MS-13 “animals” has gone from a presidential utterance to White House doctrine. This WH press release on “what you need to know about the violent animals of MS-13” calls them animals 8 times. pic.twitter.com/ZAfOlYjaDB— Todd Zwillich (@toddzwillich) May 21, 2018
The White House is standing behind President Donald Trump’s comments from last week in which he compared MS-13 gang members to “animals.”
Despite receiving criticism and backlash for the remark, the White House press office sent an email to reporters on Monday describing examples of the Latino gang’s known violent crimes in the United States. The document was also published on the White House website.
"MS-13 is a transnational gang that has brought violence, fear, and suffering to American communities. MS-13, short for Mara Salvatrucha, commits shocking acts of violence to instill fear, including machete attacks, executions, gang rape, human trafficking, and more. In their motto, the animals of MS-13 make clear their goal is to 'kill, rape, control.' The gang has more than 10,000 members in the United States spreading violence and suffering," the correspondence reads.
In the document, members of MS-13 are referred to as “animals” 10 times. The emphasis is especially significant because immediately after Trump made the initial comparison last week, media outlets reported that he called undocumented immigrants “animals.”
His team, including White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has been trying to do damage control by arguing that he was distinctly referring to the gang members and not immigrants as a whole.
Therefore, the constant repeating of “animal” in reference to MS-13 in the document distributed Monday is likely meant to reiterate that they are using the word exclusively to describe members of this gang.
However, excessively calling the gang members animals is still extremely problematic because the term "gang member" is a racialized label that is often wrongly placed upon people simply because of the color of their skin.
Since the label “gang member” is racialized, the Trump admin is confident their base understands that it will never be applied to them, and only to the groups whom the president spent his 2016 denigrating.— Adam Serwer 🍝 (@AdamSerwer) May 21, 2018
As such, the words “thug” and “gang member” being used in conversation about immigration opens the floodgates for ignorant people to equate those words with all immigrants as well as all black and brown people, citizen or otherwise.
These labels are hurting black and brown communities in the same way that associating Islam with terrorism hurts Muslims. People will use the negative identifiers to justify violence and hate toward minorities who are linked with these negative stereotypes.
An entire group of people should not be demonized or criminalized for the acts of a few bad apples. However, that is exactly what happens when labels are carelessly slapped on people.
Case in point: Last week news broke that a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement who lied about him being a gang member to keep him in custody.
Daniel Ramirez Medina was denied due process, which he is entitled to, and the immigration officials insisted he was a gang member despite his attempts to prove he was an innocent DACA recipient. Although he has since been vindicated, there's no telling how many others in his position are still being wrongfully detained or have been deported.
Medina’s situation is a very clear example of how this dehumanizing terminology that Trump and his administration keep using can quickly and easily become dangerous.
Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: REUTERS/Zach Gibson