What the Fort Lauderdale Shooting Could Mean for Hispanics



People at the Fort Lauderdale Airport flee from the shooting.

On Friday, Jan. 6, suspect Esteban Santiago landed in the Fort Lauderdale airport and opened fire, killing five and injuring at least eight more.  Santiago, a Puerto Rican veteran, was taken into custody and now faces several charges where he could be subject to the death penalty.  The suspect is a resident of Anchorage, Alaska, who resided in New Jersey, before joining the U.S. Army Reserve and spending 10 months in Iraq.  Upon arriving from his tour in the Middle East, relatives and co-workers began to notice erratic behavior and have stated that Santiago revealed that he was hearing voices.  He voluntarily went to the FBI where his gun was retrieved while a mental health screening was completed.  The exam did not show any discrepancies, so his gun, the weapon used in the shooting, was given back to him. What could this incident mean for Hispanics?

At a time when anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant rhetoric is exceedingly high, the way in which Santiago has been portrayed can effect the way members of the community are viewed. Some responses to the attack blamed his “illegal immigrant status,” failing to realize that Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States from birth and that being an illegal immigrant is not a factor that contributes to crime. These blatantly racist responses add to the already prominent stereotypes that exist towards Hispanics, specifically Puerto Ricans, and could increase antagonistic feelings towards these people.

Commentators also began to refer to him as a “white-hispanic,” as CNN did with George Zimmerman in 2013.  This term is an attempt to place Santiago into a category based on his skin color. Seeing as it is in itself a diverse ethnicity with people of all colors, commentators felt the need to label him, adding to the controversial Hispanic-Latino naming debate. Additionally, some were offended by the need to include the term “white” in his description, due to the dispute that questions whether Hispanics should have an individual race.

“I’ve seen how the bias against Hispanics can affect people, and I think that some of the responses to this incident have been a little racist and people have thought of it as a normal thing because of his ethnicity.  This stereotyping, especially during times like these, is definitely not a good thing for Hispanics,” sophomore Andrea Adesso said.

Hispanic criminals do not commit crimes because of their heritage, in the same way that Asians do not find themselves in jail because of the color of their skin. Esteban Santiago is not in the position he is in because he is Hispanic, but because of other factors, such as his mental health, that led to this fateful event.  The stereotyping of a minority that has stemmed from this event and previous anti-Hispanic sentiments have proven to be harmful towards people of the community.