SPRINGFIELD – As I walked through an Iowa courthouse last Tuesday, I heard two women whisper, “Did you hear, they found her body?”
There was no need for the women to identify who they were talking about.
The whole state of Iowa and much of the nation had been fixated on the whereabouts of Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student who went missing July 18.
When I heard that a Mexican immigrant, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, was arrested in her murder, I groaned.
The name Herschel Grynszpan came to mind.
Never heard of him? Well, his role in history has been relegated to that of a footnote, but he was once the excuse Nazis used to step up the persecution of Jewish people.
On Nov. 7, 1938, the Jewish teenager walked into the German embassy in Paris and shot a mid-level diplomat.
Within hours, Nazis began an attack against Jewish communities throughout Germany, known as Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”). More than 90 people were killed, more than 30,000 Jews arrested and sent to concentration camps.
Of course, Grynszpan didn’t cause the anti-Semitism within the German government. He was just an excuse to act upon it.
I use Holocaust analogies sparingly, recognizing it is unlike any other event in world history. But there are lessons to be learned. One is that bad leaders will exploit ethnic hatreds for political gain.
I fear that Cristhian Bahena Rivera’s alleged actions may be used by the Trump administration to paint an entire ethnic community in a false light.
Here is what Donald Trump said within hours of Rivera’s arrest:
“You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in, very sadly, from Mexico and you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful young woman. Should’ve never happened. Illegally in our country. We’ve had a huge impact, but the laws are so bad. The immigration laws are such a disgrace, we’re getting them changed, but we have to get more Republicans. We have to get ’em.”
So much for that treasured American value of being innocent until proved guilty.
The president is trying to use this tragedy to gain political advantage.
From Day 1, Trump has expressed a strong tone of animosity toward Hispanics – not just illegal immigrants.
For example, during the campaign, he said Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was presiding over one of the two class action lawsuits pending against Trump University, was a “hater” and later referred to him as a “Mexican,” even though he was born and reared in Indiana.
On another occasion, he said Mexican immigrants were rapists and drug dealers.
Republicans and Democrats agree that the U.S. immigration system needs to be reformed. They don’t agree on how it needs to happen.
Let’s not let the tragic death of a young Iowan be used as an excuse to harm others.
As Mollie Tibbetts’ aunt, Billie Jo Calderwood, stated, “Please do not compound the atrocity of what happened to her by adding racism and hate to the equation.”
Note to readers: Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area and produces the podcast Suspect Convictions.