Feathered Bastard

SB 1070 Shooter Gary Kelley Sentenced to 27.5 Years in White-on-Brown Slaying

A note to Sand Land's hillbilly gun-huggers: Beer and firearms don't mix. And they mix especially poorly with bigotry, latent or otherwise. 

Case in point is Gary Kelley, the South Phoenix man who gunned down his neighbor Juan Varela on May 6, 2010 after screaming at him in a drunken rage, "You fucking Mexican, go back to Mexico!"

Today, Kelley was sentenced to 27.5 years in prison for second degree murder and aggravated assault. Kelley's first trial ended with a hung jury earlier this year. He was retried in April and convicted. 

Kelley, 51, is Anglo. Varela was Latino, an American citizen and 44 years-old at the time of his murder. Varela's family has been in this country for generations.

The shooting happened outside of Varela's home with Varela's brother looking on and their mother watching from their house. 

According to a report of Kelley's first trial by my colleague Valeria Fernandez of New America Media, Kelley's lawyer admitted that his client originally approached Varela to discuss Arizona's breathing-while-brown law, Senate Bill 1070.

Keep in mind, Governor Jan Brewer had signed SB 1070 just days before the slaying, effectively declaring open season on the state's Hispanics. 

If you disagree with my characterization of Arizona's hate statute, look no further to the stated "intent" of the act itself, "to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government entities in Arizona."

That phrase "attrition through enforcement" is nativist code for ethnic cleansing. And the ethnicity SB 1070-backers want "cleansed" from Arizona is that of the Hispanic variety.

All Latinos are in the crosshairs, because the state's redneck contingent is too stupid to note any differences between Latinos of different nationalities.

Sponsored by the state's most prominent bigot, state Senate President Russell Pearce, the law was, for the most part, enjoined last year by U.S. Circuit Court Judge Susan R. Bolton. 

In April, the U.S. Ninth Circuit upheld her ruling. Brewer and Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne have appealed the Ninth's judgment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, 1070 signaled to the state's Hispanic population that it was not welcome. It made Arizona a byword for xenophobia and intolerance. And it dredged up some ugly ideas in the brains of such folk as Gary Kelley.

Kelley has always maintained that he is not a racist. And, truly, there's no way for any of us to peer into a man's soul. 

In fact, when I first heard of the shooting, I headed down to the neighborhood where it happened and spoke to people in that community. More than one told me that they did not think Kelley was prejudiced.

The Phoenix police were reluctant to label it a hate crime. And so was I at first

There's been no evidence I've seen that Kelley was a member of a hate group or was an active white supremacist.

And yet, 1070 served as a catalyst, emboldening those who think "Americans" are by definition white, plating seeds of distrust and resentment, and fattening the ugly tumor of prejudice in the brains of weak-willed men like Kelley.

Still, if Kelley had not been seriously inebriated, with an estimated blood alcohol content of between 0.126 and 0.286, and if he had not been armed, Varela would likely be alive today, and his daughter would still have a daddy.

Instead, Varela is dead, and Kelley might as well be. As the Maricopa County Attorney's Office noted in its press release on the sentencing, Kelley will be "in his late 70s" before he's eligible for release from prison.

A waste on all sides. And for what? Nothing but the furtherance of enmity and ethnic strife. 

I have very little hope that Arizona will any day soon rid itself of the hate that spawned 1070, or the hate spawned by it in turn. 

Perhaps it will take another generation or two, when Latinos finally have political power in this state equal to their numbers. 

Till then, Arizona's old, reactionary white majority will cling jealously to its hegemony and continue to demonize Latinos for all of the state's social and economic ills. 

Hell, even Arizona's senior U.S. Senator feels no shame in blaming wildfires on Mexican migrants. That's how bad things are.

Those of us who believe in justice and long for ethnic and racial equality have no choice but to battle the haters, the opportunists, and the bigots until the snow-bird electorate that empowers them dies off of old age.

And that's one thing I can believe in: That, try as they might, the racist alter kockers cannot live forever.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons