Arizona Under Fire

Jury Convicts Minuteman Leader of Murder

Henry Fernandez wonders where the outrage is following the murder of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father.

Shawna Forde fue condenada esta semana de asesino en el primer grado por los asesinatos de Raúl Flores, de 29 años, y su hija Brisenia de 9 años, en su hogar en Arivaca, Arizona en Mayo 2009. (AP/Greg Bryan)
Shawna Forde fue condenada esta semana de asesino en el primer grado por los asesinatos de Raúl Flores, de 29 años, y su hija Brisenia de 9 años, en su hogar en Arivaca, Arizona en Mayo 2009. (AP/Greg Bryan)

Yesterday, a jury in Pima County, Arizona, convicted Shawna Forde of the murder of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father in a May 2009 home invasion. The jury will now decide whether Forde will face the death penalty. Forde’s alleged co-conspirators will go on trial in the coming months.

Forde was well known in anti-immigrant circles long before she planned the murder of a beautiful young child in a mercilessly violent home invasion in which Brisenia apparently pled for her life before being shot in the head. Forde led Minuteman American Defense, one of many “Minuteman” militia groups that parade around in army fatigues with guns hoping to send the inaccurate message that the United States is under invasion by immigrants coming across our southern border. Forde was quite close to Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist. According to The Herald in Everett, Washington, she had been appointed to a leadership position by the other major national leader of the Minuteman movement, Chris Simcox.

Two other horrendous crimes have defined recent Arizona politics. In March 2010, rancher Robert Krentz was killed in a still-unsolved murder. State Sen. Russell Pearce and later Gov. Jan Brewer used Krentz’s death to justify the need for S.B. 1070, Arizona’s “papers please” law, which a federal court struck down for violating basic constitutional rules.

Just a month ago, 9-year-old Christina Green and five others were murdered in a shooting spree at an Arizona grocery store. The accused gunman, an apparently deranged young man named Jared Loughner, was targeting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. President Obama used this killing spree to call on Americans to tone down the rhetoric which has tarnished our political dialogue.

Both of these Arizona killings received major media coverage. Loughner’s trial will likely evoke national conversations about the death penalty, the right of those with mental health issues to own guns, and the strength of the American justice system. The press will rightly return again and again to the lives lost and especially the loss of a talented, young 9-year-old girl.

Fox News drove the story that Krentz’s murderer was likely an undocumented immigrant, though there appear to be no actual suspects. If anyone is ever arrested for this murder, we can expect either crowing from the anti-immigrant crowd on nightly news shows across the country or alternatively their nationwide silence, depending on whether the murderer has brown skin.

But the national press has barely covered little Brisenia’s murder. And there has been no call for a change in policy or temperament. Her classmates cried in a powerful show of emotion when they learned of her death but national news stations did not run to tell their stories.

So here are some questions that do need to be asked now that the justice system has revealed the truth about the murderer known as Shawna Forde:

  • When Minutemen hooligans arm themselves and race up and down the border in jeeps hunting human beings, why should anyone be surprised that some of these people, including possibly Forde’s alleged co-conspirator Jason Bush, may indeed be white supremacists and mass murderers of people of color?
  • Why has Fox News, which has given ample air time to Minutemen Gilchrist and Simcox, never asked them how leaders they heavily promoted might come to kill little girls? One can only imagine what Fox News would be asking if a staff member of a Latino civil rights organization had killed a child. Since Gilchrist and Simcox have both been on Sean Hannity’s show, he should be able to track them down quickly in his Rolodex to get an answer.
  • Do lies about extreme violence on the border, including a whopper told by Gov. Brewer that police found severed heads in the desert, create an environment where extreme views become mainstream? After all, if a governor of an American state can lie about immigrants and violence to win an election, is it any surprise that neo-Nazis now march in downtown Phoenix?

But possibly the biggest question the national press should ask itself, and all of us should ask ourselves, is why hasn’t this murder of a 9-year-old girl been front-page news all over the country? What about her makes her less than newsworthy?

Henry Fernandez is a Senior Fellow at American Progress.

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Henry Fernandez

Senior Fellow