A community targeted: This time it wasn't a viral video or a racist tweet. It was something far more terrifying

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 8/7/2019, 11:52 a.m.
Miles beyond the Walmart's walls and days after the gunman pulled the trigger, the massacre that ended 22 lives here ...
Ivan Flores and his son Derek, 4, pose Tuesday near the site of the Walmart shooting in El Paso.

By Nicole Chavez and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN

(CNN) -- Miles beyond the Walmart's walls and days after the gunman pulled the trigger, the massacre that ended 22 lives here has jolted communities that were already on edge.

For Latinos and immigrants across the United States -- many already living in fear -- the shooting was a devastating escalation. This time, it wasn't a viral video of someone shouting at people for speaking Spanish or a racist tweet telling congresswomen to "go back" to where they came from.

It was something far more terrifying: an ambush, carried out by a gunman who made no secret of his hatred of Latinos.

"We're all feeling it. We're all shaken about it," said Vicki Gaubeca, who lives in Tucson, Arizona, and is the director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition. "Rhetoric is enabling racists and white supremacists and people who hate the other. It has emboldened them to act out in ways that are extraordinarily violent and hurtful to our communities."

On the streets of El Paso and across the United States, many people who've spoken with CNN this week said they were shocked but not surprised to learn the gunman had railed against Latinos and immigrants in a racist screed that includes some phrases President Trump has uttered in the past.

In a national address days after the shooting, Trump called on the nation to condemn racism and white supremacy. But he stopped short of acknowledging his own divisive and racist rhetoric.

"He said the right words, but his heart clearly was not into it. He didn't deviate one word from what was on the teleprompter," said Jorge Chepote, a 49-year-old business executive in St. Louis. "You judge people by their actions. Until now, his actions have only contributed to this."

It's important to remember, Maria Asuncion Bilbao said, that just months ago at a Florida rally, Trump described what he said was an "invasion" of people crossing the border and laughed when an audience member shouted "shoot them."

"He's encouraging this. He's sowing the seeds of hate here," said Asuncion Bilbao, a community organizer for United We Dream in Florida.

"This is serious," she said. "Something like this could happen again."

A father fears for his kids' safety

Even before details emerged about the gunman's manifesto, Chepote knew something he'd dreaded had come to pass.

Just a few weeks ago, he told CNN he feared one day there'd be a shooting that targeted immigrants.

"Now that it has happened, it becomes more real," he said on Tuesday. "It's not that we're going to change the way we live our lives, because that would be giving into the fear, but certainly it's something that we need to be more careful about."

Chepote, a naturalized US citizen, said he's afraid for his children's safety -- but even more afraid about the direction his country is heading. He hopes to see more security measures now at events in the Latino community and, more importantly, hopes the shooting will be a wake-up call.