Last week, Mount Airy was rocked by the deadly shooting of four area men. As The Mount Airy News first reported on Monday, the shooting was the worst mass murder in the city’s history.
I’ve made a living for most of my adult life working with words, yet I struggle to find the right words to describe what a horrible tragedy this is. Four young men, with hopes and dreams, with friends and family, had their lives cut short by a senseless and unforgivable act.
And those family members and friends must be dealing with unimaginable pain and grief.
Police have arrested Marcos Chavez Gonzalez and charged him with four counts of first-degree murder in the shootings, and the probe continues.
For the families involved, and to a much lesser degree the community as a whole, little else in the case can happen which will approach the level of tragedy already brought about by the killings.
But I think the behavior of some people has been tragic. Or perhaps outrageous. Certainly unforgivable.
I’ve received a few e-mails this week from folks around the country wanting to know the immigration status of the people involved.
One e-mail, from a person who identified herself as Carolyn Beverly Kenney, came complete with little tags on the bottom which read “Impeach Barack Obama” and “No illegals, No amnesty, No Compromise.” She demanded to know the immigration status of the man accused in the killing.
Another, from a man who identified himself as Joe Hagan with the Citizens Council on Illegal Immigration in St. George, Utah, wanted to know the immigration status of the victims. Because, as he wrote in his e-mail, “They all had Hispanic names.”
Not a lot in life really, truly angers me. But this comes close.
Why do people insist on making assumptions about someone, or a group of people, based on the way a name sounds, or because of the color of one’s skin? How do these folks writing in even know if there is an immigration status for the people involved? As far as anyone knows from reading the paper or the Web, they could just as well be fourth-generation Americans as first-generation immigrants.
Yes, if Gonzalez is in the country illegally, that is relevant to the story. And it might even be part of a larger issue, that being how a convicted felon (he served time for kidnapping, among other things) could be in the country after having served his jail time, if he is, in fact, an immigrant. But the larger story is a failure in law enforcement and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The issue is not any correlation that can be drawn about a group of people from the actions of one person, and attempts to do so smack of blatant racism.
As for the victims, quite frankly their immigration status — if they even have one — is of little consequence in the bigger picture. The story here is that four people had their lives cut short, and their families lost sons, brothers, cousins and uncles.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no fan of allowing illegal immigrants to remain in this country. And I would oppose any plan to grant a general amnesty to illegal immigrants already in the country.
But, illegal immigrants, regardless of their nation of origin, aren’t villains. They are not evil people. They are like everyone — some probably are bad people, but most are probably good, caring, decent people just looking to better their life.
To characterize them as anything else is, at best, political grandstanding of the worst kind. At worst, it’s racism, pure and simple.
As for the people who wrote in with these questions, I wonder which it is for them — trying to make some sort of political point, or racial hatred? I try not to generalize about other people, as these e-mail writers seem to want to do, so I really don’t know what their motivation is.
But I do have to wonder.
John Peters is the editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at email@example.com or 719-1931.