When 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts was found dead near her Iowa hometown, President Donald Trump quickly seized on the tragedy as a political talking point. The reason: The man charged with her murder, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, may be an unauthorized immigrant.
Now, a member of Tibbetts’s family is pushing back on Trump’s narrative. Rivera’s immigration status is irrelevant, Tibbetts’s cousin Sandi Tibbetts Murphy wrote in a Facebook post on Friday. “He could have been a citizen, born in this country; he could have been an older, white man from anywhere; he could have been a man from Mollie’s world.”
What really matters, Murphy argues, are the apparent circumstances of Tibbetts’s death: “Mollie was murdered because a man denied her right to say no.”
For Murphy, the tragedy isn’t about the supposed dangers of illegal immigrants, as Trump has claimed. Instead, it’s about toxic masculinity.
According to the Des Moines Register, Rivera told police that he approached Tibbetts while she was jogging — when she told him to go away, he chased her down, then “blacked out” and woke up near an intersection. Rivera was the one who led police to Tibbetts’s body.
As Vox’s German Lopez has pointed out, immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. Men, meanwhile, are disproportionately likely to commit violent crimes — Murphy cites FBI data showing that between 1980 and 2008, 89.5 percent of murderers were male.
Murders by strangers are uncommon, representing 10.2 percent of the nationwide total in 2015. Being harassed while jogging, however, is an everyday occurrence for many women — in a 2016 Runner’s World survey, 43 percent of female joggers said they experienced harassment on at least some of their runs. And while most of those experiences don’t end in violence, to Murphy, they’re all part of the same problem.
Tibbetts’s killer, she wrote, “is a man who felt entitled to impose himself on Mollie’s life, without consequence. He is a man who, because of his sense of male entitlement, refused to allow Mollie the right to reject his advances — the right to her own autonomy.”
Murphy also mentioned the case of a Colorado man charged with murdering his pregnant wife and their two daughters, and that of Kathryn Steinle, whose killing by an unauthorized immigrant has, like Tibbetts’s death, become a talking point for Trump and other anti-immigrant Republicans.
“We must be willing to address the way we raise our boys and young men, so that violence is not a part of their response to this world,” she wrote. “Like the recent murders of the Colorado family or the similarly tragic homicide of Kate Steinle, Mollie’s death is further example of the toxic masculinity that exists in our society.”
Other members of Tibbetts’s family have also resisted attempts to turn her death into anti-immigrant propaganda. “I’m a member of Mollie’s family and we are not so fucking small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals,” Tibbetts’s cousin Samantha Lucas tweeted last week.
Murphy closed her post with a similar sentiment. “You do not have permission to callously use this tragedy to demonize an entire population for the acts of one man,” she wrote. “No. We reclaim our Mollie.”