The video is harrowing to watch. A woman dragged out of her car by a group of men, beaten then shot in the neck, her boyfriend dying, shot multiple times execution-style as he shielded her body with his.
The couple was celebrating Chicago’s Puerto Rican Day Parade, flying a big Boricua flag attached to their car when they were ambushed. The graphic video of the attack went viral and blew up a story that otherwise would have slipped under the wire as just another violent day in an American city.
Nothing new—just par for the course. Except this was not just another day.
Gyovanny Arzuaga, 24, and his 23-year-old partner Yasmin Perez, the mother of their two children (age one and three) were ambushed last weekend while attending the Puerto Rican Day Parade at Humboldt Park by a group of men after what police said was a minor car accident. City cameras captured the crime in grainy detail. This also happened to be the first official federal celebration of Juneteenth.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who had marched in the parade earlier, condemned the attack as “horrific.”
“As you saw from the horrific video, it wasn’t just one person. There’s one person who dealt the fatal shot. But there were others who were standing by who dragged that poor woman out of the car. The man who was killed literally used his body as a shield and paid for that with his life,” the mayor said.
“I don’t believe they [the shooters] are typical by any stretch of young black men in our city. But it’s horrific nonetheless,” Lightfoot added.
The police have “promising leads” after tips from the community have identified a suspect who likely did the shooting. They hope to have a suspect in custody soon.
The couple was one of 10 victims who died and 65 wounded in a weekend of violence.
Most of the United State’s media categorized the brutal attack as a local story—one fit for the city’s crime blotter. It hardly made national news. No hashtags, no thoughts, and prayers, no protests on the street, and just a small fist of flowers in a makeshift memorial. Un lamento borincano.
Instead, the lead story this week that featured Latinos was the growing outrage at a high school coach in California who had been fired after tortillas were thrown at Hispanic opponents after a championship game. The incident was also caught on video. Tortillas vs two Boricuas killed brutally. What a choice.
In Puerto Rico, the story received even less coverage. It gained some traction when a popular social media figure, Molusco, said that the couple was killed because they were flying a Puerto Rican flag.
ASESINAN BORICUA EN CHICAGO POR BANDERA.
Gyovanny Arzuaga fue asesinado y Yasmin Perez se encuentra en estado crítico luego de ser baleados por un grupo de afroamericanos, quienes los sacaron de su auto por portar la bandera de Puerto Rico al finalizar la Parada Puertorriqueña pic.twitter.com/P1gYlAzzFt
— Molusco ? (@Moluskein) June 21, 2021
Some commentators agreed with Molusco. Others were not sympathetic to the two young Puerto Ricans, claiming they were probably gang members. As a Boricua friend of mine on the island said: “Aquí no hay simpatía para él que se va.”
The motive of the attack is not clear, but police say the couple had been involved in a minor car accident before the attack. The video shows a group of men surrounding the car and dragging the couple out. There seems to have been a gunshot shortly before, but that was not caught on tape.
The story only began to gain traction after the graphic video went viral on social media. By Monday morning, at least 571,000 people on Twitter had viewed the fatal shooting. This focused national attention on what had happened and on the escalation of violence in Chicago and nationwide. The video is the reason so many people are talking about it, not the media.
In an attempt to stem the rising violence, President Joe Biden announced new efforts next Wednesday —focusing on gun violence. The Justice Department is mobilizing strike forces in cities including Chicago to combat illegal gun traffickers.
None of the measures address the economic, social, and racial issues that underpin the violence that plagues the US. (Let’s also not forget that Donald Trump’s undisguised contempt towards the archipelago made Puerto Ricans an easy target.)
The fact that two young people —Puerto Rican— can be executed out in the open and the media considers it just a horrible local crime —and not much else— should give us ample cause for concern.
If there wasn’t a racial element to the attack, then we should look at how the coverage was approached. This was an attack that speaks volumes about the state of the U.S. now.
We must also not allow the narrative to be hijacked by political agendas. Conservative columnist Ann Coulter shared the video and claimed that the media ignored because African Americans gunning down Puerto Ricans in Chicago doesn’t fit the Democrat’s narrative about racism in the United States.
A Democrat activist named Richard Taite snapped back that the couple had it coming because they were flying a Confederate Flag.
According to the founder of the award winning Democracy Preservation Initiative, it is absolutely okay to drag white people out of their cars and execute them in front of their children
I'm sure these people will come around now that the Republican Party has gone woke, right? pic.twitter.com/HUJvuLsWAJ
— Pedro L. Gonzalez (@emeriticus) June 21, 2021
As a Puerto Rican, it is hard not to react in anger, not to believe that it is an us versus them scenario, and to listen to your better angels so as not to seek blame where maybe there is none. It is painful when you see two of your own lying shot execution-style on the floor, the Puerto Rican flag fluttering in the background as a terrible requiem to the American Dream.
It could be that I am too close to it, but this one feels different. It feels personal, not only because of the intimacy of the violence but also because no one seemed to care. The system pits underrepresented communities against each other—it is part of the playbook. Don’t bend the mirror with which America sees itself. But it’s the media’s job —its duty— to bend that mirror.
I ascribe to the words of the African-American writer James Baldwin: Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is the former News Director for Univision Puerto Rico and a writer and journalist living in New York City. She has a blog in El Nuevo Día called Dos Caminos y Una Subversiva. Comments can be sent to her email. You can follow Susanne on Twitter @DurgaOne.