April 6th: David

All day I’ve been thinking about two outbursts of gun violence over the weekend, one in Binghamton, NY, and the other in Pittsburgh, PA. On Friday, April 3, Vietnamese immigrant Jiverly Wong opened fire inside the American Civic Association, a volunteer organization offering classes in citizenship and English, until fourteen people (including Wong) were dead. He was 41 – exactly my age – and I thought about how differently those same years had gone for the two of us. Wong had taken English classes at the center, and apparently felt that his inability to improve his command of the language was a factor in keeping him isolated and unemployed since losing his job in November – part of the most sweeping increase in joblessness this country has seen for generations. When I taught English as a Second Language at a volunteer center in the 90s, I took my work seriously, but I confess I never treated it as if lives were hanging in the balance. They may have been.

The next day, Richard Poplawski opened fire on East Liberty police responding to a 911 call placed by Poplawski’s mother. The native-born Poplawski, 22, was laid off from a glass factory earlier this year; his father (presumably around my age) had left the family many years before. Reportedly, Poplawski had increasingly associated with explicitly racist, anti-semitic and anti-immigrant organizations and websites, and had fixated on the belief that the incoming Obama administration would take away his guns. When his mother opened the door to officers Paul Sciullo and Stephen Mayhle, Poplawski was waiting with an assault rifle, other firearms, and a bulletproof vest, and killed the policemen almost immediately. Another officer responding to the call, Eric Kelly (also 41) was shot upon arriving at the scene and died soon thereafter. Four men of different ethnic backgrounds and family histories which brought them all to the same city on the same night. Unlike Wong, Poplawski is alive today, in custody.

There are a lot of conclusions one could draw from these shattering events, but what my thoughts keep coming back to is this: Immigration in the United States is a difficult, complex, multifaceted issue. If we can’t resolve a simple case like Roxroy Salmon’s – a hard-working, clear-thinking, family-loving man, a man who’s doing his adopted country a favor by living here rather than the other way around – what chance do we have of solving any of the truly difficult cases?

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