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In wake of shootings, fears that ‘it is not safe to be Latino’

Lizbeth Salazar of Malden and her boyfriend, Josue Ramos of East Boston, prayed in preparation for Holy Communion on Sunday at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in East Boston.
Lizbeth Salazar of Malden and her boyfriend, Josue Ramos of East Boston, prayed in preparation for Holy Communion on Sunday at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in East Boston.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

As hundreds of parishioners were gathering for Mass Sunday at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in East Boston, many dressed in blue and white to honor El Salvador’s patron saint, the Rev. Americo Santos said he worries for their safety.

Santos grappled with how to protect them, he said, should similar violence strike close to home.

“We don’t know in this church if someone will appear,” Santos said in an interview before Mass. “We trust that Jesus will protect us.”

During the Mass, they prayed for the victims of the weekend’s two mass shootings in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio, that claimed a total of 29 lives. Authorities believe the Texas suspect published a manifesto before the shooting that targeted Hispanic immigrants. Investigators did not give a motive in the Ohio murders.

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Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston, said even though the shootings took place far from home “the fear is tremendous” here.

“It creates a chilling effect, even in our own backyard here in Boston: Families, children see that it is not safe to be Latino,” he said in a phone interview Sunday.

Amid renewed calls for tougher gun control laws, local advocates criticized President Trump for failing to bring the nation together and instead using racist rhetoric they said could foster the violence targeting immigrants and people of color that has happened since he took office.

“The inflammatory rhetoric that has been used by the president has really fueled the hate for immigrants and refugees,” said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, in a phone interview.

“And it remains a concern, because inflammatory remarks [that] portray immigrants as a problem, or separate them, or just talk about them as a separate interest group who have nothing to do with the nation, is extremely dangerous,” she said.

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Since Trump took office, incidents of hate and racial violence have devastated communities across the country, including Charlottesville, Va., where a young woman was killed during a white supremacist rally in 2017; Pittsburgh, where 11 people were gunned down at the Tree of Life synagogue last year, and Gilroy, Calif., where three people were fatally shot during a festival just last week.

The shooter, identified by police as Santino William Legan, 19, posted content from a book often cited by neo-Nazis and white supremacists, according to investigators. Legan killed himself after he was shot several times by police on July 28, according to officials.

On Saturday morning in El Paso, a gunman opened fire in a shopping area, killing 20 people.

Police said the accused shooter, Patrick Crusius, 21, who was taken into custody, had posted pro-Trump messages to social media and wrote a document published online just minutes before the shooting that described a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and said whites were being replaced by people from other countries. The shooting is being investigated as a case of domestic terrorism.

Just hours after the El Paso shooting, police said that Connor Betts, 24, killed nine people in Dayton early Sunday morning before officers shot and killed him.

On Sunday, many local leaders slammed Trump for comments he has made about immigrants and people of color that they said may encourage such acts.

US Representative Stephen Lynch, speaking to reporters in South Boston Sunday, criticized Trump for a “general pattern of demonization” of immigrants, include references to them being all rapists and murderers.

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“They are not,” said Lynch, who last week toured El Paso as part of a congressional delegation and visited immigration facilities along the border.

“That type of rhetoric ... probably does feed a certain attitude out there,” Lynch said. “We don’t need that now. We need to come together and find a solution here.”

Robert Trestan, the Anti-Defamation League of New England’s executive director, said people are increasingly using weapons and violence to make political statements.

“The combination of language that targets people and dehumanizes them along with readily accessible firearms is dangerous,” Trestan said in a phone interview. “It’s a reminder when groups of people are targeted by words, those words are sometimes a call to action to people who want to commit violence.”

The Rev. Laura Everett, the executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, said: “We are at a critical moment in the life of this country, where the anti-immigrant, anti-black words of our president are giving permission to violence: Words have power, and violent words lead to violence.”

Espinoza-Madrigal, with Lawyers for Civil Rights, said that since the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., racists have been emboldened to attack synagogues, black churches, and mosques.

“This is linked by the racist, anti-immigrant, and xenophobic rhetoric coming from the White House,” he said. “It is essentially sending the message that white supremacists can take action without repercussion, and that is reprehensible.”

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Before the Sunday morning Mass at at Most Holy Redeemer, parishioners stood for the US national anthem, followed by the anthem for El Salvador. After the Mass, they celebrated that country’s patron saint, Divino Salvador del Mundo, during a festival.

The predominantly Latino church has deep roots in El Salvador, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. Santos, delivering his homily in Spanish, asked for prayers for peace, love, and for God.

Among the worshipers was Ivelisse Aguilar, who was with her 17-year-old son and held a her rosary in her hand.

Following Mass, she said she wished more people wouldn’t judge others based on their race.

“It’s sad that he didn’t get a chance to know more,” Aguilar, 46, said of the El Paso shooter. “It’s sad, he didn’t get to know where we come from. ... You have to listen, to be able to have an open ear, to be able to have an open mind.”

Another worshiper, Lizbeth Salazar, who was with her boyfriend, Josue Ramos, said she grieved for the innocent lives lost.

She compared the shootings to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, when people thought about the possibility of being killed as they went about their daily lives.

“It actually teared me up,” Salazar said, “how people can do so much damage.”

Jonathan Parra, 34, who was crossing the street from Lombardi Memorial Park in East Boston Sunday afternoon, said he has been paying more attention to politics in anticipation of the 2020 election.

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Next year’s election will be the first time Parra, who was born in Colombia, will be able to cast a vote since becoming a US citizen, he said.

He said he thinks guns should mainly be in the hands of trained police officers.

“I’m afraid to go to the movie theater just because someone might stand up and start shooting,” he said.


Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Globe correspondent Diamond Naga Siu contributed to this report. Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @tzigal. John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.