Say Their Names: El Paso, 2019

Western States Center
4 min readAug 3, 2020

By Eric K. Ward

A year ago, a gunman opened fire in an El Paso Walmart. On his computer was a manifesto that parroted the inflammatory anti-Mexican rhetoric of President Trump. Twenty-two people were killed that day; one of the dozens critically injured died a few months later, raising the death toll to 23, the deadliest attack on Latinos in modern U.S. history. With the killings that would happen later that night in Dayton, Ohio, and the one just days earlier at the Gilroy, California garlic festival, it was one of three mass shootings in a week.

It’s all too easy to become numb to the deaths and damage caused by hate violence in America, whether committed by lone gunmen poisoned by online conspiracy theories and mainstreamed xenophobia, by organized white nationalist groups and self-styled paramilitary formations, or by militarized police officers.

George Floyd’s death and the Movement for Black Lives have raised America’s consciousness about the deadly vestiges of white supremacy in our approach to policing and incarceration. Long-circulated policy proposals for reform are finally getting more serious attention. The New York Times reported in mid-June that in the first two weeks of the national racial justice protests ignited by Floyd’s televised murder, “American voters’ support for the Black Lives Matter movement increased almost as much as it had in the preceding two years.”

As a Black man who has seen more than five decades of hate violence, I’m encouraged by this movement. It would be trite to say there’s so much more to do. Instead I’ll offer a marker of how I’ll know that we’ve truly arrived at a point when we’re strong enough as a movement to make Black lives matter in America.

It’s part of Black struggle to remember all the victims. To ensure no one gets forgotten. To say their names. The litany of names recited nightly on the streets of Portland, Oregon and in the suburban, small town, and big city vigils continuing across the country is an act of devotion, a pledge of dedication, a wail of anguish. Private pain carried in public, shared and lifted up in the hopes that they did not die in vain, that in remembering them, we will as a nation, do better.

Say their names — a rallying cry and demand for accountability — started as Say her name, a way to make visible the willfully neglected stories of the violence experienced by Black women and girls at the hands of police.

Our attention needs to be large enough to include not only those killed by racist urban cops and hate-fueled vigilantes, but also the law enforcement agencies operating outside the bounds of constitutional oversight through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

A recent Government Accountability Office report found that emergency humanitarian relief released to DHS by Congress last year to care for migrants at the southern border was instead expended on dog food, dirt bikes, ATVs, and riot helmets like the ones worn by Border Patrol agents sent to quash lawful protests in Portland last month. (Hat tip to our friends at United We Dream for publicizing this.)

U.S. Senate majority leaders are right now holding COVID relief hostage to the insatiable budget demands of Customs and Border Patrol, an agency that is doing far too little to manage coronavirus outbreaks at their detention centers, and that still has not repaired the damage of the family separation disaster that put children in cages.

We can’t forget that the Trumped-up southern border wars that inspired the El Paso shooter were started by armed paramilitary formations which continue to operate as rogue enforcement agents.

As Time anniversary coverage reports, “About a year before the shooting, half of Latinos said they had concerns about their situation in America and were worried that a family member or close friend could be deported, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. That sentiment didn’t vanish in the aftermath of the shooting.”

Hate crimes targeting Latinos have increased every year for the past three years, according to the FBI Hate Crime Statistics report. The most recent year available, 2018, saw a 62% increase in anti-Hispanic or Latino incidents since 2015. In the year since the El Paso massacre, Time reports, “multiple attacks targeting Latinos and immigrants have taken place across the United States.”

That’s why we who believe that Black Lives Matter today join with the families of El Paso and the border state of Chihuahua, Mexico in remembering what happened a year ago in the Walmart that served as their community center. We hold ourselves accountable by remembering those who are still owed their due, who have not yet received justice, whose lives were needlessly destroyed.

These are some of the names that drive our work each day.

Read their stories. Say their names: Jordan Anchondo. Andre Anchondo. Arturo Benavidez. Javier Rodriguez. Sara Esther Regalado Moriel. Adolfo Cerros Hernández. Gloria Irma Marquez. María Eugenia Legarreta Rothe. Ivan Manzano. Juan de Dios Velázquez Chairez. David Johnson. Leonardo Campos Jr. Maribel Campos (Loya). Angelina Silva Englisbee. Maria Flores. Raul Flores. Jorge Calvillo Garcia. Alexander Gerhard Hoffman. Luis Alfonzo Juarez. Elsa Mendoza de la Mora. Margie Reckard. Teresa Sanchez. Guillermo “Memo” Garcia.

Eric K. Ward is a Senior Fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center and Race Forward, and Executive Director of Western States Center.



Western States Center

Based in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain States, Western States Center works nationwide to strengthen inclusive democracy.