Edit Desk: Don’t politicize tragedies


Kayla Sippin

I like to binge-watch TV shows about murder mysteries. “Criminal Minds,” “48 Hours” and “20/20” are just a few to name.

The disappearance and later-discovered dead body of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts felt like an episode of one of these shows. Her death, however, resonated with me and the rest of the country much longer than a mere 60-minute episode.

Mollie Tibbetts disappeared on the evening of July 18. Her body was eventually found on August 21 in a rural area south of her hometown. The case is now becoming a political issue because the man who killed her is an undocumented immigrant.

What strikes me about the Mollie Tibbetts case is that she was a 20-year-old college student, a psychology major. She was involved in her school, worked as a camp counselor and enjoyed exercising.

I’m a 20-year-old college student, a psychology major and I share a lot of aspects of Tibbetts’ life.

Identifying with a recently-murdered girl is not a pleasant feeling and it hits close to home.

She was last seen jogging through her neighborhood in Brooklyn, Iowa, a small city with a population of less than 1,500. This is what many would consider the middle of nowhere.

I feel safe at Lehigh and back at home in Connecticut. I would especially feel safe in a low-population area without much activity. It’s concerning that this particular crime could happen in such an unforeseen area, and it could definitely happen here in Bethlehem.

One of the disappointing things about this case is xenophobia has been the headlines and focus on Tibbetts’ killer rather than the girl herself.

Tibbetts’ father wrote a column for the Des Moines Register where he expressed his support for a healthy debate regarding immigration. He also said, however, “Do not appropriate Mollie’s soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist.”

First of all, I support Tibbetts’ father and I don’t believe a healthy debate constitutes involving a dead girl. I also find it frightening that what Tibbetts believed in isn’t even being considered.

A white, black or Asian person could have had the same will and motivation to kill Tibbetts as her killer did.

I wouldn’t argue that building more walls or making it more difficult to become a citizen would have lead to Tibbetts being alive today.

There are certainly other measures that could have prevented the murder. Tibbetts was jogging at night, a more risky time to be out and alone. We don’t know what type of interaction she had with her killer. Tibbetts also may not have realized this man was a harm to her initially, and giving him some trust could have made things spiral out of control.

The community where the murder took place was one that doesn’t lock their doors, so general precautions like that could prevent even smaller things like burglaries.

In other words, there are some complicated elements along with unknown factors that play a more crucial role in this case than the killer’s background and citizenship. I don’t think the killer’s citizenship would have made much of a difference, especially since I don’t believe there was any motivation to kill Tibbetts because of her citizenship or ethnicity.

We do need to keep immigration issues open because they’re a significant aspect of political debate. But tragedies don’t need to be politicized because the act will only harm the victim, the family and community members.

Kayla Sippin, ’20, is an associate news editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].

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  1. “But tragedies don’t need to be politicized because the act will only harm the victim” => the victim mollie is dead, she cannot be harmed any more. we “politicize” (your words) or in my words “call congress to action” to the cause of protecting americans in order to save future citizens from being hurt or killed by illegal aliens.

    you are correct, it should not take continuing acts of violence from illegal aliens and the resulting additional angel families to compel congress to fund better security for our borders and to modernize our immigration system…members of congress should protect us without more mollies being needed. But when congress won’t perform its basic function to protect america and her borders then we need to draw attention to the many many victims that decisive legislative actions could have prevented.

    these same members of congress enact dozens of laws per year in the stated cause of saving lives but they won’t fund additional protection to stop illegal immigration. why is that? are these legislators and other leaders on mollie’s side, on your side, on america’s side?

  2. Amy Charles '89 on

    Well, that didn’t take long. One of my hopes about the…er…cesspoolization of the internet is that it’ll send people back on a search for physical public spaces. It’s telling that the marches and rallies to support immigrants’ and refugees’ rights have been so large since the beginning of this administration, while the toxic crap like the above seems to turn up in force only online.

    Kayla, thank you. I live about an hour from where Mollie died, and I can tell you that if there is any anti-immigration sentiment here that’s been inflamed by her death, it’s inaudible. There is firm and vocal support for upholding the rights of immigrants — a sentiment of “they are part of our community too” — and some irritation that this garbage like the stuff from “safer america” has gotten in the way of people’s dealing with the shock and mourning, as they ought to have had room to do. If anything, it’s been more of a reminder that women are not safe going about our lives, as we should have the right to do. How dangerous it is for women to say no. We do know something about the interaction: the young man started following her in his car, wouldn’t back off, and she threatened to call the police. Mostly, though, it’s just shock and grief, and a reminder that nowhere is really safe. It’s easy to forget here. Inbetween school-shooting drills and whatnot.

    You are right that immigrant status is not the issue. When I was at Lehigh, another woman who said no was murdered; she was murdered in her dorm room, and it’s because of her parents’ insistence that Lehigh’s required by law — like every other university — to let people know when acts of violence take place there. Unfortunately, her death also became an instance of how fast people move to “other” the perpetrator: she was killed by a black student from the local area at a time when Lehigh had, as I recall, fewer than a dozen black students. He was very quickly stripped in the press of his identity as “Lehigh student” and transmogrified into one of these dangerous not-white townies. That kind of othering — of him, of this farm laborer — removes the obligation to find out what went wrong, how one of us could have done something like that, how it was that nobody noticed that things were going so wrong.

