To be Latino is to be left out. For generations, Latinos have been elbowed out of politics, media, academia, entertainment and the financial industry.
White people keep the best jobs for themselves. Yet Latinos still over-index when it comes to tragedy. Just recently, Latinos got top billing in just about every aspect of the ghastly massacre in Uvalde, Texas.
That’s where 19 children — second, third and fourth graders at Robb Elementary School — were cut to ribbons by a military-style rifle that, while fine for Navy Seals, should not be sold to civilians. The 18-year-old gunman — while not old enough to gamble in a casino, enter a bar or even rent a car — was able to purchase two military-style, high-impact AR-15 assault rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
Since Uvalde — all 16,000 people of it — is a Mexican American enclave, it’s no surprise that this subset of Latinos was front and center in this traumatic event.
The city’s chief of police, and the county sheriff, are both Mexican American. Almost all of the 19 children who died were Mexican American, and so were teachers Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia who died heroes trying to shield their students from harm.
Mexican Americans are all over this miserable, God-forsaken incident. In Spanish, we have a word: desmadre. Loosely translated, it’s a chaotic mess, a motherless disaster. What happened in Uvalde was a desmadre.
Even so, those who might go looking for a racial dimension don’t have to look very hard.
The two most reviled people in Uvalde are Mexican-American: the deceased assailant, Salvador Ramos; and the chief of police of the Uvalde Unified School District, Peter Arredondo, who seems like a good candidate for the Federal Witness Protection Program.
Arredondo — who is reportedly getting death threats — has been hung out to dry by Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The same officials who rushed to get in front of television cameras when it looked as if the cops had performed effectively, are now slithering away from what is a cataclysmic failure.
In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Neil Meyer — a retired lawyer who was born and raised in Uvalde — wrote: “I wasn’t surprised to see the Republican panel of politicians at a news conference the day after the shooting, almost all white and in top positions of power in the community and the state, taking the lead. In Uvalde, the custodians of order — the chief of police, the sheriff, the head of the school district police — are Hispanic, but here they were largely silent. Unsurprisingly, they now bear the primary blame for the disastrous response at the school.”
According to McCraw, Arredondo was the incident commander who decided that officers ought not breach the classroom even though Ramos was still firing off rounds.
Maybe Arredondo was in over his head. Or maybe, as McCraw claims, Arredondo was just following the procedure for what he wrongly believed was a “barricaded” subject rather than an active shooter.
But I lived in Dallas for five years, and I covered police, politicians and public officials in every jurisdiction. I don’t believe for one minute that the police chief of the school district — what my dad, a retired cop, would derisively call “the kiddie cops” — was in charge of much of anything besides his own officers.
In fact, it was a border patrol agent who — nearly an hour into the crisis — entered the classroom and killed Ramos. So if Arredondo was “in charge,” it was only because the officers from higher up the food chain let him think he was — until they no longer did.
In fact, judging from the videos of parents pleading with officers to rescue their kids, it was sheriff’s deputies who held back the parents, even reportedly putting one mother in handcuffs for interfering with law enforcement.
Meanwhile, as Uvalde residents bury the victims, Latinos are asking thorny questions:
Was race a factor in the slow police response, or in the fact that parents were ignored, scolded and manhandled? What if this had been a mostly white school in a wealthy suburb? Do you suppose white parents would have been handcuffed for trying to save their children?
Some will insist that the response to the crisis was colorblind. But as they say in the Lone Star State, while I may have been born at night, I wasn’t born last night.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.