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As soon as the body of Mollie Tibbetts was found, and the suspect’s illegal citizenship status became known, those on the Right and on the Left went to their corners. On the Right, it’s proof of the need for a border wall, stronger enforcement, and a tougher line on immigration on the whole. On the Left, she’s just “some girl in Iowa” (as a panelist on MSNBC said yesterday).
Immediately conservatives and Trump partisans nailed the panelist for her language and tone about the tragic murder:
This is the actual view of the left. Everyone and anyone is more important than actual Americans. A great American kid with so much promise murdered horribly is “Just a girl in Iowa”. The left is sick!
Remember that in November… which side do you want representing your kids??? https://t.co/WBbVYG8bRk
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) August 22, 2018
There will be plenty written about both views, that this was a local crime story and that it was a representation of a larger immigration issue. I’ll leave that task to those with more expertise in the subject matter and a passion for scoring partisan points with someone else’s personal tragedy.
But I can’t help but think about Mollie’s parents today, and the awful fraternity of families they have joined. Mollie’s parents, like those killed in Sandy Hook and Parkland, and the parents of Seth Rich have experienced the most excruciating loss imaginable, the violent murder of their child, and then watched that child’s death politicized and turned into conspiracy theories and political volleyballs.
And sadly, it doesn’t seem there’s much they can do about it. The lawsuit filed by Seth Rich’s parents against Fox News was thrown out by a judge. Alex Jones has peddled conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook families with no real consequences until very recently, with lawsuits filed by some of the families affected by the falsehoods he spread. It took years, and a great deal of abuse, for the Rich and Sandy Hook families to take their fights to the courts. And it’s unclear their fight will amount to anything.
Is this what the Tibbetts family have to look forward to? It seems we’ve lost so much of our humanity, we can’t recognize that while there are public policy implications related to immigration-related to her death, we are still ultimately talking about an individual and her family, and this is all in the public eye because of the brutal death of a young woman.
After mass shootings, conservatives argue that laws likely would not have prevented tragedy, that it’s too soon to see the big picture, that it’s disrespectful to the dead to use them in this way. Just as we (rightly) push back at the suggestion that we should be making large legislative moves following mass shootings, we need to also understand that the same apprehension should apply to the death of Mollie Tibbetts as well. Do we believe it’s too soon after mass shootings but not after Mollie Tibbetts’ death because we are just partisans, or do we actually believe the things we say we believe?
If the Tibbetts family choose to become immigration activists in the shadow of their daughter’s death, their voices would be a valuable addition to an important national conversation. But before either side invokes her death in partisan bickering, we need to keep in mind the unfathomable pain of an individual family burying their daughter, and they have in no way signed up for their daughter’s memory to be turned into a political issue.