednesday, Aug. 14, activists marched from All Saints Church to the Richard H. Chambers US Court of Appeals in West Pasadena to protest the Trump administration’s arguments to cancel the Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from six countries.

On Aug. 7, about 300 people mourned the victims of the recent mass shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, during a candlelit vigil at Villa Parke in Northwest Pasadena.

And during an interfaith panel discussion on white supremacy on Aug. 5 at All Saints, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena) said Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton weren’t just the latest mass shootings; they were acts of domestic terrorism. Increasingly, national security experts are concerned about the rise of this far-right extremism in the United States.

“There is no escaping the clear and present danger of white supremacist violence in the United States and the terrible urgency to confront it,” said Schiff. “Simply put, it’s domestic terrorism. Acts of unspeakable violence motivated by a hateful ideology which justifies them as a means to an end. It shouldn’t be hard or controversial to say that. After all, if the shooter in El Paso was Muslim, is there any question how the president would describe him?”

Schiff said the FBI is currently conducting 850 active domestic terrorism investigations.

“People are now feeling free to express themselves in the most hateful of ways because they hear the president doing it and don’t see an outcry,” Schiff added. Some Democratic presidential candidates have called Trump himself a racist and a white supremacist.

The 21-year-old El Paso shooter, who drove 10 hours on Aug. 3 to kill 22 people and injure 24 in a Walmart, told law enforcement officials that he was specifically targeting Mexicans. He also used language in his manifesto that echoed President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, such as calling immigrants “invaders.”

It was the largest anti-Latino shooting in modern American history. The Latino community across the country feels under attack. Other countries are now issuing travel warnings to their citizens about the United States. Mexico vowed to take legal action against the United States for failing to protect the eight Mexican nationals who were killed in El Paso.

‘Enough is Enough’

“The events of this weekend show how vulnerable we are in Pasadena,” Jennipha-Lauren Nielsen, who organized the Villa Parke vigil, wrote on the event webpage. “We must remain strong in our commitment against white supremacy. That is El Paso’s strength. Nothing will change that. Today, we must reaffirm our commitment to that strength. And we must redouble our commitment to defeat the vile worldview of white supremacy.”

The Villa Parke vigil was sponsored by the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). Friends In Deed Executive Director Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater and NDLON Executive Director Pablo Alvarado delivered remarks, in addition to Nielsen. Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek and his wife Maria were also in attendance, as were District 5 City Council member Victor Gordo and Police Chief John Perez.

Peter Dreier, an urban and environmental policy professor at Occidental College, wrote on Facebook that people attended the vigil to “protest white supremacy, mistreatment of immigrants, rampant gun violence and Donald Trump. The crowd was wonderfully diverse by race, ethnicity, age and faith traditions. We sang together in Spanish and English, including Leonard Cohen’s inspiring ‘Hallelujah.’ The next steps will include trips to the border, a march to the federal courthouse in Pasadena and vigils at the local detention center. Si se puede!”

The same day as the Pasadena vigil, Aug. 7, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided several food processing plants across Mississippi and arrested 680 undocumented workers — but not the managers who hired them — just four days after the El Paso shooter targeted Latinos. It was the largest workplace raid in at least a decade. ICE did not inform Trump about the raid ahead of time, afraid that he would speak publicly about it like he did before other planned raids.

This reporter visited the El Paso/Juárez border in March when the arrival of Central American migrants surged to the point where existing detention and housing facilities became overwhelmed. Under the border bridge between Juárez and El Paso, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was holding a large number of migrants, including families and children. Despite the hot days and cold nights, they were being forced to sleep in the open air with silver mylar “space” blankets, exposed to the elements. There was also a pair of CBP agents at the middle of the bridge checking documents and turning away asylum seekers before they could reach the physical border where they are allowed to claim asylum.

“The hate-filled speeches that incite violence, the criminalizing of entire families and communities and the scandalous collusion of elected officials with hate groups — enough is enough,” wrote Nielsen.

‘Do Something!’

It has become a familiar refrain: after a mass shooting, calls for action on gun control get largely ignored by elected officials. Research from online public opinion firm Civiqs shows that public support for gun control increases after a high-profile shooting, then peters out after a few weeks. But support is steadily increasing, and the hard-line anti-gun control coalition is starting to show some cracks.

At a rally in Ohio, a crowd mourning the Dayton victims drowned out the remarks of Republican Gov. Mike DeWine with chants of “Do something! Do something!”

Even before the recent shootings, polls showed public support for gun control measures such as universal background checks at about 90 percent. Last week, Trump seemed open to at least exploring background checks and red flag laws, which would authorize law enforcement to take guns away from those a court has deemed a threat to others. Whether he follows through is another matter, as he has changed his position on gun control many times over the past few years. He and other Republicans were quick to blame the violence on video games and mental illness, while other countries also have those but don’t experience routine, horrific shootings as nearly as much as the United States.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), in a rare reversal of his usual stance, said background checks would be “front and center” when the Senate reconvenes in September. He did not, however, call the Senate back into session this month to tackle the issue, which many consider a national emergency. The Democratic-led House of Representatives passed a gun control measure in February, but it has been held up in the Senate by McConnell ever since.

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is in a tailspin. Its president, Oliver North, was pushed out earlier this year by its long-time CEO Wayne LaPierre, who is being criticized by its board of directors and members for lavish spending and mismanaging finances. Infighting has also recently led to the shuttering of the organization’s controversial NRATV station and the severing of ties with its long-time PR firm Ackerman McQueen and its top lobbyist, Christopher Cox, who was seen as LaPierre’s successor.

The Washington Post reported last week that Trump has been asking aides whether the NRA is as powerful as it used to be and whether it can push back as hard if the White House were to pursue stronger gun control measures. Time will tell if the NRA still has the clout to hold off the public’s growing demands for action against the epidemic of gun violence.

Next Steps

Villa Parke will be the location of another upcoming event, a “Support Immigrant Rights” rally from 4 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 22. The sponsors of this rally include St. Philip’s Church, Lake Avenue Church, Adelante Youth Center, NDLON, Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center’s Social Justice Committee and Day One.

The themes of the rally are “Bridges Not Walls” and “Sanctuary Not Detention,” with the goal of showing “solidarity with immigrants and refugees, including about 50 families now in Pasadena.” Immigration attorneys will be on site and people can either sign up to support immigrant rights or contribute to a legal defense fund for immigrant families.