'White supremacy, racism': Remembering the El Paso massacre that targeted Latinos

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Pastor Michael Grady was in a store on a Saturday morning two years ago when he got a call from his wife. She had learned that their daughter was lying in a pool of blood in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, after having been shot three times.

When Grady arrived to see his daughter Michelle Grady, then 33, they had to lift her body outside using a shopping cart, fighting other wounded victims to get her inside an ambulance.

"I prayed for the Lord to spare her life, and he did," he said.

Authorities say that on Aug. 3, 2019, a Texas man drove 700 miles to El Paso from a Dallas suburb and opened fire with an automatic rifle, killing 23 people, including a man who died as a result of his injuries nine months later, and injuring almost two dozen more. The suspect, who according to an indictment, told authorities that he targeted Latinos, had railed against immigrants and Hispanics in writing, law enforcement officials said. The attack is considered to be the deadliest against Hispanics in modern U.S. history.

Grady, who advocates for gun control legislation and immigrant border reform, will stand alongside members of the nonprofit Border Network for Human Rights, or BNHR, survivors of the massacre and elected officials at one of the events Tuesday to remember those who lost their lives. They are issuing a call to action to “take a stand against white supremacy, racism and xenophobia,” as the group has said in a statement.

BNHR’s executive director, Fernando García, slammed officials in the state for not focusing on and talking about the causes of the attack.

“It was because of this anti-immigrant, white supremacist rhetoric that this individual came from Dallas to El Paso to essentially kill Mexicans,” García said.

The suspect, Patrick Crusius, remains in jail awaiting a trial date. State prosecutors have charged him with murder and are pursuing the death penalty; federal prosecutors have filed hate crime and firearm charges.

Not prepared for the ‘madness based on racism’

Grady's daughter, who underwent over 22 operations and walks with a cane, still experiences post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma. Grady said his daughter takes it one day at a time, even working on a documentary about her experience.

“Emotionally, we weren’t prepared,” Grady said. “The city was not prepared and had never dealt with this kind of madness based on racism.”

Among the events Tuesday will be the unveiling of the El Paso County Healing Garden along with a lighted star on the Franklin Mountains that will flash 23 times. City Council members will read each victim’s name and take turns tolling the city’s memorial bell.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, the country's largest and oldest Hispanic membership organization, will hold a moment of silence and address how social media “fueled the disinformation and hate that led” to the massacre to prevent it from happening again.

García of BNHR said that when it comes to tamping down rhetoric, “not much has changed,” referring to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent hard-line policies, including an executive order that restricts the transportation of undocumented immigrants — most of whom are from Latin America — saying they can spread Covid-19.

The Justice Department has sued Texas, saying the order would severely disrupt federal immigration operations.

At the same time, Abbott has prohibited local governments and state agencies from mandating masks and vaccinations.

Speaking to MSNBC on Sunday, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said that as Abbott appeals to his political base by focusing on migrants, he is “putting a target on the back of brown-skinned immigrants.”

The governor’s office has not responded to a request for comment.

BNHR’s memorial event will be at Ponder Park in front of the Walmart, where flowers have previously been placed to honor the victims. It will include victims' testimonials, such as one from a woman who was on her first day of work and an activist who helped those who were injured.

It's a welcome change from last year, when the coronavirus pandemic — before vaccines — restricted the way families and people could get together. In-person and virtual events had been planned to grieve the massacre’s first anniversary, but victims were unable to hug and gather as communities have done in the past after mass shootings because of social distancing restrictions.

Grady said Tuesday's memorial will be an opportunity to both pay tribute to the lives lost and address the systemic issues behind the massacre, reminding people about the importance of fighting for human rights — instead of “de-escalating” the tragedy.

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