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One year later, El Paso reflects on the hate behind Walmart shooting

The Aug. 3, 2019, Walmart massacre shattered the sense of safety many Hispanic residents felt in their community. #ElPasoStrong

8/3/2020 2:49:00 PM

The Aug. 3, 2019, Walmart massacre shattered the sense of safety many Hispanic residents felt in their community. ElPasoStrong

An alleged racist attack killed 23 at an El Paso Walmart on Aug. 3, 2019. Dozens more were injured. Survivors, others reflect on hate-inspired attack.

Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human RightsBefore the attack, there was a narrative, a very powerful narrative coming from the President of the United States. And unfortunately, that narrative was about racism and xenophobia and white supremacy.

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Quote icon"Before the attack, there was a narrative, a very powerful narrative coming from the president of the United States," Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, an immigration advocacy group, said."And unfortunately, that narrative was about racism and xenophobia and white supremacy." 

The shooting at Walmart took place  as a result of the merging of three systemic problems, said Garcia: gun access, white supremacy and the president's anti-immigrant rhetoric. "August 3rd was not circumstantial," Garcia added."It was something that happened because three evil systems came together." 

Show captionHide captionFernando Garcia, BNHR executive director, says some words of encouragement to the protesters at the doors of the Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, Thursday,...Fernando Garcia, BNHR executive director, says some words of encouragement to the protesters at the doors of the Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, Thursday, June 27. The protesters gathered at the doors in opposition of the alleged mistreatment of the migrant children at the station. The Border Network for Human Rights organized the protest. A group from California, CaravanToClint, also joined BNHR outside of the station.

BRIANA SANCHEZ/EL PASO TIMESA year later, Garcia wishes he could say the Aug. 3 shooting prompted a closer look at racism and combating hate, but he cannot. "Probably we are in a worse situation than before," he added. The construction of the border wall continues and we still see children in cages, Garcia said.

"I think when we get closer to Aug. 3, the realization is that little progress has been made," Garcia said. Addressing the rootsentered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, yelling"All Jews must die," as he opened fire on worshipers. Eleven people were killed.

On social media, the man made derogatory remarks about refugees and Jewish people, blasting a refugee advocacy group that "likes to bring invaders in that kill our people."The language is eerily similar to that allegedly used by the gunman in the El Paso shooting. 

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"Oh no, not again," Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue recalls thinking when he learned of the El Paso attack."Every time one of these happens, a mass murder like this in the United States of this manner, it brings me back to Oct. 27." 

Myers has made it a practice not to use the word"hate," instead referring to it as the"H-word." The rabbi was preparing to speak at a rally and trying to figure out what to say when a"divine inspiration" came to him. 

"All of these emotional responses are all just the greens on the top of the root," he said."That the root is our speech, and that the different actions are just manifestations of when we take that speech to heart and act upon. And to me, the root of that then became the word hate." 

For Myers, it's important to address the language used by the shooters in El Paso and Pittsburgh. "I think it behooves us, because if we're silent about it, then we're agreeing," he said."We're condoning it. We can't be silent." 

That includes having difficult conversations, even with students. Clint ISD Superintendent Juan Martinez has had his share over the last 12 months.The district, which includes much of rural El Paso County, lost one of its own on Aug. 3, Horizon High School freshman Javier Amir Rodriguez, who was 15. 

Martinez recalls being asked: "Why us?" and"What can we do?"El Paso activist talks about experience at Walmart during shootingGuillermo Glenn, an El Paso activist against racial injustice, was at Walmart during the shooting. He spoke Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, at Café Mayapan.

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Briana Sanchez, El Paso Times"I did say ... as time goes on Hispanics keep growing in terms of population, and I kept saying to students, we need to be a population that is highly educated so that we can then be in positions of responsibility ... so that we can make decisions that benefit not only our community, but the country as a whole," Martinez said. 

Myers' congregation and the shoppers at Walmart on Aug. 3 are part of an unfortunate group that has growing membership as the mass shootings continue across the country. Such attacks can result in a "sense of safety and security" being lost, said Morales, the UTEP sociologist. 

