ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa and this is the Washington Week Extra.
The communities in Texas and Ohio are mourning this week after mass shootings in both states took the lives of 31 people last weekend.
A trip to Walmart in El Paso turned into tragedy last Saturday afternoon: 22 people killed by a gunman, 26 injured. And later that night in a popular district in downtown Dayton, nine people were killed by another gunman.
DAYTON, OHIO MAYOR NAN WHALEY (D): (From video.) As a mayor, this is a day that we all dread happening. Today is the 250th mass shooting in America. It’s sad that it’s in the city of Dayton.
MR. COSTA: The sites in both cities turned into memorials. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, faced protesters shouting “do something,” and then on Tuesday called on state lawmakers to pass a red-flag law, allowing courts to confiscate guns from people who could pose a threat.
President Trump visited Dayton and El Paso to pay his respects, but wasn’t welcomed by all. There were protesters. And The El Paso Times wrote an open letter to Mr. Trump.
And now, with the communities still reeling, more than 200 mayors across the country are urging Congress to return to Washington to take action on gun safety.
We are joined tonight by reporters from El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio to tell us about the events as they unfolded and their impact and to hear more about their reporting.
Juliet Fromholt, reporter and webmaster for WYSO, joining us from our PBS affiliate in Cincinnati. And from El Paso, Julian Aguilar, immigration and border security reporter for The Texas Tribune.
Thank you so much for joining us here tonight. It’s really appreciated to have you on in such a difficult week not only for the nation, but especially your communities.
Julian, the Latino community has faced a historic and tragic week in El Paso. How are they responding in your city, in this town?
JULIAN AGUILAR: I think initially there was a lot of shock and sadness and grief. And over the last couple of days, once that set in, it’s turned to frustration and anger. People want answers. You know, you wouldn’t assume that somebody that’s fighting Hispanics would come to a city – you know, you feel safe here because, you know, we’re 82 percent Hispanic here and we blend in and, you know, there’s a “safety in numbers” sort of mentality. But we’re still grasping it.
You know, as a reporter I’m reporting and observing what I’m seeing. But as an El Pasoan, you know, I’m a part of this community that’s still trying to figure out what exactly led up to this hate and this rage that allowed this person to come into a Walmart in my neighborhood, in my community and commit these acts.
And I think that as the days turn into weeks, people are going to demand answers with respect to what the motivation was, what lawmakers at the state and federal level are going to try to do to prevent something like this. But as we’ve seen time and time again, sometimes those answers are hard to come by.
MR. COSTA: Juliet, in Dayton, Ohio, you’re separated for miles and – by miles from El Paso, Texas, but dealing with similar challenges about violence. Dayton has gone through a lot over the past year. What does this latest tragedy mean for that city?
JULIET FROMHOLT: Well, we have indeed gone through a lot. This has been a phenomenal year for Dayton. Back in late May, we had a Klan rally in the middle of downtown Dayton. There was a lot of community angst and worry about how that would affect our community writ large. Would we see violence? What would happen? Tremendously, that ended peacefully with counterdemonstrators really just shouting out those nine members of the Klan-affiliated group from Indiana.
Two days later, however, we experienced a series of devastating tornadoes that ripped through our community. And we’ve really just been going through the healing process from that. And so to experience this shooting last Sunday morning feels like another blow to our community and another challenge to the resiliency of the greater Dayton area.
MR. COSTA: When you think about the Klan rally, that’s a racial issue. You have issues of race and ethnicity in El Paso.
Julian, when people are on the ground in El Paso, are they talking about race in a more candid way, maybe even a more caustic way than previous years? Or is it mostly about gun control?
MR. AGUILAR: No, that’s – I think – I think it’s – you know, I hesitate to say a 50/50 split. You know, it’s anecdotal the people that I’ve spoken to. But there are a lot of folks here that are – that are concerned now. They’re concerned that they have a target on their back.
During the president’s visit, there was a gathering at a – at a park in south central El Paso and there were hundreds of people there. The organizers were hesitant to call it a protest or an anti-Trump rally. They decided it’s a gathering where we want to come together and vent and pray and hug each other. But I think you saw a split with respect to people that were demanding something on gun control as well as expressing a fear about being Hispanic, being Latino and, you know, being targeted by somebody that could be a copycat or, you know, just the angst.
And, you know, El Paso, it’s a resilient community, it’s a beautiful community. People here, they’d take their shirt off for their neighbor if they need to. They’re humble people, they pray and they believe in their family and their community. And, you know, unfortunately, 22 families are suffering because they decided, you know, to go to a Walmart on Saturday afternoon. But, you know, this is – this is a community that never thought they’d see something like this, so they definitely want answers.
But, you know, we’ve had to push back for years, more than a decade with respect to the reputation that El Paso has as being lawless and being violent because we’re on the border, because we’re majority Latino. And people here, we’re tired of it, we’re tired of it. We are one of the safest cities statistically with respect to our size. Last year, there were 23 registered homicides in the entire year. And somebody that came from 650 miles away to target our community almost tied that statistic in a matter of minutes. And people are really upset at the fact that we’re going to have to push back.
