Francisco Sanchez, an “illegal” immigrant with seven prior felonies, was arrested for shooting a young woman. Her name was Kate. This is a story perfect for pushing emotional buttons and leveraging authoritarian politics. We’ve got the young, white female victim and the frightening foreign criminal.
Individuals who are patriarchal, xenophobic and authoritarian will find all of their views confirmed in this incident.
Many people seem to understand at this point that drug laws are bad. Regardless of the nature of drugs and drug use, drug laws are dysfunctional and counterproductive. It doesn’t matter what the goal is: prohibition, legalization, ending drug usage, regulation or harm reduction. The way the American legal system deals with these substances empirically fails to work. The consequence of drug laws is a bloated prison population. Many people are also coming to view this as a serious problem, too. Drug laws and prisons are linked. This realization has become increasingly mainstream, to the point that even people who are a part of the “patriarchal, xenophobic and authoritarian” set have begun to admit it.
But we’re easily distracted. We have short memories and short attention spans. When we see a headline about a man with seven felonies we immediately assume he’s a degenerate lowlife who should have been in prison long ago. We shift focus from the nature of drug laws and prisons. The media does very little to correct this perception; the headlines we are fed focus on immigration and criminal convictions, without context.
Thus, we have to read through multiple articles – if we even get that far and we are not merely consuming television news passively – to find out that this man had no violent felony history. Every one of his felony convictions was for a nonviolent crime. Most were for drug-related crimes. The remaining were immigration and probation related.
This has not stopped some in the media from claiming that Sanchez had “a serious criminal history.” No. In fact, most of his so-called “crimes” should not be illegal in the first place.
What if we listened to the people who said “lock him up, throw away the key?” Well, our prison population would increase by some multiple. We’d secure our status as Number 1 for the world’s highest incarceration rates, for generations to come. Even more drug offenders would fill our prisons, costing the public millions and benefiting only the elite of the prison-industrial complex.
You see, there was no way to know that Sanchez would shoot someone. He did not have a criminal history in any way related to this kind of violence. In fact, the Sanchez shooting was not even intentional. It was an accident, a fact the media is also glossing over. Sanchez had no relationship with the victim. He said that he was trying to shoot a goddamn sea lion. Negligent and reckless, yes – cruel to the sea lion – but in no way reflecting the media narrative: the illegal immigrant, the violent criminal, who gunned down a young lady in a “random” shooting.
Donald Trump was quick to try and exploit Kate’s death for his own political gain. Trump said the United States should build a wall at the border with Mexico. Sanchez was deported five times. We’re being manipulated to support increasingly authoritarian, increasingly expensive, immigration policies in the United States. All based on a gun accident involving an immigrant who had nonviolent drug convictions.
It’s the classic fear tactic. We’ve seen this over the last fifteen years with “terrorism.” We’ve got an emotionally charged, but relatively insignificant, event. From that event we’re asked to restrict the liberties of millions, to support the expansion of state power. Now, I say this event is insignificant not because the loss of this woman’s life is insignificant, but because there are around twelve million “illegal immigrants” in the United States. An accidental shooting involving one is not significant. (Another fact, essential to the context of the event, the media is largely ignoring.) We can not let the state and the media use isolated, emotionally charged events to seize more power and impose increasingly restrictive laws upon us.
“Wait a minute, this doesn’t effect my liberty,” you may say, “just the liberty of the scary illegal.” Borders are two-way. I’ve heard people advocate walls, armed forces, and shoot-on-sight policies at the US border. A Republican nominee, Tom Mullins, suggested land mines. It’s all presented as “keeping the immigrants out.” Are these individuals unaware that any border effective at keeping individuals out is equally effective at keeping individuals in. Anyone who advocates impermeable borders is advocating for a prison state no one can leave except with the express consent of the ruling regime.
Indeed, we’re quick to realize that an armed border in the North/South Korean DMZ is a sign of political dysfunction. It’s a reflection of our fish-like attention spans, as well a fear that has become typically American, that we support the same domestic strategy.
When colonists began to immigrate to the so-called “New World,” immigration was open. Unless you were a slave or a person with brown skin, your life was mostly unrestricted. At least in the sense that you could walk away. After all, if you can’t even walk away how free are you really? This idea was essential, because it was a part of the new American myth: a free country, based on theories of natural law and the inherent equality of human beings. Many immigrants were even convicted criminals. (These ruffians, not afraid to participate in crime and rebellion against authority, would play an important role in the American Revolution). The colonies – the Americas – were a second chance.
We’ve forgotten that, too; we’ve sidelined it with fears of that which is individual and free.
While we still repeat colonist rhetoric of America’s “greatness,” we’ve ended a lot of the really unique things that made America different, more free. America can’t be “great,” it can’t be free or a bastion of liberty, if Americans live in fear. It can’t be free if “freedom” is conditional on the exclusion of millions, or the imprisonment of millions more.