Aug 4, 2019

Racist terrorism suspected in El Paso, Texas massacre

Racist terrorism suspected in El Paso, Texas massacre

 Albuquerque steps up security

Kent Paterson/The Digie Zone Network

Media and supporters gather Aug. 4 at the site. [DZN]
On a recent visit to El Paso, Texas, a couple I met vented about violence and criminality in neighboring New Mexico. From both personal experience and the broadcasts of El Paso television stations, which have correspondents in Las Cruces that routinely inform El Paso viewers of the latest atrocities in the Land of Enchantment, the woman and man were well-versed about New Mexico’s high homicide rates and other criminal indices. I really could not argue with them.

In recent years the Albuquerque metro area, which has more or less the same population as El Paso County, has been a far more violent place than its Texan counterpart on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Indeed, the Sun City - El Paso's nickname - has consistently ranked as among the safest places to live in the United States, despite wrong-headed notions propagated of El Paso as a dangerous place under siege by the drug-fueled violence of neighboring Juarez, Mexico.

But on August 3, 2019, El Paso endured its own day of terror, grief and panic. And it was a violence that came from outside the city, from another part of Texas.

While all the details are still not known, the basic story is that a 21-year-old white man from a Dallas suburb with an AK-47 rifle (captured on video) entered a Walmart near Cielo Vista Mall on the near east side of El Paso Saturday morning and began shooting. At least 20 people were killed and 26 injured, Texas Governor Greg Abbott was quoted as saying in local media. The names, ages and gender of the victims were not immediately disclosed, pending notification of relatives.

Plush toy and candle. [DZN]
The suspected shooter was arrested, reportedly surrendering to police outside the Walmart store.

Cielo Vista Mall and its adjacent shopping corridor are important destinations for customers from Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City who can spend hours in line waiting to pass U.S. customs in the hope of finding bargains for items that cost more on the Mexican side of the border. By Saturday evening, senior Mexican officials said three of the slain victims and six of the injured were Mexican citizens.

“This is a problem of (social) disintegration, of the problems that certain people have, not a generalized issue,” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said. “We send our condolences to the families of the victims, and our solidarity and support to the U.S. people and to the U.S. government. We are going to give all our attention to our citizens. That’s the instructions we’ve given to the Secretariat of Foreign Relations and the (Mexican) consul in El Paso, Texas.”

Besides turning a Saturday morning afternoon shopping spree into a blood-soaked nightmare for those inside Walmart, the horrendous shooting turned life in El Paso upside down. Cielo Vista and Bassett malls were both evacuated, as was another Walmart miles away on the west side of the city. The same was reported for all El Paso Community College campuses. 

Residents create impromptu memorial at the site. [DZN]
Police were posted at the Sunland Park Mall bordering New Mexico. Activities scheduled for the Ysleta, Socorro and Clint school districts, two concerts, and the Duranguito Market were all canceled.

The slaughter in El Paso had immediate repercussions a few hours up Interstate 25 in Albuquerque, where back to school shoppers enjoyed a tax free holiday and residents geared up for the outdoor Summerfest in the city’s downtown district Saturday evening.

In a joint statement, Mayor Tim Keller and Albuquerque Police Department Chief Mike Geier announced that “officers will boost their presence” at shopping malls, department stores like Walmart and Summerfest as a response to the “tragic shooting; in El Paso.

“We want to reassure the public – Albuquerque residents and neighbors from throughout the state – who are taking advantage of the tax-free holiday to shop for back-to-school items,” Mayor Keller said. “We also want everyone to feel safe and enjoy Summerfest. Nobody should have to worry about becoming victims of senseless gun violence.”

According to breaking news accounts, the suspect in the El Paso massacre was said to have possessed a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto. Quoted in the El Paso Times, El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said the manifesto “indicates a possible hate crime.”

In Juarez, Mexico, dozens of people gathered Saturday evening for a candlelight vigil on one of the city’s principal streets. According to El Diario de Juarez, signs at the event read “No More Arms.”

