The Politicization of Murder in the U.S. and U.K.

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Image courtesy of Will H. Mcmahan.

For decades, politicians around the world have used the brutal murders of others as political bait, reeling in audiences over their heartbreaking stories of senseless killings. But political figures have primarily used this tactic to push their anti-immigrant views. No matter which side you take on this issue, is it really right in the first place to politicize someone’s murder for political gain? Politicians have been accused of doing so on both sides of the aisle, from any political party. Often they don’t take into account how this affects the families of the victims and how immigrants feel to be generalized in such a negative way.

Donald Trump and the Right
President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda is nothing new. From the day he announced his intention to run for president, he painted a violent image of undocumented immigrants and made immigration reform a key topic of discussion during the campaign. Yet in recent weeks, his anti-immigrant sentiment came back into the fold, again presenting illegal immigrants as sick and evil individuals. This came with the murder of Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old college student from the University of Iowa. Christian Rivera, an undocumented immigrant, confessed to killing Tibbetts and led police to her dead body.

Trump used this tragedy to fire up supporters over illegal immigration, pointing to this incident as an example of what happens when immigrants come into America illegally. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders followed suit by reflecting this sentiment, saying during a press briefing, “Sadly, the individual believed to be responsible for the murder is an illegal immigrant, making this an unfortunate reminder of why we need to strengthen our broken immigration laws.”

According to a November 2017 study, prejudice against immigrants was a major deciding factor in the EU referendum. Some politicians in the U.K. believed the tactics of the Leave campaign to be rooted in racism and xenophobia. Sayeeda Warsi, the former chair of the Conservative party, quit the Leave campaign after posters for it featured migrants and refugees with a caption reading “Breaking point.” Many within the British government found the poster cast immigrants in a distasteful light.

This fearmongering of immigrants affects how they’re perceived by the general public, and it makes it that much harder for them to enter the U.S. legally due to fear of immigrant crime. Violent crime is on the rise, and some Republicans worry illegal immigrants could be contributing to this increase. Even though studies have shown that immigrants actually commit less crime than male American citizens, as the media and politicians continue to paint immigrants as villians, American citizens begin to see these immigrants as criminals and deviants.

Jo Cox and Her Murder
Those within the Republican party aren’t seen as the only ones politicizing murder to benefit their political agenda. Jo Cox, a British Labour Party politician and member of Parliament, was killed on June 16, 2016, just a week before the U.K.’s vote in the EU referendum. Her murder was believed to be politically motivated, and the assassin, Thomas Alexander Mair, had a history of mental health problems and ties to neo-nazi groups.

Cox was outspoken about her political views and supported the Remain campaign in the EU referendum. Just as the Trump campaign did, the Leave campaign in the EU referendum depicted migrants entering the U.K. as despicable and damaging to the country. Following Cox’s murder, campaigning was suspended on both sides, which arguably helped the Leave campaign. Pro-Leave media organizations such as The Daily Mail ran headlines highlighting the crazed-mental state of Mair and refrained from mentioning anything about the assassin’s political beliefs.

As the EU referendum demonstrated, fearmongering against immigrants doesn’t just occur in America. Some factors contributing to this demonization include an increasing amount of jobs going to immigrant workers and a fear of terrorism around the world. As evidenced by recent events in our history, the impact of terrorism is far-reaching. According to Online Counseling Programs, “up to 60% of New York parents reported that their child displayed post-traumatic stress reactions six weeks after the September 11 attacks.” Some people worry that immigrants are a threat to their country’s security and their children may be affected by the threat of terrorism.

The Victims and Their Families
As the politicization of murder continues to be exercised by an array of politicians and media outlets, the families of victims are beginning to speak out. Many relatives of Mollie Tibbetts see her death as politicized by Trump and other Republicans. Sandi Tibbetts Murphy, her cousin, said in a August 24 Facebook post that the murderer, Christian Rivera, “could have been a white man from anywhere,” and she “was murdered because a man denied her right to say no.” Politicians such as Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and former Arizona State Senator Kelli Ward have used her murder as a platform to rail against illegal immigration, and many of those close to Tibbetts are fighting back against their comments.

Tibbetts’ former co-worker Jarrett Rose said during an interview with TIME that, “We cannot disregard her life by using it as political propaganda, it’s not appropriate.” Tibbetts’ aunt, Billie Jo Calderwood, expressed similar thoughts in a Facebook post, writing, “Our family has been blessed to be surrounded by love, friendship and support throughout this entire ordeal by friends from all different nations and races.” Tibbetts’ cousin, Samantha Lucas, wrote a series of angry tweets to conservative pundit Candace Owens, writing to stop using Tibbett’s death as political propaganda.

Migrants were often portrayed as vile human beings within the Leave campaign and some Republican politicians, especially within the Trump administration, have echoed that sentiment. The politicization of murder happens all around the around, and it’s disturbing to see. As the response to the killing of Tibbetts demonstrates, murder victims are being used as political campaign stories all the time. But there’s hope that the victims of families will speak out and address this issue. Immigrants are constantly a target for fearmongering, but it’s comforting to finally see people speaking out against it in recent weeks.

Frankie Wallace is a freelance blogger who contributes to a variety of websites online. Wallace is a recent graduate of the University of Montana and currently resides in Boise, Idaho.