    One thing the immigration issue has done locally, though, is to shine a spotlight on corrupt agricultural labor practices. The farm where the murderer worked is owned by a man who’s prominent in Republican state politics, and the ID provided was so obviously fake that there’s an equally obvious question about why the farm management didn’t investigate. And, of course, an obvious answer, because the practice is endemic. Why? Because it’s how you get cheap, compliant labor. I have a feeling that that story will come back, in Iowa, after a decent interval, and turn into one of those long, 2-3 year stories that bubbles back up to the surface in a corruption investigation and turns out to be consequential.

    Bottom line: I think nobody much here feels that the man’s immigration status was responsible for the murder. Most don’t fault Mexican migrants for trying to find work; most understand that their situation is not good, and also that their exploitation helps hold up the local economy. Nobody is much inclined to see Mollie’s death exploited like this and I think everyone feels terrible for her family and what they’re being put through now. But the greed and hypocrisy involved in a rich man’s hiring the migrant labor with the fake IDs, keeping wages low, then railing about immigrants and safety…I think that kind of sticks in people’s throats.

      • Amy Charles '89 on

        Tell it to the ag kings who can’t do without them regardless of what’s going on with their documentation. And tell it to your wallet at the supermarket. People here shrug because they know the whole industry, and much of the midwest’s economy, falls into a hole without these people.

        You’d also be a better neighbor if you weren’t so worried about your neighbor’s immigration status. Possibly a better person, too. I’m guessing that at any given time, when I leave my house, there are several illegal immigrants around me, and probably a bunch at my kid’s school, too. I’ll tell you when I feel scared.

          • Amy Charles '89 on

            Do a little research — we have the same problem California does. And Florida and Texas, I suppose. Not enough people who’ll detassel, pick, and slaughter without illegal immigrants. No less a righty luminary than Grassley was out there in the last ten years trying to get guestworker visas instituted for these people. Read _Postville_ for a look through the keyhole.

            The alternative is paying people a whole lot more to do the job and providing something like real worker protections in what are often dangerous jobs. Then you’d get seasonal interstate migration of citizens. To do that, though, the agribusinesses would have to commit to making a whole lot less money, and/or your US-grown food would get so much more expensive that you’d buy everything from overseas. At which point you could say goodbye to the economies of everyplace in the US that depends on agriculture.

            Your belly currently depends on the labor of illegal immigrants in America. All the I-9 business does is institute fraud and blind eyes at the farm’s HR office.

            • Current student on

              Right! We’d all starve to death if it wasn’t for the pseudo-slavery AC likes to advocate for!

              Thanks AC, but I think I’d rather workers have protection, even if my food is a little more expensive.

              You ever read the Jungle, I figure you’d agree with socialist Sinclair? I find it ironic the left tends to take such a free market position to defend illegal aliens.

            • Amy Charles '89 on

              Replying here to avoid the skinnies: CS, yes, Upton Sinclair got it right. About the food-safety and housing issues, too. I think you’d be pretty annoyed with it, but I live in a town that instituted a min wage far above the state/national wage (the state later pre-empted, but many local businesses have ignored that and gone on paying the higher wage) and forbids housing discrimination on the basis of voucher-holding. There are no conservative candidates for our upcoming city council elections; all are running on platforms of making housing accessible and transit useful to poor people working wage shifts.

              Recognizing how a system functions is not the same thing as endorsing it. You joke about starvation without slavery — and it’s real slavery, not pseudo-slavery — but you live for a while in a place that makes its living from ag and feeds tens of millions of people, and you begin to have your eyes opened about the economics of it. Yes, you would pay more, and so would I. (In fact I do. Most of my food comes from local farms, and it’s fantastic, but expensive.) But we live in a country where 15-20% of the people can’t afford the stuff that’s at the supermarket now. They can’t buy $4 heads of lettuce and $18 chickens. I would have no problem at all with subsidizing them up the wazoo so that they could have better food (and actually we do that here, subsidizing SNAP recipients at the farmers’ markets by matching them — this came out of a program Vilsack started at USDA with Michelle Obama): is this something you would be in favor of?

        • Sooooooo basically you like illegal immigration because it creates a near slave-labor system that makes your food a little cheaper. Sounds like a really compassionate person to me. I guess you enjoyed the past few years of stagnant wages that are magically rising now that we don’t have a lefty in the office.

          • Amy Charles '89 on

            You know, every time you post like this, with the snarling stuff, I wonder if your dad knows how you’re doing. Do you show him your posts? Because if my kid sounded like that, regardless of where the politics were, I’d want to know.

            As far as immigration goes: I’d be much happier with a guestworker-to-green-card immigration track. If people are coming here to be part of this economy, I’d much rather that we recognize that these are real workers who’re part of our economy, part of our society, and not shove them to the margins and into shadows like we do now. Even if they’re seasonal, if they keep on coming back, I think they should have a track to green card. I’d also be greatly in favor of paying ag workers a living wage, through subsidy redirection if necessary. (Currently we subsidize major agribiz companies pretty mightily; I’d be fine with redirecting some of the money to agribiz wage support, if that’s necessary to keep US ag products competitive at the supermarket.) It’s physically dangerous work and they ought to be compensated for it.

            Instead, because of the level of paranoia and xenophobia that exists in some circles, we have this. Republican agribiz princes with HR offices set up to skirt the law, people living in the shadows.

            Regardless, the point was and is that because of that xenophobia combined with market realities, we do have quite a lot of illegal immigrants here, and no, people do not go around in fear of them. Because they’re like anybody else. You know, people. Only with a lot more anxiety than most people here, and fewer opportunities.

  3. Maybe Big Ag would be forced to innovate through technology to increase production if it didn’t have the disposable cheap labor that we subsidize in more than one way. Glad to see AC doing the Globalist’s bidding and be completely naive to it.

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