© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Beto O'Rourke On El Paso Shooting


Over the past 24 hours in the United States, there have been two mass shootings. Overnight in Ohio, a gunman killed nine people and injured 26 in downtown Dayton. And in El Paso, Texas, yesterday morning, 20 people were murdered and more than two dozen injured. The suspect there is a 21-year-old white man who is under custody. A manifesto, which may be linked to the gunman, espouses racist ideology and specifically mentions a Hispanic invasion of Texas. President Trump called the attack an act of cowardice. We're joined now by the Democratic - by Democrat Ben O'Rourke, the former congressman who is from El Paso. And he's also now a presidential candidate. Good morning.

BETO O'ROURKE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: First off, my deepest condolences on what is a terrible morning. You are in El Paso. You visited the victims, I understand, last night at the University Medical Center. Can you share some of what you saw and what you heard?

O'ROURKE: Yeah. I just - I saw extraordinarily courageous people, many of whom have some of the most horrific injuries that we can imagine. I met a woman who was shot in the chest by the gunman, her lungs pierced, being drained as - her lungs being drained as I spoke with her, surrounded by her family, learning that her mother had also been shot, as was her aunt. Both of whom were also recovering from surgery - very common to hear that from families here, that it wasn't just a single family member. It was a husband and a wife or a mother and a daughter. I met another family where the husband, who had been raising money at a booth outside of the Walmart for the soccer team he coaches, was shot in the chest - husband was shot in the chest. The kids were with him at the booth. They luckily were able to flee to safety - talking to his wife in the waiting room who had no idea on on his condition, was just waiting to hear from doctors.

So getting to be with those families, getting to meet some of the doctors and nurses providing that care, hearing the stories about the first responders, just so proud of El Paso and the way that this community has responded to this attack and just want that to be something that the rest of the country knows. It's a very strong community. It has on average about 18 murders a year. So to lose 20 lives in just a day yesterday is something so out of the ordinary but something that this community has met with extraordinary strength.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: El Paso is on the border. It is heavily Hispanic. And it appears this man may have been inspired by white power ideology to commit this attack. What are your thoughts on how this happened?

O'ROURKE: That's what it looks like to me. From everything that I've seen, everything that I've heard from the El Paso Police Department, who've done an amazing job so far, this person, not from our community, from north Texas, about a nine or 10-hour drive away, brought that hatred to El Paso. And in the manifesto that looks like he may have written and posted before shooting people in our community, he is anti-immigrant, he's anti-Hispanic. He sees people not just as different but dangerous. I think it's really important for us to understand this in a much larger context of what is happening in this country, especially at a time where we have a president who seeks to make us afraid of one another based on our differences, who warned of Mexican immigrants being rapists and criminals, though we know that immigrants in this country commit crimes at a far lower rate.

Those hosts on Fox News talk about an invasion coming to our border, politicians who seek to make us afraid of people who do not look like the majority in this country - it doesn't just offend our sensibilities as a country of immigrants and asylum-seekers. I really believe it is changing our country right now. It is an invitation to hatred - not just to hatred but to violence. So in addition to looking at and changing our gun laws, universal background checks, an end to the sales of weapons of war to our communities, we also have to put an end to the hatred and the racism and the divisiveness that so defines our politics in this country today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Governor Abbott at a press conference said that there is a need for the state and society to do better - to do a better job with dealing with challenging mental health issues. I take it you don't think that that is what's behind that.

O'ROURKE: No. I mean, no one can argue against better mental health resources. And certainly we should do that as a matter of course. But that's not going to explain the fact that we'll lose nearly 40,000 of our fellow Americans to gun violence this year. It's hard to find another country on the planet that comes even close to the level of bloodshed that we see. What's lacking so far is the political will that meets the urgency of this crisis. We see it with those students who are leading the marches for our lives, the moms who demand action, the grassroots leadership that we're seeing in our communities. That has to be matched by our political leadership at every level of government. And again, that must include changing our gun laws so that we have universal background checks, red flag laws, we end the sales of weapons of war.

But it also has to be met with our ability to call out the racism and hatred that we see and meet that not just with the tolerance of our differences but really embracing those differences as we do in El Paso. It's a city of immigrants, 85% Mexican American. A quarter of those with whom I live were born somewhere else. And they've helped to make us one of the safest cities in the United States of America. As a country, we need to remember that that is who we are at our best, and this hatred, this racism is who we are at our worst, and we've got to put an end to it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Beto O'Rourke, former congressman and Democratic presidential candidate, speaking to us from El Paso today. Thank you very much.

O'ROURKE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.