When bullets are used to settle disagreements
Jeez, what’s happening here?Bullets flying through windows to settle a disagreement over immigration policy? Or, more precisely, the use of gunfire and violence as a way of combating perceived slights and insults? Sounds like East L.A. to me, or maybe the mythical Wild West, but it’s neither.The rifle bullets were flying at the Basalt 7-Eleven on June 26, after an altercation between two Latino patrons and a clerk named Bruno Kirchenwitz.The cops have been pretty careful so far in their refusal to link the altercation directly with the shooting, or to classify it as a racially motivated incident; they’re calling the two Latinos merely “persons of interest” in the case.But the inescapable conclusion from reading news stories is that these two guys took offense at Bruno’s hat, emblazoned with the words “U.S. Border Patrol,” and perhaps at a T-shirt he also likes to wear, which reads “Jesus is my gardener” and carries a cartoonish image of a Mexican peasant.After taking offense, confronting Bruno and leaving, perhaps to fortify their courage at some other locale, these guys (or someone with similar sentiments?) returned to the 7-Eleven and opened fire, not realizing their quarry had left the building. Luckily, no one was hurt, though the atmosphere of this once-placid little valley has undoubtedly intensified as a result.Another inescapable conclusion from all this is that Bruno, who once was a columnist for this very newspaper, is the kind of guy who likes to be provocative in his gear and in his words. For those who don’t remember his columns, they were generally of the redneck flavor, but well-written and funnier than hell.He had a wide readership, and I can’t recall exactly why his column disappeared from our pages, or exactly when. I’m sure Bruno could tell you, and he’s likely to write another of his signature letters to me with an explanation and perhaps about other things.Close readers of this paper might recall that back in April of this year, Bruno penned a letter to the editor in which he took aim at the issue of illegal immigration, a complex crisis that he seems to blame on “the Big Business Buddies of that jug-eared idiot from Texas,” a sentiment I cannnot wholly disagree with. Bruno also claims that “some of my best friends in the valley are Latino” even as he castigates those who cross into the U.S. illegally, a classic dodge used by racists and xenophobes everywhere since humans first realized skin color makes a handy divisive symbol.Bruno also noted that he immigrated here from Germany as a child soon after World War II, and that he had firsthand experience with “prejudice and racism” thanks to the labeling of him and his family as Nazis.So, the picture fills out a little bit. A bit of subtle provocation in dress and style on one hand, racial and social sensitivity on the other, and what we get is gunfire in the dark.Let’s get real for a moment: Bruno’s sense of fashion and his worldview are his own business, and the idea that gunfire is the appropriate way to end an argument is not only primitivistic and stupid, it’s worse in nature than any kind of jingoistic, bigoted ideology imaginable.The trouble is, this incident is being heralded on the streets as the antecedent to some kind of rise in racial and social tensions. I don’t see it, but such things can feed upon themselves to the point where they suddenly become real, even when based on nothing solid.This is a problem, and the solution is not going to be easy to find, but find it we must. If we don’t, life here in the valley is going to get a lot hotter.John Colson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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