Violent crime: Who to blame
There was a time – a lot of years ago – when people were arguing that the Aspen Police shouldn’t carry guns. After all, Aspen was a quiet, peaceful place. Violent crime was almost unknown. Why did cops need guns?The chief of police rejected the idea immediately.”I won’t send my men out there unarmed,” he said.Some of us snickered. “Out there”? He wouldn’t ask his men to go unarmed out there on the mean streets of Aspen?We didn’t really expect the cops to give up their guns – what’s the point of being a cop if you can’t carry a gun? – but the whole “out there” business seemed a little silly.Well, those were gentler times.These days, it’s hard to imagine anyone talking about police giving up their guns.Within the last few weeks, we’ve had a brutal murder in Glenwood, a drive-by shooting in Basalt and, most recently, a cop shot at close range in Glenwood, his life likely saved only by a bullet-proof vest.Sadly, the one thing these three incidents have in common is that the men pulling the triggers were apparently all Latino immigrants. And that understandably leads directly into the debate over immigration.Certainly, it’s easy – and not unreasonable – to point at the increase in violent crime by Latinos and declare that “Unchecked illegal immigration is filling our community with violent criminals.”We hear statements like that often enough and in some ways they are hard to deny.It’s hard to deny because … well, it’s true.But wait.It is also true that unchecked illegal immigration is filling our community with honest, decent, hard-working men and women whom we rely on pretty much every day of our lives. They keep our community going.And that, once again, cuts to the difficult heart of the immigration problem: It does not yield to simplistic answers.You cannot say, “They’re all criminals! Throw them out and keep them out!”Because they’re not all criminals. And we need them.And you cannot say, “We need them. Let them in and let them stay!”Because some of them very certainly are criminals. And we need to keep them out.And no amount of decent human concern for lack of education or economic opportunity can be allowed to obscure the simple fact that we must not, we should not, we cannot afford to open our country to a stream of violent criminals.That almost seems simple, doesn’t it?The honest, decent, hard-working immigrants are an undeniable benefit to our country. We should welcome them, either as citizens or as temporary workers.And the criminals should be kept out, thrown out.But it’s never quite that simple.Looking right here in the area, we have to realize that, to fill our insatiable need for low-paid workers in our hotels, restaurants, construction sites and gas fields, we are, in essence, demanding the creation of a lower-middle class and lower class. We need blue-collar workers and itinerant workers.We can’t all be aristocrats, can we?A large portion of that working class is Latino. And, again sadly, the lower economic classes generate more violent criminals. So the immigrant sorting process becomes much harder. How many “rough customers” do we accept as part and parcel of the lower class that we demand?But we still have to reject the too-easy simple answers. We cannot demonize all Latinos, even as we recognize that some are violent criminals.Because that kind of demonization and incoherent rage lead to yet another kind of violent crime.Just this week, a jury in Eagle County brought in a verdict of first-degree murder in the death of an innocent woman who was shot and killed in front of her husband and young son.Once again, there were Latino names on the police report.But this time the Latinos were the victims.Maria Madrid was shot to death by Charles Gross, who thought that Madrid and her husband and son had not cleaned up their campsite.That’s right. He shot a woman to death in an argument over trash. The victims were trying to escape, driving away from this violent criminal when he opened fire.We cannot welcome immigrants who are violent criminals – but neither can we allow ourselves to foster violent rage in our own native-born hearts.Andy Stone is a former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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