July 24, 2012 Terrorizing America: One Nation Under Guns
Don’t politicize the tragedy, they say. Don’t politicize the fact that some man was able to suit up in full body armor and load his recently bought weapons—at least one which would have been illegal had Obama stood up to the gun lobby (cough, coward)—with a stockpile of ammunition purchased off the internet. Don’t politicize the fact that this man walked into a movie theater and ended the lives of innocent people while reigning terror on a nation? Don’t politicize that this man was able to rig his apartment up with explosives while never coming under surveillance by FBI or local police?
Maybe I’m just not getting their usage of the word: surely they don’t mean to suggest that an event like this can be cycled ad nauseum on television, social media and print and be anything other than political—you know, from Greek politikos “of citizens or the state”. Maybe some organizations like the NRA might hope that people would quit talking about this little hiccup (“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the community. NRA will not have any further comment until all the facts are known.”) , but they must mean political in a different sense. They mean to guide us away from interjecting this tragedy into the increasingly useless election year binary that we call our government. I get that. For example, would anyone use the attacks of September 11th 2001 for political or financial gain? Of course not.
Now that I can pull my tongue from a punctured and throbbing cheek, let me say that this terrorism wrought upon our nation by itself and the gun lobby is too important not to politicize at every level of government. Cent Ugyer, the host of The Young Turks sees this “Don’t Politicize Guns” meme as sinister, distracting and intentionally disarming:
It’s a trick. When people tell you that you shouldn’t politicize a tragedy like the shooting in Aurora, Colorado they are unwittingly helping to spread NRA propaganda. After a tragedy like that, it is the most logical thing in the world to ask what went wrong and how we can fix it.
Ugyer is absolutely correct and instead of penning a naked polemical rant, he checks those stats for us:
America, by far, has the most guns per capita. According to a 2007 report, America had almost 90 guns per 100 citizens. Compared to America: Serbia has 58, Yemen 55, Switzerland 46, Cyprus 36, Saudi Arabia 35 and Iraq 34. America!
In America, around 270 people are shot EVERY DAY, 47 of them being children and teenagers. America!
We can’t even find out how many people were shot by police last year because the national data is not collected. According to the FBI, the data is not collected because “It would take a request from Congress for us to collect that data”; and Congress hasn’t even asked! Comparatively, we know that the German police fired a grand total of 85 rounds last year, 49 of them as warning shots.
Malcolm X Grassroots organization has located reports of 110 Black-identified individuals killed by police, security or vigilante forces in the first half of 2012 alone. Some findings in their report:
120 Black People Executed without Trial by Police, Security Guards and Self-Appointed Law Enforcers between January 1 – June 30, 2012
1. These executions destroy Black communities’ future and spirit by stealing the lives of our youth. Of the 120 lives taken:
- These executions continue nationwide: from north to south; east to west; in rural towns and large metropolitan areas. Like in the years of lynching, there is no geographic sanctuary. Yet some cities—especially in the South– execute Black people without trial in numbers disproportionate to the size of their Black populations. Here are the cities with 2 or more executions.(This Table below was updated July 12, 2012, based on newly-found killings and updates on the Census website: quickfacts.census.gov)
A larger copy of this map is attached at the end of this report.
3. A significant proportion of the 120 were killed because they suffered from mental health problems or were intoxicated and behaved in ways the police allegedly could not control.
- 28 people or 23% might be alive today if community members trained and committed to humane crisis intervention and mental health treatment had been called rather than the police.
4. What is the relationship between “stop and frisk” policies and procedures and racial profiling and these deadly encounters? This report documents how these encounters were initiated. Encounters that began because the “suspect was engaged in suspicious behavior or looked suspicious or was driving suspiciously” show how often racial profiling leads to death.
- 48 (40% of 120) of police accounts explicitly cite “suspicious behavior or appearance” or traffic violations (“driving while Black”) as the reason for their attempt to detain the person who they eventually killed.
- 24 (20% of 120) deadly encounters began with calls to 9-1-1 to seek help in resolving “domestic disturbances”. These included family members seeking assistance in dealing with mentally troubled people and people facing domestic violence. (some of these 24 people were also counted among the 28 who were intoxicated or behaved in ways the police allegedly could not control. Check the Tables for details.)
- 11 (9% of 120) people who had violated no law or had not been involved in any harmful behavior were killed.
- That leaves only 37 people or 31% of 120 killed in the course of police investigating activity defined as “criminal” in most states. (In most states, failure to follow an officer’s commands is illegal. Eg. It is a violation of the state law to run when an officer says “halt”. But here we are only talking about how the encounters were initiated, not what happened after the encounter.)
5. Most of the people executed were not armed. Here is the breakdown:
- 55 (or 46%) had no weapon at all at the time they were executed.
- 43 (or 36%) were alleged by police to have weapons (including a cane, toy gun and bb gun) but this allegation is disputed by witnesses or later investigation. Police are infamous for planting weapons or deciding that a cell phone, wallet or other harmless object is a gun.
- 22 (or 18%) were likely armed.
6. Police and other executioners typically justify their murders by reporting that the “suspect” ran away, pointed a gun or crashed into them with a car and therefore they had to use deadly force to defend themselves.
- In the first half of 2012, police alleged that 42 of the people they executed attempted to run away from them.
- 24 of the people who were murdered allegedly pointed guns at officers and/or attempted to crash into them. Reports often do not mention if the officers were wearing uniforms or if the “suspects had any way of knowing their assailants were not civilians.
7. Regardless of how these encounters begin, whether they involve activity that violates the laws of the state or the laws of basic human decency, no one should be sentenced to death without a trial. In most countries, even with a trial, capital punishment is considered barbaric. So the use of deadly force is always “excessive” (and extrajudicial by international human rights standards) except in certain circumstances.
- 15 cases in this report or 12.5%, if the facts reported are true, involve situations where the “suspect” shot and wounded and/or killed the police and/or others while the police were on the scene. Although it would have been preferable to stop them with non-lethal force, the use of lethal force in these circumstances can not be considered excessive. But in the remaining 105 cases, killings were extrajudicial, that is, they used lethal force with no legitimate justification and violated peoples’ basic human rights.
8. On gender:In the first half of 2012, only 5 out of the 120 executed people were women. Two were accused “car thieves”, two were “innocent bystanders” and one was beaten and smothered by police because they did not take the appropriate steps to calm her emotional agitation.
Please note: the most glaring way that women’s oppression enters the picture is in the high number of deaths (20%) that result from mothers, wives, lovers or other family members who call the police because they are desperate for help with their troubled, often frightening, kids and partners. Grassroots community crisis intervention and mediation would lighten the burdens that single mothers and survivors of domestic violence carry and also build towards more community self-reliance. As one mother whose emotionally-troubled son had been executed said, “calling the police to calm a mentally ill child is like calling an undertaker to deliver a baby.”
While the organization issuing the report is clearly biased, their data suggests an irrefutable and disturbing trend for African-American and other minority communities in America. Currently, the city of Anaheim, CA is responding to community outrage over the alleged murder of a detained Latino resident, originally shot for running from police officers without reasonable reason to detain. Never should officers shoot an unarmed man unwanted for a crime. Detain him on reasonable suspicion (if it exists), sure, but never shoot him.
Moore’s documentary “Bowling for Columbine” implicitly links the production of war machines and munitions in the town of Littleton, Colorado to the Columbine shootings. At the most local level, this seems absurd, but how can anyone sensibly deny that the normalization of violence by our military abroad and security apparatus at home increases the chances that we too will resolve our conflicts with violence. Dr. King made this point very clear in his decision to oppose the war in Vietnam. (http://corralledinsanity.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/why-protest-nato/) The reading of violence in its pervasive and cyclical form lead me to travel to Chicago this summer to witness and participate in the NATO protests. I cannot imagine more fitting proof to my thesis than the overwhelming number of disrespectful and violent representatives from the Chicago Police Department, Homeland Security and the FBI that also converged on the city for a peace protest. (http://corralledinsanity.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/report-from-the-peace-provoked-police-state-nato-2012/) (http://corralledinsanity.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/a-peace-provoked-police-state-day-ii/)
Surely, the most common sense response to this tragedy is a call for a little bit of gun regulation. Obama, contrary to the misinformation campaign by the right, has done nothing to restrict our ungodly (and I mean that literally) access to military grade firearms and munitions. We are allowed to carry concealed weapons on some college campuses (Colorado being one of those states), into bars and anywhere we please. If we are to go on some sort of a terroristic rampage, we have access to a plethora of body armor options which will render most police responders and the vast majority of gun toting nannies useless (Hear that NRA?). In many states, individuals take advantage of the “gun show loophole” that allows countless military grade assault weapons, magazines and munitions to legally travel to Mexico—as long as those purchasing are “unaware” of the unlawful intent of those whom they transferring the weapons to. Yeah, great idea.
I own a shotgun, rifles and a large caliber handgun. I have never purchased a firearm myself, but when I do, I would like to be subjected to a background check and a rigorous exam on firearm operation and safety. When I transferred registration of a large caliber handgun into my name, I received no such tests. Common sense says that an individual receiving a firearm due to inheritance might be suffering from some grief at the very least; why do we not give a background check? We do something akin to this in order to legally operate a motor vehicle. Why is it so different for guns? Why are body armor and ballistic helmets protected under the Second Amendment at all?
The easiest scapegoat is the NRA. And yes, the National Rifle Association funnels money into elections and primary seasons at such a level that it plays an undue influence on policy. Additionally, there are many shadier nationalistic and racist organizations that cry foul anytime anything reasonable is to be done with guns and munitions in the United States (is it so surprising that they “don’t trust” Obama on the issue?). But can we blame groups like the NRA and beyond, entirely for representing criminals, psychopaths, mass murders, paranoid jackasses and racist idiots over the average gun owner? I think we all share a bit of the blame here.
Both Obama and Romney have asked the nation to pray (so much for that secular government idea) and if I were Obama, I would pray for forgiveness too. Obama made a campaign promise to make the reinstallation of The Assault Weapons Ban an administration priority. If we can remember, this is a law supported by police organizations, hunters and many gun owners, including a majority of NRA members. This is a law which expired during the Bush administration despite his stated intent to sign its extension, with Cheney’s support. Obama always has great words on issues, but on policy and official administration stances, he disappoints; the assault weapons ban is no different. As Governor of Massachusetts, Romney signed a law that would have restricted the Colorado killer from obtaining at least one of his weapons. What gives with these two? Both the mayor of New York and Philidelphia have called for new legislation on assault weapons. Bloomberg has even urged police to strike until such legislation is enacted.
The response reminds me a bit of my undergraduate experience: at Duke we had certain issues like minority recruitment weekends, hazing and campus workers’ rights that cycled. For those of us on campus at the time, the issues were engaging and our instructors incredibly thoughtful and poised. By the time we reached the end of our four years, we could see the cycle, just in time to leave the campus. We do the same thing with acts of terrorism like this, Representative Giffords, Virginia Tech and Columbine. The subject is hot for a minute, people talk about change, the gun lobby stalls and nothing happens—next body armor wearing, gun-toting psychopath enters stage left.
This time is different for both sides of the debate. For the few organizations representing firearm and munitions manufactures, racist vigilantes, non-hunting firearm “enthusiasts”, they now have unprecedented buying power in the Congressional and Presidential elections. While Obama knows they will set their sights on him personally, he is paralyzed by the fear that the gun lobby might launch an effective anti-Democratic Party campaign with a shred of truth (not that this is a precondition). In Congress, many of our elected officials have been bullied into silence, not for bribes, but for the implicit assumption that less ruckus will draw less cash from the gun lobby. This has to change, but it will not without some serious campaign finance reform (Public Funding already!).
Inherit to this logic is the accepted “fact” that challenging guns lost the House for President Clinton. I think this was a reach at the time of its conclusion, but now? This is a different electorate with evolving views. Gun ownership is becoming more rural, more regional and more party based. Not that this is a good thing, but it seems that this demographic is not exactly a “swing vote”.
On the side of normal people: non-gun owners and gun-owners like me are connected in a revolutionary fashion. Social media analysts have jumped on the spread of the Aurora news and shown our ability to disseminate information to the world, literally in just a few hours. The downside to such connection is our inability to focus. If we could identify the gun lobby and their intention in a focused and reasonable way, it might still be possible to make firearms, munitions and bulletproof materials an issue in 2012. At the very least, as people become educated, we might close the gun show loophole once and for all.
I think there is something deeper going on here and the answer might lie in that oft-referenced second amendment.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Most liberal interpretations evoke the amendment’s intention to some degree, but stop short in their depth. Yes, as is often explored, we should be aware that the “arms” that are protected here are inefficient fifty caliber muskets that misfired frequently. It is very possible that if they could see our interpretation in 1791, there would be more restrictions. Historically, as The Supreme Court explored in 2008, the law is connected to The English Bill of Rights and intent can be derived from this document as well. The English were protected, according to the conservative court, from being disarmed by the crown. Likewise, Americans are protected from being disarmed by a tyrannical government. But why does this matter?
There was a time where individuals could protect themselves from the government with firearms. That time has passed. While we have ignorantly focused on firearms, we have enabled the domination of a tyrannical power, if one were ever to rise in America, through the violation of civil liberties—Obama has signed an Defense Bill with an indefinite detention provision and executed an American citizen on executive decision alone, for example—and the wild expansion of organizations like the CIA, NSA, FBI and Homeland Security in response to the “terrorist bogyman”. We have been deceived. Instead, all we have protected is the flow of small arms to international crime organizations and the ability for individuals to spread terror throughout this country.
This is a cyclical disaster. We cling to our guns because we do not trust our government or our government’s ability to protect us. With more guns available to criminals, the police have militarized. Every time a police officer beats an individual or wrongfully kills them, this destroys the trust an entire community has in police protection. America’s foreign policy radicalizes nations while emboldening radical groups to take action. Because our intelligence departments are bloated by the massive collection of useless information, acts of terrorism like this theater shooting are seldom detected unless they are instigated through entrapment procedures. After each disaster, we become scared and we buy guns. After FEMA abandoned the people of New Orleans, I heard several conversations concluding that we needed guns in case something like that ever happened to us in Arkansas.
Can there be a single solution to such a complicated problem? No, not really. We can enact some legislation to restrict possession of body armor and regulate munitions. We can build a national database of gun ownership and incentivize gun registration. Illegal guns, regardless of their history, should be turned in and this action should be rewarded (how about for every illegal gun returned, a community officer will also disarm). Above all, we have to get to know one another. We have to stop the hate which underlies all that “suspicious behavior” and racism. We tear our nation apart with this self-inflicted genocidal pandemic. We must intervene in this cycle of violence. For how many more people will action come too late?