Arizona Shooting of Latino Man Considered a Hate Crime

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer

Friday, the Arizona Republic reported that the last month’s shooting of Juan Varela has been deemed a hate crime by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. Arizona resident Gary Thomas Kelley has also been charged with second-degree murder in association with Varela’s death. According to witnesses, Kelley called Varela a “wetback” and shouted, “hurry up and go back to Mexico or you’re gonna die” before shooting Varela in the neck. Ironically, Varela was a third-generation, native-born U.S. citizen. Yet, what’s even more troubling is the timing of the murder. Varela was shot just a little over a week after Arizona’s controversial immigration bill, SB-1070, was signed into law.

Initially, the Phoenix Police Department spokesman, Officer Luis Samudio, insisted that the shooting was not a hate crime. The Phoenix Police Union has also been a vocal supporter of SB-1070. Robert Shutts, homicide bureau chief for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, wouldn’t comment on whether SB-1070 was a factor in the case. However, Varela’s family has believed all along that the shooting was a hate crime and that SB-1070 is at least partly to blame.

A week after the murder, Varela’s family called on Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) to “take responsibility for this hostile atmosphere they have created.” Following the announcement of the new hate crime charge, the family’s spokesperson told an Arizona local news station, “these pundits have really escalated this…to this point. Somebody has to do something to tone this down. It’s really out of control.”

Watch the Varela family’s reaction:

At this point, it’s difficult to verify what role, if any, SB-1070 played in Varela’s death. However, chances are the law has made an already toxic atmosphere worse. A growing number of Latinos are already the targets of discrimination and hate crimes in the U.S. SB-1070 has only exploited the public’s frustration with federal government inaction and played to their worst instincts. It’s brought neo-Nazis out. It was followed by the passage of a law banning ethnic studies and proposed legislation that seeks to overturn the 14th Amendment.

andreaPerhaps most significantly though, it has pitted Latinos against their lighter-skinned neighbors. Regardless of what motivated Kelley to shoot Varela, the fact is that the Varelas and Latinos in general feel threatened by SB-1070. Perception alone is enough to divide Arizona in half. And in the end, if Kelley is found guilty of committing a hate crime, it will be difficult to dispute that the charged discourse surrounding the very recent passage of SB-1070 played no role in the violence committed against a Latino Arizona resident.

Andrea Christina Nill

Reposted with permission from The Wonk Room.


  1. says

    It is too bad that some writers knows nothing of the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights and so speak from ignorance even if well meaning. The borders of the nation and citizenship are the province of the US government, not Arizona’s. Too, one writer doesn’t tell how she relates to what is happening there but her use of “They [meaning Arizonans] are being harrased too much” implies that she, too, is an outsider. It would also be good to define how much harassing is too much and how much would be just right. Personally, as someone who grew up in AZ and have a son and daughter living there who do not support SB1070 and see it as the discriminatory law that it is, I don’t think AZ is being harassed enough — they need a bunch more harassment to reach the correct level. I think we all ought to get busy and harass them some more.

  2. Elaine says

    Arizona is in the right. They are being harrased too much by people that do not even live there. If you can’t relate to what is happening there then you should go live on the border there.

  3. Marshall says

    I hope the nut bag who shot this man gets his just reward. I also hope that folks on both sides of this law will get off the streets and let everyone calm down. Just wait and see how the law works, does it treat people fair, and this can only be known after the fact and not before the fact. This act does not seem to be one that was caused by the law anymore than all the street activity caused it. Remain calm so as not to lather up another nut bag, on which ever side.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *