Christhian Rivera was charged with the murder of Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student. She was reported missing on July 20, 2018, by friends and family, who last saw her two days prior. Due to surveillance cameras set along Tibbetts’ jogging path, authorities were able to see footage of a vehicle linked to Rivera following Tibbetts on her fateful run. When questioned, the suspect confessed to abducting and killing Tibbetts and led authorities to her body.
The president and conservatives have pointed to Rivera’s citizenship status as evidence of his guilt. Trump did not allow time for the victim’s family to mourn before making these claims and connections, despite the wishes of the victim’s family. At a rally in West Virginia on Tuesday, Trump mentioned Tibbetts – “that incredible, beautiful young woman” – and called for immigration reform, better border control, and called the current immigration laws “a disgrace.” The following day, he tweeted the video below:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018
Nia Wilson, an 18-year-old black woman was killed in July by a white male with a criminal record, but Trump did not acknowledge Wilson’s death. Trump’s cherry-picking of young women’s deaths to mourn clearly shows his that he is only willing to respond to tragedies that he can use to support his agenda.
Additionally, media speculation around Wilson’s killer tends to suggest that he is mentally ill. Similar discussions have not circulated around Rivera, despite his admission of blacking out during the killing of Tibbetts, and not remembering the act itself. The fact that Wilson’s killer’s defense for killing is his mental illness implies some sort of irresponsibility for his actions. Some see Rivera’s undocumented presence in the United States as evidence of not only his guilt but of the poor character of others who may have come into the United States in similar ways. Rivera also does not have a prior criminal record, unlike Wilson’s killer.
Rivera’s knowledge of the location of Tibbetts’ body makes it difficult to deny his responsibility for her death. Still, his behaviors should not be portrayed as typical of immigrants. According to the Pew Research Center, first-generation immigrants are less likely than native-born individuals to commit a crime. Yet, Trump sticks to his idea that immigrants are inherently harmful and especially so if they did not come to America legally. This rhetoric the President is pushing is harmful to legal immigrants and those who are undocumented and Hispanic.
On the other side, liberals have noted toxic masculinity and male violence toward women as the cause of Tibbetts death. They have cited Rivera’s previous behavior toward women. A Brooklyn resident said that her 17-year-old sister was approached and followed by Rivera in his car. He then proceeded to flirt with her, saying that she was pretty. While the comments were non-sexual, her sister still felt uncomfortable. Another Brooklyn resident says that Rivera followed his fiancée on her walk home and that he would drive in circles and around the block to keep up with her.
Trump’s turning a blind eye to Rivera’s prior behaviors toward women is not shocking, considering his personal history with harassment and derogatory comments toward women. His focus on Rivera’s citizenship status is in character for Trump as well. He does not care about young women dying. He cares about who killed them and if their killer’s alleged identities support his narrative. Trump’s response to Rivera’s charge was an immediate presumption of guilt despite the fact that Rivera has yet to go to trial. In response to this, Rivera’s lawyer said, “There’s no premise in the history of our country where a man in that position, a sad and sorry Trump, should even be commenting on them until we get past this presumption of innocence.”
Mollie Tibbetts and Nia Wilson were two women whose bright futures were cut short. What happened to them is not unique or rare. We should all aim to look out for each other, be aware of our surroundings, especially when we are alone, and have a clear plan of action to follow when danger is nearby.