“We want to show our solidarity with our sister city of El Paso,” said Idhali Lopez, member of the Juarez Executive Rotary Club. “We all cross over there once in a while . We all have family over there. There are people who study there and people who work over there.

"We have to show peace and love, and this is our little contribution.”

Kent Paterson, an author and journalist based in New Mexico, is a frequent contributor to the Digie Zone Network.

Jul 31, 2019

Defying the journalism apocalypse in rural New Mexico

Defying the journalism apocalypse in rural New Mexico
Kent Paterson/DigieZoneNetwork
Blake Gumprecht is living the dream. For the former geography professor who longed a return to his beloved field of journalism, that means writing and publishing a new weekly, an English-Spanish bilingual newspaper that covers southern New Mexico's Hatch Valley, the rural home of several thousand souls. 
"When my son graduated (high school) a couple of years ago I decided to be an idiot and got back in a dying business," the owner of the Hatch Valley Observer says with a hearty chuckle.
After an unsuccessful run with a newspaper in Alabama and probes of other newspaper purchasing opportunities, Gumprecht zeroed in on southern New Mexico, where his son attends New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Father also moved to the City of Crosses, worked briefly for the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Laying it all out in the July 18 edition of the Hatch Valley Observer, the paper's first issue, Gumprecht recounted the influence a Hatch High School football game he and his son attended in the small New Mexico town last year had on his decision to start a weekly there.   
Blake Gumprecht
"We liked it so much that we went to four Hatch football games last fall," the former faculty member of the University of New Hampshire wrote. "That inspired me to visit the Hatch Valley at other times. I found myself driving north on Highway 185 again and again."
Some may ask, "Where is Hatch and why the heck does it matter?” A few words.
Situated off Interstate 25, about a 30-40 minute drive north of Las Cruces and positioned next to the Rio Grande, Hatch and the nearby rural communities that dot the valley have a rich history as well as an international reputation as the self-proclaimed "Chile Capital of the World." 
The title, of course, refers to the hot peppers that are cultivated on local farms and exported worldwide. Chile is a New Mexican icon, the official state vegetable, and a culinary root of indigenous cultures.  
What’s more, the Hatch Valley is an important cultural, economic and transportation crossroads. The bountiful valley is a shortcut for travelers going from Albuquerque to Tucson. New generations of Mexican immigrants who work the farms, ranches and dairies or study in the public schools have added to the 21st century face of the region. 
Renowned for its annual Labor Day weekend chile festival that draws thousands, Hatch is also a place where members of the big New Mexican diaspora celebrate a reencuentro with the sacred homeland. Native New Mexicans undertake an annual trek from their current homes in California, Arizona and elsewhere to purchase sacks of green chile that will tide them through the winter.
Another important fact is that greater Hatch has not had a newspaper for three years, converting the rural valley into a news desert. That's where Blake Gumprecht plans to green the landscape, so to speak.   
Asked if he's been called crazy for starting a newspaper at time when long-established outlets are going belly-up and journalists are losing jobs by the droves, Gumprecht laughs and says a couple of folks have told him exactly that.
After all, as the Columbia Journalist Review reported earlier in July, 2019 has been a "particularly brutal" time for news workers, with at least 3,000 lay-offs or buyout offers tracked by a Chicago-based job placement firm so far this year.
According to the prestigious industry watch dog, 2019's professional bloodbath includes "more than 1,000 layoffs or buyout offers at newspapers owned by Gannett, McClatchy, and GateHouse; the loss of every staff writer at the East Bay Express, a California alt-weekly; at least 43 layoffs at the Dallas Morning News..."
Not an especially promising time for those seeking a news career; the word "apocalyptic" is gaining currency in the journalism field. 
But now operating from a small office on one of the two principal streets of Hatch, Gumprecht actually did some homework before launching the Hatch Valley Observer. He drove up and down the Hatch Valley introducing himself to business owners, announcing his intention of founding a serious newspaper that will gladly accept advertisements.
Gumprecht considers his potential reader demographic as distinct from an urban one.