She knows firsthand, having lost a relative in the El Paso shooting. "A lot of times we tend to think of it as individual – whether an individual is racist or not – but really we have to think about the larger processes and structures that create the environment … for those things to happen," Morales said. 

Sitting down at a common tableEl Paso Pastor Michael Grady, who is Black and a former president of El Paso's NAACP chapter, has personally seen the effects of hate. His daughter, Michelle, was among those caught in the crossfire. She survived, despite being struck three times. 

The family recently celebrated her 34th birthday, holding a COVID-19-era celebration – where people could drive by to offer their well-wishes."It was like a first birthday in some respects, because she was shot three times, and at some point while she was laying there, waiting for her mother to hopefully find her, she didn't know whether she was going to be here for another day, let alone another year," Grady said. 

Pastor MIchael Grady held his faith close after his daughter Michelle was shot at Walmart. Michelle is still in the hospital be treated for her injuries after being shot three times.Mark Lambie/El Paso TimesBefore Aug. 3, Grady had never before experienced the level of racism cast upon El Paso in the attack – a city regularly considered one of the safest in the country. 

"I knew it was going to get to this place, I just never thought it would make it to the city of El Paso by the Rio Grande," Grady said. The attack came from outside, but it also cast a light on other systemic problems in El Paso, Grady said: Racism in hiring practices, the education system and policing, are a few examples that came to his mind.

The anniversary of the shooting comes at a time where there are reinvigorated calls against racism and white supremacy, with the Black Lives Matter movement leading the way after the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. Show caption

Hide captionU.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar hugs Michelle Grady, Walmart shooting survivor, after delivers a response in Spanish to President Trump's State of the Union Address Tuesday,...U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar hugs Michelle Grady, Walmart shooting survivor, after delivers a response in Spanish to President Trump's State of the Union Address Tuesday, Feb. 4, at Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe in El Paso. Michelle attended the rebuttal with her parents Michael and Jane, also survivors of the shooting.

BRIANA SANCHEZ/EL PASO TIMES"The fact that Black Lives Matter has emerged in the way that it has emerged, it tells you that these issues of racism were not resolved. ... Not after Aug. 3, but also before Aug. 3," Garcia said.As conversations about race and white supremacy continue a year after the shooting, Grady hopes the heart of the issues will be dealt with. 

"The heart of the issue is being able to sit down at a common table and to see all men as created equal, endowed certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Grady said. Survivor now feels like a constant target

Jurado still doesn't know why the man with the AK-47,who now faces federal hate crime charges, didn't shoot him. It's something he still finds himself thinking about a year later. "I know the Lord had to be with me that day, because he saw me like I saw him," Jurado said. 

His day began with trip to the bank followed by a stop at Walmart for dog food, pens and pencils. Jurado and his mother exited at the Garden Center, their normal routine, and headed to the other side of the store in the direction of his parked truck. 

A woman with a shopping chart crossed Jurado's path, cutting him off as he headed to the other side of the store, and apologized. "It's OK, you're good," Jurado replied, his mother nearby. Shopper Robert Jurado talks at the scene of the El Paso mass shooting on Aug. 3

Robert Jurado was shopping with his mother when the gunshots started.Mark Lambie, El Paso TimesHe approached a tent where members of a girls' soccer team were holding a fundraiser and Jurado began to askwhy they were raising money. It was then he heard what sounded like a gunshot.

The woman who had crossed his path accidentally just moments before questioned what the noise was. A second and third bang.It was then Jurado knew what has happening. He started to tell the woman to get away but was too late. Jurado saw as she was struck and killed by a gunman's fire.

He turned around and saw another woman get hit above the knee. A bullet hit the wall near him. He grabbed his mom and headed inside, ducking with her by the toy machines in the entryway. Another bullet missed. Tucked in the entryway of the store with his mom, Jurado saw the gunman enter the store. Time passed and the shots again grew closer, until he and the gunman were just feet away. 

Read more: USA TODAY »

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