HERMISTON — When news of another mass shooting begins to spread, certain elements can bring the tragedy home for the people who weren’t there.
A shooting at a church might make the religious take pause, or country music fans might scope out the nearest exit more carefully after a shooting at a concert.
After a gunman posted a racist screed against Latinos before killing 22 people in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart, members of Hermiston’s Latino community are feeling that extra measure of concern.
“This realized a lot of fears people have that it is this bad, that the hate can be on this level,” city councilor Roy Barron said.
Barron is a member of a small local grassroots organization called Raices — Spanish for “roots” — that has helped put together educational forums and rallies on immigration-related issues in Hermiston area. He said he worries that the El Paso shooting, which appeared to be targeted against Hispanic immigrants, will keep people home from such gatherings out of a fear that a violent white supremacist would find them an attractive target.
Barron said he hasn’t personally been the target of violence based on his skin color or been verbally attacked by a stranger on the street. But in the past few years, he has seen what he feels is more comfort on social media in expressing racist views. He worries that words will morph into actions in some cases.
“People use the excuse of freedom of speech,” he said. “They almost phrase it as being more American, that ‘I’m more American because I’m using my freedom of speech.’ But freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences. Words can hurt people or put them in fear.”
While some people have directly blamed President Donald Trump for the El Paso shooting, noting places where the shooter’s manifesto mirrored language Trump has used about an immigrant “invasion,” Barron said he wouldn’t go that far. The shooting was the shooter’s choice.
He did say, however, that he feels some people have felt emboldened about sharing racist views from “the very first day (Trump) was coming down the elevator calling Mexicans rapists.”
“I don’t see how people can just laugh it off and say, ‘He’s just joking; you guys are snowflakes,’” Barron said.
A different political moment sticks out to Yessica Roman, a Latino Hermiston woman who echoed some of Barron’s worries. For her, the El Paso shooting brought to mind a Trump rally in Florida in May, when an attendee yelled “Just shoot them!” as Trump was talking about undocumented immigrants crossing the border.
“At a rally someone said ‘Just shoot them,’ and they all started laughing like it was something funny,” she said.
The El Paso shooting was anything but funny.
Although the shooter appeared to seek out Latinos, Roman said mass shootings are shocking to her no matter who is the victim. As a brand new mother, she was particularly affected by hearing about Jordan Anchando, who died shielding her 2-month-old baby from bullets.
“It made it more personal,” she said. “It’s so scary to think about it. I haven’t been to the store (since the shooting) but now it’s like, ‘Will I come home?’”
She worried that people have become too desensitized to mass shootings as they increase in frequency.
Zaira Sanchez, born and raised in Hermiston and also a member of Raices, said she has discussed the El Paso shooting with close friends and family.
“Overall there’s a feeling of sadness and fear, but we’re also just exhausted from the same thing repeating itself,” she said.
She worries about the problem of mass shootings in general, but also violence against Latinos.
Trump gave a speech after the shooting condemning racism and white supremacy, but she said the “messed up things” he has said about immigrants throughout his presidency has an effect.
“He speaks from a place of misconceptions, invoking fear and hate,” she said.
Sanchez, Barron and Roman all noted that the El Paso shooting was far from just a racial issue — it also invoked questions about security in public places, gun control, mental health and the traumatization of a nation.
“I think it creates more fear around everyday things,” Sanchez said. “People have to think, ‘Should I go to the store today? Is it a good idea to go to school, or church today?’ Those are things people of every race need to do.”