How Collin County’s Growing Diversity May Have Shaped The El Paso Walmart Shooting Suspect

Many believe the suspect developed his extremist views online, but the changing face of the North Texas county where the suspect grew up may have also influenced him.

By Hady MawajdehAugust 3, 2020 11:25 am, , ,

From KERA:

One year ago, police say 21-year-old Patrick Crusius opened fire on shoppers at a Walmart in El Pasokilling 23 people in what would be the deadliest attack against Latinos in recent American history.

Many believe the suspect developed his extremist views online, but the changing face of the North Texas county where he grew up may have also influenced him.

It wouldn’t be right to describe the community where Patrick Crusius grew up as a “small town.” In 2019, Allen had a population of north of 107,000, up 547% in the last three decades. Allen sits in the middle of one of the fastest-growing counties in the country. Collin County’s population has doubled over the past two decades, topping 1 million. Two of its cities, Frisco and McKinney, were among the fastest‐growing large cities and towns between 2018 and 2019.

Still, driving through the sleepy neighborhood Crusius once called home — seeing the manicured lawns, the large trees and the strangely uniform aesthetic — it’s easy to understand why the area’s often described as simply a northern suburb of Dallas.

But the fact is Collin County is no longer just a residential community within commuting distance. The cities north of Big D are booming. Companies and new residents are moving to Plano, Frisco, McKinney and Allen so quickly the Texas Demographic Center estimates Collin County will have 2.4 million residents by 2050. Other estimates put the county’s 2050 population as high as 3.5 million.

The thing many outsiders haven’t noticed is the surge in its nonwhite population. In just 20 years, the Texas Demographic Center said, Collin’s Black and Asian populations have more than doubled. The Hispanic population has expanded from 10% to 15% of the county. In all, 45% of Collin residents today are people of color.

This phenomenon was noted in the so-called manifesto Crusius published online 20 minutes before he entered the Walmart near the Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso. “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” the online screed said.

Hady Mawajdeh / KERA News

Village Creek Plaza, located about two miles away from Plano Senior High, is one of many strip malls in Collin County with a diverse variety of shops catering to various cultures.

Examples of the demographic shifts are easy to spot in the county’s many strip malls. The Village Creek Plaza is down the street from Plano Senior High School, where Crusius graduated. There you’ll find a Middle Eastern grocery store and bakery, a Indian hair salon, a Taiwanese boba shop, an accountant’s office, a dentistry and a Sherwin Williams paint store filled with Latino workers.

“This is just not the world they had imagined they’d be living in,” historian Bob Fairbanks said about the white population in Collin County. “They wanted to duplicate the suburban life that Mommy and Daddy had for them and that they kind of idealized. And this isn’t that life.”

Fairbanks has spent his life studying U.S. urban history, and he’s impressed by Collin County’s recent growth. He and others believe its current expansion has a lot to do with the white flight from Dallas in the 1970s.

A move away from integration

WFAA

Under federal desegregation oversight, Dallas schools implemented a busing program to provide an integrated education. Protests ensued. This is a screen shot captured from archival video of one via WFAA, July 1971.

White children and their parents chanted at a July 1971 protest against busing in downtown Dallas. Many of those families soon fled the city when schools integrated. And historians point to that moment as the beginnings of Collin County’s growth.

“Since the federal courts had ruled that the suburbs did not have to bus, because they were outside of the city limits, the suburbs became very attractive to people who did not want their kids going to integrated schools,” Fairbanks said.

According to reporting by the Dallas Observer, after integration, white enrollment in the Dallas Independent School District dropped like a stone.

In 1970, there were more than 90,000 white students in the district. By the end of the decade, the number was 42,000. The decline continued, reaching an all-time low in 2008, when DISD had just 7,000 white students. In 2018-19, the number of white students was 8,755, roughly 5.6% of the overall student population.

Fairbanks said there were other reasons for the migration too, including the expansion of highways and the development of shopping centers in the north. But a lot of peoplefearful of city living at the time saw the suburbs in Collin County as a haven.

“The accelerated rate of changeover in Dallas schools also had a tremendous influence,” he said. “The suburbs now had the reputation of having much better schools, even though in the ’50s Dallas had a strong school system that had a national reputation.”

Max Krochmal, a historian and racial politics professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, said certain shifts in society — like the white flight from Dallas to Collin County — are too often thought of as “race-neutral” or simply natural processes.

He thinks society needs to really dig into why white flight happened in Dallas.

“The very origins of Collin County and these other counties — why they were transformed from old agricultural centers to suburban bedroom communities and employment centers — had to do with race,” Krochmal said. “It wasn’t just individuals seeking new homes. It was actually public policy decisions that helped to encourage that migration from the city center and into the suburbs.”

Krochmal believes the result of this white migration hasn’t merely been a redistribution of white students throughout North Texas. He said white flight has also created a form of politics in which race is essential.

“If you hear anything about Collin County and you live in Dallas or Fort Worth, probably what you hear is about the schools being ‘good in Frisco’ or something like that,” he said. “And that means a variety of things — but one thing it means is that the spending per pupil is greater than it is in DISD. The reason for that is that people have chosen to go and segregate themselves in these distant areas and to create their own school districts where they can keep those resources for their own kids rather than sharing them with the metropolitan core.”

The desire to avoid integration and equity, Krochmal said, is what has helped to create Collin County’s prosperity. But as the region has become less white and more populated, many white people have seen diversity as a threat.

“You know, there’s been an assertion, on the part of white suburbanites, that those spaces should remain white. Right? That they should not transition along with the rest of the nation,” he said.

