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Raul A. Reyes

Raul A. Reyes

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Brisenia Flores Was a Victim of Border Vigilantes and Media Indifference

Posted: 03/ 8/11 04:33 PM ET

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Brisenia Flores was an ordinary American girl in a dusty border town in Arizona. Nine years old, she loved Belle from Beauty and the Beast and playing on her teeter-totter. On May 30, 2009, Brisenia was sleeping with her puppy when armed robbers broke into her family's mobile home. After initially identifying themselves as law enforcement, one of the intruders shot Brisena's parents. Brisenia begged for her life, crying, "Please don't shoot me!" She was shot point-blank in the head twice.

On February 22, a jury gave Shawna Forde the death penalty for masterminding the home invasion that resulted in the deaths of Brisenia and her father. Forde thought he was a drug dealer who she could rob in order to fund her Minuteman group, although no drugs were found in the Flores home.

Like many Latinos, I was surprised that Brisenia's murder and Forde's trial drew scant attention from the media. CNN's limited coverage was probably the best; MSNBC and FOX mostly ignored the story. Because this was such a shocking crime, I thought news outlets would run with it. But they didn't - and in the absence of extensive coverage, Brisenia's death failed to resonate with most Americans.

Compare Brisenia's tragedy to that of another nine-year-old in Arizona. When Christina Taylor Green was killed in the attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her death led to national soul-searching over the tenor of our political discourse. Christina was eulogized in President Obama's 2011 State of the Union address as her family sat with the First Lady.

Or consider the murder of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz last year. Krentz was shot by unknown assailants who were believed to be undocumented immigrants. His death inspired an outcry over illegal immigration. Politicians invoked his name at Department of Homeland Security hearings and in the subsequent passing of SB 1070.

I don't mean to take away from the suffering of the Green and Krentz families. However, Brisenia's death did not provoke anywhere near the same amount of attention, let alone outrage by politicians and the news media.

From a purely journalistic standpoint, Brisenia's case was ripe for headlines. It involved gruesome violence, vigilantes, drug allegations, the death of a child, and the hot-button issues of gun control and immigration. The testimony by Brisenia's mother, an eyewitness to her daughter's murder, was so intense that at least half of the jury later asked for post-trial recovery counseling.

Yet cable outlets did not give Brisenia the 24/7 coverage afforded household names like Chandra Levy, Lacey Peterson, JonBenet Ramsey, and Natalee Holloway. Maybe Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post was correct when he opined that America requires its damsels in distress to be white ("This requirement is non-negotiable") and preferably middle class. Since Brisenia was neither, apparently her life mattered less to our society.

Brisenia should matter because she died as a result of anti-illegal immigration extremism. Shawna Forde was not a lone nutcase; she was "well-placed in the border security movement," according to the Arizona Daily Star. Forde led protests and patrols on the border, and appeared on television as a spokesperson for the Federation For American Immigration Reform (FAIR). She was in email contact with Jim Gilchrist, cofounder of the Minuteman Project, until the day she was arrested. Unlike Jared Loughner, implicated in the Tucson tragedy, Forde was indeed motivated by political beliefs. She heard all the ugly rhetoric and decided to act on it.

I'm saddened by the indifferent response to Brisenia's death. While Forde is a disturbed individual, she was part of a nativist movement that deserves further scrutiny. Her radicalism was Made in the USA. That's the "big story" much of the media missed - as well as its deadly consequences.

Editor's Note: A FAIR spokesperson contacted HuffPost and told us that Shawna Forde misrepresented herself in her television appearance, and has never had any association with FAIR -- as a member, employee, or spokesperson.

 

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