DAYL President’s Page
If you’ve lived in Dallas for very long, or if you’ve joined our community here at DAYL, it’s likely you know someone from El Paso. The city may be 600 miles away from here, but El Pasoans are our neighbors– nuestros vecinos— both across the state and here in Dallas. Rachael and I are fortunate to be surrounded in our home life by good friends from the Sun City– a place our friends brag on for its food, its culture, its quality of life, and its safety. El Paso has given us more stories than we can count, and more good people and friends than we deserve, probably. We’re lucky to know folks who grew up there, or whose families immigrated from Juarez and other parts of Mexico to live there, or who graduated from UTEP and wear their Miners gear with pride, or who went to four of El Paso’s major high schools- Burges, Chapin, Coronado, and Franklin. While we’ve never visited, it feels like we’ve been more times than we can count.
Because of all the gifts El Paso has given us, we were particularly devastated earlier this month when a gunman murdered 22 people during a mass shooting at an El Paso Wal-Mart. Like all mass shootings, our hearts ached for the victims. As always, we lamented, how could this happen again?
But this one was different in our house. The day after the shooting, as the death toll rose, Rachael and I learned that the shooter graduated from my Dallas-area high school (Plano Senior High) in 2017. We learned later the shooter drove 650 miles from Allen, a suburb that neighbors my hometown, and a place where we have visited many times, to murder our neighbors.
Finding out that a mass shooter– a murderer– comes from where you come from– who drove the same streets to school, who learned from the same teachers you did, who probably frequented the same movie theaters and ate at the same JC’s Burgers, Mama’s Pizza, and Taco Bueno you did with your buddies in high school– connects you to a horrible event like this in a heartbreaking way. In the past, I have written off mass shooters as people with whom I have nothing in common. People who experienced things I had not experienced, who came from different homes and cultures (perhaps) from me. But not this guy. While we may still regard him as a monster, he was more than that…he was also our neighbor.
These mass shootings have become almost as regular as weather reports, tragically, and they have come to resemble the weather in their macabre variety. They all have different perpetrators, different victims, different circumstances, and different venues. After each one, we try to string them together to make some sense of what’s causing them, or how we can stop them. But more than anything, it seems we just try to identify who we can blame for them. Nobody wins. Everybody loses. They go on and on, horribly.
But this time, we do not have to look too far, or scrutinize too closely, for an explanation. The answer is right under our noses. I’m sure this young man’s life was shaped by something yours and mine were not shaped by, thankfully– for one, his terrible, despicable choices. But each of us probably has more in common with him than we would care to recognize. Put plainly, he is of us and from us. Tragically so. He is that latest expression of our horrible struggle as a people. Our continuing failure to have more compassion and grace for one another, to understand each other, to live in peace, to coexist, to tolerate and appreciate difference, and to just be more decent to one another.
While we may never know exactly why the shooter did this, we know he cited pure hatred and prejudice as a reason for his actions. He wrote in an online manifesto about a “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” warning that white people were being replaced by foreigners. He spoke of our Latino family and friends– neighbors who are truly ours and belonging to our families and community, adding to and enriching our lives and collective culture– as some sort of foreboding threat.
You might say, “this has nothing to do with me!” But this shooter holds a mirror up to each of us, revealing our prejudices, reminding us that these feelings and opinions did not materialize from thin air. Rather, they are all around us, and they persist, bafflingly, even though we all know better. While each of us would likely claim we do not participate in the exchange of hatred that permeates our news broadcasts, our radio waves, and in the comments sections of online articles (never, ever read the comments), we have all witnessed some expression of these same sentiments, but failed to speak up or to take proper action. We have all acquiesced, on some level. We accept that this is a part of life these days, and it’s not worth standing up to the blowhards and bigots. We all bear some measure of responsibility for the angry culture and regular racism that allowed a young man like this to exist and persist.
It’s on us because we know someone who uses “Mexicans” as a derogatory term. Because we may feel private frustration (not compassion) or curse under our breath when we encounter someone who does not speak English. Because we may have an older relative who uses racial epithets when talking about people who don’t look like the family, and we roll our eyes and change the subject. Because we fail to reach out and help when we see people desperately running for safety for them and their children. Because we all shake our heads, but nothing more, when someone gets on TV and refers to families fighting for their lives– walking barefoot across deserts, fording dangerous waters, or paying someone to smuggle them across the border by dangerous means– as “an infestation,” or “an invasion.”
One of my heroes, Robert F. Kennedy, had some tragically fitting words following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in Memphis in April 1968:
“In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black–considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible–you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization–black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.
Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.”
We face the same crossroads our forefathers faced in 1968– we are left choosing in what direction we want to move. It’s on each of us to help decide our direction. Hopefully, to politely stand up to bigotry– perhaps the most threatening and serious logical fallacy– wherever we encounter it. To correct misinformation and slander regarding our neighbors. To stand up and defend the rights of those targeted by violence or by something as simple as a crass mischaracterization or lie.
It goes without saying that DAYL stands with nuestros vecinos— always– but it bears repeating here. El Paso and its citizens and visitors– no matter where they are from or what their ethnicity– are our brothers and sisters. Their pain is our pain, and their protection is our duty. Let us young lawyers lead a greater generation that will seek to replace this violence with compassion and love at every turn– big and small. Whether it’s by correcting a hateful misstatement by someone we encounter in our personal lives. Or whether it’s by taking some greater, long-lasting action to serve and protect nuestros vecinos.
The El Paso Young Lawyers Association is throwing a fundraiser on August 22 to benefit the El Paso Shooting Victims Fund begun by the El Paso Community Foundation. You can be a part of this effort. DAYL will be sending a donation collected from our Board of Directors, but you are free to join the effort by contacting our Vice President, Whitney Keltch Green, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by sending her a donation using Venmo (@WhitneyKGreen) or Paypal (paypal.me/WKeltch). Please be sure to note “El Paso” or “El Paso Shooting Victims Fund” in your donation via these platforms. Or you are welcome to donate directly at https://payments.epcf.org/victims.
Please also consider giving blood, if you can. Dallas’ supply was depleted even further (as it faces continuing shortages and challenges) when victims’ needs arose in El Paso. You can find a list of available blood donation centers in the DFW area here: https://ww2.greatpartners.org/donor/schedules/centers.