Racist graffiti on Des Moines street the latest anti-immigrant rhetoric after Mollie Tibbetts' killing

Luke Nozicka

Des Moines Register

Aug 30, 2018

A young Latina walking last week through Gray's Lake Park in Des Moines was confronted by a middle-aged white man who stopped to ask her a question.

"What are you going to do about Mollie Tibbetts?" Joe Enriquez Henry recalled the man asking her.

The encounter was one example of actions that Henry, a vice president for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said has had a "chilling effect" among the Latino community as a political debate roils around Tibbetts' killing.

Henry recalled the Gray's Lake encounter Thursday afternoon on the south side of Des Moines as he stood near large red words spray-painted on a road just a mile from his home that read "Deport Illegals."

Tibbetts, 20, was found dead Aug. 21 in a field not far from her hometown of Brooklyn after she vanished weeks earlier. Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, has been charged with first-degree murder. Federal authorities maintain Rivera is an undocumented immigrant, sparking national debate about the country's immigration laws.

Authorities were contacted Thursday about the deportation message, which was painted in both lanes of Bloomfield Road near Mansfield Parkway. Henry said Latinos have lived in the area for years and suggested the location was intentional.

The rhetoric is another example of intimidation the Latino community has faced since Rivera was arrested, Henry said.

Since then, President Donald Trump and other politicians — including both of Iowa’s Republican U.S. senators — have referenced the University of Iowa student's death in support of tougher immigration laws.

At least two Iowa festivals dedicated to Latino heritage were cancelled in the days after Rivera's arrest. An organizer of one event cited the heated rhetoric, including social media posts encouraging people to "hunt illegals in Iowa."

More recently, a white nationalist in Idaho used an Iowa phone number to spread racist messages that told listeners if Tibbetts could be brought back to life, she "would say, 'Kill them all.'"

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