"This isn't New York. It's not even Las Cruces. This is not a terribly digital place. I think people assume the media landscape is a uniform landscape." Besides, weeklies have a better shot at survival than dailies, he contends.
"Weekly newspapers haven't suffered to the same degree as the dailies have," the newsman insists. 
Although the Hatch Valley Observer maintains a digital edition and a Facebook, Gumprecht is wagering on the print edition, which currently circulates at 1,000 copies and is offered free of charge for the moment. He hopes to attract both advertisers and subscribers.
So far, the paper is distributed at 26 locations in the Hatch Valley and in Radium Springs, a small community located between the Hatch Valley and Las Cruces.
Gumprecht is a very busy man. He estimates performing "98 percent" of the newspaper's tasks, ranging from reporting and writing to ad sales. He even drives more than an hour away to the printer in El Paso, Texas, the closest place for getting a newspaper printed.  
Printed in an easily thumbed tabloid style, the first issue of the Hatch Valley Observer counted out at 16 pages, in both English and Spanish.
Assisting Gumprecht are a former Las Cruces Sun-News colleague who aids with proofing copy and a woman who helps out with the Spanish article translation.
"I thought (news in Spanish) was important, given the nature of who lives around here," he says.
The first two issues of the Hatch Valley Observer saw pieces on an official effort to declare Hatch a colonia (an underdeveloped community within a certain range of the U.S.-Mexico border that is eligible for special infrastructure funding), the introduction of new bus service from Las Cruces to parts of the Hatch Valley, a political race in nearby Deming,  the closure of the nearby Border Patrol checkpoint and its possible impact on crime, and the news that the 2019 chile festival does not yet have a sponsor, with only a few weeks remaining before the biggest local event of the year.
Gumprecht welcomes op-eds, with the first issue featuring a commentary by Walt Rubel on the mental health care crisis that struck New Mexico after former Governor Susana Martinez's administration yanked funding from providers because of alleged fraud-something that was never proved. For his part, the publisher/reporter wrote a shout-out to the farmworkers who are toiling away in the hot sun of the valley’s fields.
In a humorous vein, a cartoon reprinted from the Albuquerque Journal centered on the “chile wars" waged by Colorado, New Mexico and Texas for title of best hot pepper producer.   
Gumprecht quickly found out that a small town newspaper can create a local stir. A story in the Hatch Valley Observer's July 25 edition reported the sudden departures of the Hatch Valley High School volleyball team's coach and assistant coach less than a month prior to the new season.  
Wrote Gumprecht, "It is a stunning development for a team that made it to the semi-finals of the Class 3A state championships last year, returns all but two players from that team, and seemed well-positioned to compete for a state championship this season."
The newsman adds, "Apparently (the impending story) was burning up the phone lines even before it went out."
In an era when species extinction, political upheavals and constitutional crises rank high, the Hatch Valley High School volleyball team may not seem like a compelling story. But sports like volleyball can mean the world to students and their families. And that's what Gumprecht's project proposes: the flourishing of a local journalism that speaks to both every day and larger concerns.
What does the Hatch Valley Observer's founder view as some of the hefty issues he'll cover? Unsurprisingly, agriculture is at the top of his list- and not just chile. As a recent drive through the Hatch Valley attested, the fertile lands abutting the Rio Grande are bountiful in onions, pecans, cotton, corn and more. Plentiful stories abound in those fields, too.
Housing-and the lack of it- is another big topic, according to Gumprecht. Indeed, the newspaper's owner says he could not find a suitable place to live and was forced to settle in Radium Springs, a fifteen or twenty minute drive from Hatch. The dearth of "middle class" housing in the small town causes health care and educational professionals to commute back and forth from their homes in Las Cruces, he adds.
Yet as a newcomer, Gumprecht humbly admits that he is still in the "knowledge gathering phase" about the Hatch Valley. "I'll be the first to confess that I'm still learning about this place," he says.    
Interested readers can check out the new Hatch Valley Observer at  Hatch news 
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Kent Paterson is an author-journalist based in New Mexico and a frequent contributor to The Digie Zone.