Defensive localism

Krochmal points to a major trend over the past half-century: White people have developed “a defensive localism” about their communities and will fight to protect their privileged position.

“But they often do so in language that appears to be race-neutral, even though I would say, race is still at the heart of all of it,” he said.

In recent years, Collin County has seen several examples of the “race-neutral” language and discrimination Krochmal describes.

In 2014, when Crusius was 15, County Commissioner Mark Reid warned of an “illegal immigrant tsunami” if “illegal immigrant children” were housed in the area.

“We haven’t been asked to house any children yet, but I felt like it was good to get out in front of the issue,” he told KDFW-TV, the local Fox affiliate. “We’ve heard reports that a lot of these children have various communicable diseases that are fairly common in their countries of origin that are very uncommon here.”

Reid admitted to not having any medical information to backup his claim. Later, he invited the public to attend a commissioner’s court meeting, and they did.

It was a standing-room-only meeting, to discuss whether to house immigrant children from Central and Latin America. Many members of the public spoke out, including a woman named Barbara Harliss. She described the possibility of housing children saying,“What we see is not immigration, but an invasion, a deliberate invasion.”

In 2015, when an Islamic group wanted to buy land for a cemetery, white residents lashed out with verbal attacks against the religion at a town hall meeting in Farmersville.

“I don’t hate you,” one man said while speaking to a member of the Islamic group. “I don’t like your religion, and I don’t even classify it as a religion.”

“Sometimes evil comes in sheep’s clothing, so that kind of bothers me,” a woman said.

At that time, local resident Diane Piwko told KERA that “she was against the cemetery, adding “it had nothing to do with religion.”

“We don’t like the fact that we seem to be portrayed in the media as radicals against Islam. We don’t want to be dumped on. We want to have a say on how our community grows,” she said.

That same year, state Rep. Jeff Leach, a Plano Republican,  introduced a bill to stop what he characterized as Sharia law. It failed then, but was revived and passed in 2017.

Soon after, a local hate group stood outside Islamic Centers in the area, holding guns, and accusing worshipers of having ties to Middle Eastern groups.

In 2018, Collin County resident and state Attorney General Ken Paxton appeared on Fox News touting false crime statistics while discussing the idea of decriminalizing border crossings. He said Texas has “had over 600,000 crimes committed by illegals since 2011. Over 1,200 homicides.”

It was a figure that had been previously debunked twice by PolitiFact, which said it exceeded the state estimates by more than 400%. Yet, Paxton used the erroneous figures on multiple segments on various Fox News programs while discussing the idea of decriminalizing border crossings.

According to Politifact, undocumented people had 114,000 total convictions in the timespan, most for nonviolent offenses, and had just 229 homicide convictions.

Finally, just days before Crusius drove 10 hours to El Paso with a semiautomatic rifle and 1,000 rounds of ammunition, Gov. Greg Abbott sent out a two-page fundraising mailer that warned of a liberal plan to “to transform Texas — and our entire country — through illegal immigration.”

It called on folks to take matters into their own hands and to “defend” Texas.

After the El Paso shooting, he apologized saying, “Mistakes were made, and course corrections have been made. And I emphasize the importance of making sure that rhetoric will not be used in any dangerous way.”

All the characteristics that could lead to trouble

Credit Hady Mawajdeh / KERA News

Chris Vasquez is an activist in Collin County. He was born in Plano. He attended schools in Frisco, and completed community college at Collin College in McKinney.

Activist Chris Vasquez, like Patrick Crusius, was born and raised in Collin County. He’s a first-generation American, and said his family moved to the area before he was born, so that he could attend “good schools.”

Despite being a native, Vasquez said he and his family have regularly endured racist acts and words.

“You know my mother is someone who is ‘invading,’” Vasquez said while describing the sorts of things he’s been told in his lifetime. “My family are invaders! They don’t see us as human. That’s why they use words like illegal aliens. They know what they’re saying when they say that.”

Sad as it is to admit, Vasquez said, because of that sort of language being tossed at him most of his life, he wasn’t too surprised to learn that the person who orchestrated one of the deadliest attacks against Latinos came from a place so close to home.

“Look, we came from the same community. We grew up in very similar situations. I mean, I have a different skin color, but this place can breed people just like him,” Vasquez said. “We grew up with hatred. We grew up hearing that people who looked like me were ‘less than.’”

Vasquez recalls a grocery store manager confronting him and his mother for speaking Spanish with an employee when he was a young child. He said his mother was still struggling with English at the time and really liked talking to the man at the grocery store when they visited. But things were different after that day.

“That encounter in particular really affected the way I saw things,” he said. “It really still affects me today, because I had that encounter and was fearful of using the language my mother spoke.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified at least 10 different hate groups in North Texas, including two white nationalist groups in Collin County. That doesn’t make Collin County all that unique.

“There is no place in America that hasn’t been touched by white supremacy, and that includes Collin County,” social psychology professor Salena Brody said. She teaches about the origins of prejudice at the University of Texas-Dallas.

“Collin County has all the characteristics that could lead to trouble,” she said. “But it’s no different in many ways from anywhere else in the country where we don’t know the history of racism and white supremacy where we live. We need to start there.”

Brody is also a Collin County native and resident. According to her research, racism and xenophobia aren’t necessarily learned in the home.

“You get that loud and clear from the context environment around you, but the power of the messaging particularly from respected authorities are shaping the way we talk about each other,” she said.

That powerful messaging, she said, can have a powerful impact.

Got a tip? Email Hady Mawajdeh at [email protected]. You can follow Hady on Twitter @hadysauce.

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