But the people here will fight back, they will come together, as we’ve seen over the last few days, and they will emerge from this. But it’s definitely going to be something that’s never going to be forgotten in this community.
MR. COSTA: Juliet, when you think about how it’s never going to be forgotten, there are so many mass shootings, tragically, these days in this – in this country. As reporters of your regions, your states, your communities, this isn’t just a week story or a day story. How do you approach a story that you have to now encounter for weeks on end, months on end, for years on end, that when others walk away from the story because other news happens, you’re still there and it’s very human, up close as a reporter? How do you handle that as a journalist?
MS. FROMHOLT: I think it’s a commitment to following the stories of the community, this neighborhood in particular. The Oregon District where the shooting occurred is an entertainment district of art and small business and family business. And so it’s going to be watching that community, watching how the larger Dayton community interacts with that community and seeing how this incident inspires people to act, to take specific action, to stand up for justice, to make art, to do all of these things.
We see so many different types of responses immediately this week to this event and it’ll be seeing how this influences all aspects of our community ongoing for the next months and years. You know, when John Crawford was shot in 2014, we’re still feeling that in our community. That was in Beaver Creek which is nearby. So we will – we will be seeing this for years to come and it’ll manifest differently from moment to moment.
MR. COSTA: What about gun control, Julian? Is this an issue that you’re going to be tracking now? Is that something that could get legs in Texas of all places, which has a gun culture? John Cornyn, the incumbent Republican senator is up for reelection in 2020. What’s happening in Texas? Is there a change at all on guns?
MR. AGUILAR: Well, you know, what you alluded to with respect to Senator Cornyn, you know, he’s – he is – he’s going to face a challenge and this is going to be at the forefront.
Now, I mean, we’ve seen the previous debates that have already taken place where gun control is something that’s measured. I think the fact that former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, you know, is running as a candidate to try to get the nomination, I think the fact that he’s temporarily suspended his campaign to be with the people of his community, but has vowed to continue. Once he gets back on that debate stage, this is going to be front-and-center as well as it should.
At the state level, the governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House were in town and they met with community leaders, they met with the Texas delegation. And the governor emerged from that meeting promising roundtable discussions with respect to ideas and what they can do with the legislative session that’s coming up.
But I think one thing that should be – that is key with respect to what Texas can do is the fact that the Texas legislature meets for five months every two years and they just gaveled out this most recent May, so they’re not going to be back in for a really, really long time. And I think that’s going to – that’s going to add pressure to what people expect them to do.
The governor hasn’t hinted that he’s going to call an emergency legislative session, which can last up to 30 days to address one issue or a myriad of issues. Again, we’re going to have these town halls, these community meetings, these roundtables as the governor put it, to see what ideas will emerge, the same way they did after the Sutherland Springs and the Santa Fe shootings and see what emerged after that. But I think – I don’t think that’s going to be enough for everybody. I think people are going to want to see something.
There are some people that have said, you know, well, maybe we should, you know, take some time to think about this. But the lieutenant governor when he was here a couple of days ago, he said, you know, let’s not make this political, let’s not politicize this issue, let’s, you know, deal with the families. But when asked if there was going to be anything immediately on the legislative front, he’ll go back and say, well, it’s kind of difficult to do in an election year because there are so many – so much politics around it. So, you know, how are we going to balance that out? What’s going to be seen?
And at the same time that the state is figuring out what to do, I think there are going to be a lot of eyes toward Washington to see what can – what can happen at the federal level to help not only the people that are reeling here in El Paso, but the people in Dayton and everywhere else where this has happened so often in the last few years.
MR. COSTA: Juliet, as Julian said, all eyes now turn to Washington. You think about Mike Turner, the local Republican congressman from the Dayton area, an A-plus member and supporter of the NRA, he now is calling for some gun control measures. You have the Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine supporting red-flag legislation, at least at this early stage. Are you seeing a turn in the Republican areas of Ohio?
MS. FROMHOLT: I think it’s too soon to tell about the state writ large. Certainly in the Dayton area with our statewide officials and our federal officials, we are seeing a united front and a bipartisan front. Republican Governor Mike DeWine responded to the chants of “do something” on Sunday by announcing a 17-point plan for gun control in Ohio. He’s been working very closely with Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who’s a Democrat. We saw Mike Turner make this rather surprising turn of opinion earlier this week. And we’ve also seen Republican state senator Peggy Lehner step up just today and challenge her fellow Republicans, saying that she was no longer going to be timid about gun control, that it was time to step up.
MR. COSTA: I really thank both of you for being on our Washington Week Extra tonight and the way you’ve just exemplified excellent reporting amid horrible circumstances, to keep your composure, to work so hard and to file the story. You’re telling our nation’s story and your communities’ and we really appreciate your work and your dedication to that. Thank you for being with us.
And that’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra.
We now leave you with a tribute to those who lost their lives in El Paso and Dayton.
I’m Robert Costa. Thanks to Juliet Fromholt and Julian Aguilar, and thank you for joining us. See you next time.