Anti-immigrant rhetoric fuels violence

Something horrible happened in Nashville, Indiana, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. In fact, it could have been tragic. I am so thankful it was not.

A young woman from China was attacked in that small town in southern Indiana by a man widely known to authorities for his history of violence toward others. Why did he attack her? According to the attacker, this was an act of ethnic cleansing.

The attacker proclaimed himself a white supremacist, and the attack was a means of communicating his views.

He said he did this because she is Asian.

Zhang Yu is an exchange student from China. We invited her here. And then one lone, possibly deranged, obviously xenophobic, individual has made her feel unwelcome.

And, I am sure, she is very afraid. Will this be her last experience of the United States, of Indiana? I would think so.

Although she has since been released from the hospital and attended a Brown County High School basketball game. She is an exchange student at that school. Maybe she and her parents are stronger than I am.

So how does something like this happen? I believe the current high level of anti-immigrant rhetoric fuels this kind of behavior, especially in someone who is possibly mentally ill. So, who is spouting this kind of rhetoric?

These are people who are in the public eye because of their positions in politics, the media or business. These are people who cater to an us-against-them mentality, a mentality that favors an all-or-nothing viewpoint about people who are different than the attacker.

So what do we do about this kind of thing? Often, we say little to nothing. We make a show of support for the victim, such as the recent rally conducted in Nashville in support of Zhang Yu. And then nothing else happens.

What happens the next time a public figure or the person next to us or a family member makes xenophobic remarks? Do we sit silent as the xenophobe rants on, sometimes at a person who is deemed different? As shown above, some of these people can be dangerous. Taking action can be frightening.

What these people hope for is that no one will react, that the average person might look in anger at the person doing the ranting but will do little else. I have to wonder how many people saw this man chasing Zhang Yu and simply did not want to get involved. It is what the fringe in our society hopes to see happen.

In an immediate sense, I would hope I and others would offer an audience, not to the xenophobe but to the person being attacked. Make certain the person feels safe.

Offer to escort the person away from the attacker. If the attacker decides to take the incident to the next level by actually trying to harm the person being attacked, do what is necessary to keep the attacked person safe. Certainly, contact police.

But this is not enough.

We have to decide what we will do once the incident is over. We have to respond with a loud, persistent rhetoric that drowns out the rhetoric that supports the behavior of people like the man who attacked Zhang Yu.

We have to write to our newspapers, to online forums, to our elected representatives. We have to let everyone know we will not tolerate this kind of behavior. We have to stop being silent.

Jim Matthews is a long-time resident of Greenfield. You may share your comments at