A ribbon for missing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts hangs on a light post, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, in Brooklyn, Iowa. Tibbetts was reported missing from her hometown in the eastern Iowa city of Brooklyn in July 2018.
Photo: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Photo: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Opinion: A political body-snatching

On average, 45 people are murdered each day in this country. And although each and every one of those murders is in its own way a tragedy, most don’t draw much attention beyond the communities in which they take place. Some draw almost no notice at all.

Of course, there are exceptions. School shootings and mass murders naturally get national coverage, as do heartbreaking stories such as the case out of Colorado in which a pregnant woman and her two young daughters were found murdered, with the bodies of the two girls discovered stashed inside oil tanks. Last week, the husband and father was arrested and charged with their murder.

Then there are cases such as Mollie Tibbetts, the Iowa college student whose murder has been turned into a political spectacle by President Trump, Fox News and others. Because the suspect in her death is an illegal immigrant from Mexico, their usual cautions against politicizing tragedy — heard often in cases of mass shootings with firearms — clearly don’t apply.

“Mollie Tibbetts, an incredible young woman, is now permanently separated from her family,” Trump said this week in a video released by the White House on Twitter. “We need the wall. We need our immigration laws changed. We need our border laws changed. We need Republicans to do it because the Democrats aren’t going to do it.”

For the record, there is no indication that immigrants, whether documented or otherwise, are more likely than the rest of us to commit crime. In fact, statistics tell us the opposite is probably true. There is also no indication that a wall would be effective in keeping out illegal immigrants. In this case, the suspect had been here for at least four years, working under a false name at a farm owned by a prominent Republican family, where he was considered a model employee.

And if you want to argue that Cristhian Rivera is somehow representative of undocumented immigrants, then surely Chris Watts, the suspect in the Colorado case, is representative of married white fathers, right? No, didn’t think so.

However, one should never underestimate the political utility of one murdered young white woman handpicked out of the daily carnage. Trump and his team are investing heavily in hopes of using Mollie’s tragedy to frighten and anger people, to use an act of violence by one man to inflame emotions against immigrants in general.

That cruel calculation was explained best by Newt Gingrich in an email to a reporter:

“We are living in two alternative political universes. In one, Manafort-Cohen is dispositive. In the other, illegal immigrants killing Mollie Tibbetts is dispositive.

“If Mollie Tibbetts is a household name by October, Democrats will be in deep trouble. If we can be blocked by Manafort-Cohen, etc., then GOP could lose badly.”

While some members of Tibbetts’ family have stayed silent in their grief, other family members have strongly protested this act of political body-snatching. “Please remember, Evil comes in EVERY color,” her aunt posted on Facebook. Some of her friends have spoken up as well.

Breck Goodman, a fellow student at the University of Iowa, describes Tibbetts as “a spectacular human being” whose smile could brighten anyone’s day.

“I also know what Mollie stood for … and she would not approve,” Goodman said. “So I don’t want her death to be used as propaganda. I don’t want her death to be used for more prejudice and for more discrimination, and I don’t think she would want that, either.”

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