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Days before the official unveiling on Tuesday, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego walked through the healing garden created to honor the victims of the 2019 Walmart mass shooting.
Since the hate crime that killed 23 people and injured dozens of others, Samaniego has been involved in every meticulous detail of the garden. This includes the shape – “round, like a hug”, 23 Italian cypress trees planted by relatives of the victims, and the fountains with calming waterfalls.
“The sound of water always gives us a sense of healing,” says Samaniego, a mental health therapist who hopes the garden will honor lives lost and empower people to move on. “They must never die in vain. ‘What can I do to make things more transformational?’”
Two years later, when El Paso remembers the victims, they are also reminded of the broken promises made by top Texas leaders after the shooting. The alleged North Texas gunman drove 10 hours to El Paso to, in his own words posted on a racist online platform, “stop the Spanish invasion of Texas.”
The initial response from some Republican leaders in Texas was sympathy and concern.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott immediately called for security committee roundtables in El Paso to “generate ideas to combat the rise of extremist groups and hateful ideologies, keep guns out of the hands of deranged individuals and domestic terrorism in Texas.” fight,” said a press. his office’s release issued weeks after the shooting.
At a safety committee meeting in Austin in late August 2019, Abbott said he was committed to “action and results.”
But two years after the attack, some of the circumstances that led to the shooting still remain entrenched; violence by extremist groups is on the rise, according to the FBI and the US Department of Justice; and rhetoric that describes migrants as criminals and invaders is now being embraced by Texas Republican leadership, including Abbott.
And in what some are calling an affront to the victims’ families, Texas Republicans extended gun rights earlier this year when the state legislature passed a license-free carrying bill. Beginning in September, Texans will be allowed to carry a gun without a license or training. Abbott supported what he called the “Constitutional Carry” Act and signed it into law.
The governor’s office declined an interview, citing his busy schedule.
In addition, the border is still portrayed as a dangerous place that must be defended. At a recent press conference, Texas Lt. gov. Dan Patrick: “We are being invaded. That term has been used in the past, but it has never been more true.”
He spoke of the record number of migrants crossing the Texas-Mexico border. The alleged gunman used the word “invasion” in his manifesto posted before the mass shooting in El Paso.
Abbott has said homes on the border are “being invaded” and that he has a responsibility to protect Texans. He’s seeking donations to build a border wall in Texas, reminiscent of the crowdfunding efforts in the weeks before the mass shooting when a private group — “We Build the Wall” — chose the El Paso border area to build a to erect half a mile of private wall.
Three leaders of the group, with strong ties to Trump, were later charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering.
Critics, led by U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, have called on top Texas leadership, including Abbott, for inflammatory language, which they warn will lead to more bloodshed.
“Not only has he done nothing, but we have gone in the opposite direction, the most dangerous direction on so many fronts,” Escobar said.
“They know very well that their xenophobic racist rhetoric fuels hatred, and they know very well that that hatred fuels violence. And who are the victims of the violence? It’s, as we’ve seen in Texas, vulnerable communities like ours,” Escobar said.
Abbott recently deployed the National Guard and stepped up Texas Department of Public Safety patrols in border regions. He issued an executive order instructing DPS troopers to “stop any vehicle on reasonable suspicion” of carrying migrants who “pose a risk of carrying COVID-19”. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas says the order will lead to racial profiling.
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit in El Paso on Friday to ask a judge to block Abbott’s order. US Attorney General Merrick Garland described the order in a letter to Abbott as “dangerous and illegal.”
Escobar was home on the day of the 2019 mass shooting and this year in the US Capitol during the violent insurgency. “El Paso during the August 3 domestic terror attack, and literally in the Capitol with terrorists surrounding us on January 6, is absolutely a through line there,” she said. “And I’ve said before that words have consequences.”
Samaniego, the El Paso County judge, also sees similarities in the mob attacks on the US Capitol and the lone gunman who traveled to El Paso.
“It was a story that he picked up and felt he had to act. How different is that from January 6th?” he said. “They pick up the story, they think they’re going to defend the country in that particular way with anger and, you know, ugliness, as a way of solving I don’t know what.”
There were other common themes: The violent pro-Trump mob threw racist remarks at black police officers as they stormed the Capitol, according to Capitol police officers who testified before the selected House committee investigating the deadly attack.
As El Paso recalls the August 3 mass shooting, there is a renewed call to action to prevent more hate crimes and violence in other cities.
“We are two years away from the horrific massacre in El Paso, and while it was somewhat of a wake-up call for some people, we still have a long way to go to stem the tide of rising xenophobia and extremism,” he said. Dena Marks. , senior associate director for the Anti-Defamation League Southwest Region.
Marks stressed that Texas is a “disturbing and disturbing” example where some political leaders continue to use “incendiary and divisive rhetoric, especially when it comes to immigration because words have consequences,” adding, “we need our leaders to lead and shout hatred when it comes, don’t watch and stir up more fear with hateful words.”
Some of those who survived the El Paso mass shooting two years ago are concerned about more hate crime bloodshed.
“It can be repeated,” said Adria Gonzalez, a survivor who shopped at Walmart with her mother on the day of the attack. “That’s what we can’t forget, we can’t forget that morning. We must not forget those 23 victims and all their families.”
This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.
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