WHETHER motivated by racial hatred or informed by it, the actions of the gunman responsible for the killing of some 20 people at a department store in El Paso, Texas, over the weekend sent a chilling message. Among the dead were three people of Mexican descent; El Paso is 80 per cent Hispanic and has ties with the city of Juarez across the border in Mexico.
“This is disgusting, intolerable, this is not Texan, and we are going to aggressively prosecute it both as capital murder but also as a hate crime,” said Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
But before there was even time to process the Walmart massacre, another unfolded again on American soil.
In Dayton, Ohio, more people, nine at first count, were killed and several others wounded, after a shooter dressed in body armour and using high calibre ammunition fired on a busy downtown neighbourhood early yesterday morning. Police shot dead this perpetrator within a minute of the deadly spree.
The firearms used in both incidents demonstrated, once again, America’s gun problem. If there is a lesson to be gleaned, it is how stasis within a political system can bear terrible fruit. In a country which gives citizens a right to bear arms, the polarised views on the issue have resulted in a deadlock that has seen little tangible steps taken to effectively address the availability of guns.
Which is why the recent experience of the bail bill being passed unanimously here in TT is something that should be replicated in other areas as we, too, attempt to come to grips with the availability of guns on our own soil.
The suspicion that hate is behind the violence in El Paso serves to underline the responsibility public officials have to discourage prejudice, not inflame it. In this regard, the tone set by racist statements, including those made by, of all people, US President Donald Trump himself is a relevant part of the context in which these developments are taking place.
Here in Trinidad, race relations are subject to discussion and debate, even amid tensions, but it remains unimaginable that violence has ever played a role. Yet, the ruthless targeting of innocent civilians in ordinary places like where they shop or where they spend the weekend is something we understand, and understand all too well, given our own seemingly indiscriminate and generalised wave of crime and violence.
With much talk of upcoming elections, there is very little sign of concrete plans to address the statistic that shows more than 90 per cent of crimes are committed with guns. The bail bill is one tool, but it is a reactive one that comes into play after the fact of a person being allegedly found with a gun.
Finally, the young age of the attacker in El Paso and the signs of mental instability in initial reports are worrisome. With our youth facing severe stress and challenges, we should take careful note.