“Good” grief

Charlie BrownI often use the words “good grief” to describe my anger, frustration, distaste, exasperation, disbelief and any number of other emotions when other words do not suffice.

Charlie Brown, the iconic character in Charles Schultz’s  Peanuts cartoons, which also became television specials, used this term often to express his frustration.

So how do these words find themselves into my post today? How does the funeral of a friend, a summit on gun violence as a public health issue, a hunting accident, an officer’s response to tragedy,  a racist incident at a Minnesota college, a road rage incident, the acquittal of a St. Louis police officer, tabling at a local festival and a gun suicide intersect?

Grief. Anger. Victims. Awe. Inspiration. Organizing. Keeping children safe from gun injuries and death.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a friend. We met his family at church many years ago and his wife, in particular, became my friend and a member of my church book group. As she always does at funerals, my minister wove his story of love, compassion for his family and community, his humor, his fun loving life style and his courage in the face of his cancer diagnosis into the sermon. He was a volunteer firefighter and a Viet Nam veteran. No one was left without a tissue. We were all touched by his 3 adult daughters telling us about their dad and his 3 sons-in-law reading the verses. There were so many things we hadn’t known about our friend and it took his death for us to find out. He was an avid hunter, fisherman, outdoorsman, volunteer, grandparent to 6, and good man who made his mark on his circle of friends and the community at large. The grief of this family over the loss of a man who died too young will continue through their lives and they will live with the hole left by his death.

Grief is grief no matter how a death happened. With my friend it was cancer. There are many causes of death, of course. Suicides take the lives of way too many Americans and are on the rise in Minnesota. In Minnesota suicides by gun account for about 75% of gun deaths.

One of the topics of the Protect Minnesota 2 day summit I attended last week about gun violence and public health was the prevalence of gun suicides across the country and in Minnesota. There was much discussion about access to loaded guns, discussions about how much mental illness contributes to suicides and about other conditions or behaviors that contribute to suicides and suicides by gun.

An article in the Washington Post written by the wife of a gun suicide victim says it all:

I believe my husband’s decision to end his life two years ago was made seconds before it happened. His fate was sealed only when he reached for one of his guns for the last time. Once the hammer started to fall, that was it.

When our American gun culture doesn’t consider the risks of guns to those who should so clearly not have them, we have a serious public health crisis. Yes, it is a crisis.

I do not oppose the Second Amendment, but we desperately need to start changing the conversation about gun ownership in this country. My husband was a casualty of a jacked-up marketing fable that convinces men, women and children that their castles are unsafe unless they are guarded with guns.

Far more guns kill people in suicides, accidents, mistakes or fits of rage than from an intruder in the night. Families, partners and friends must acknowledge this reality when discussing having guns in the home. We also need politicians to support policies that give families the power they need to save their loved ones.

We can save our loved ones by enacting sensible and common sense measures such as requiring a Brady background check on all gun sales and Gun Violence Protective Orders. In fact, these make so much common sense that the majority of Americans and even gun owners agree. We can prevent at least some of the grief of gun deaths and injuries.

At the Protect Minnesota summit we heard from a panel of survivors, each of whom had lost a loved one to gun violence or had survived a shooting. To say the least, it was powerful and emotional and full of the grief of the survivors. This is why those in the gun violence prevention movement do what we do. We really don’t want others to feel the grief we have all felt.

survivors

There is a lot of grief to go around and some of it is actually in the form of anger. At the Protect Minnesota summit mentioned above there were local and national speakers highlighting ways in which we can reduce and prevent urban gun violence. Much of it was based on the racism associated with shootings in urban areas. And a lot of time was spent on how and why young men of color “need” guns that often end up in the wrong hands or in gun crimes, and worse, gun tragedies.

So when the “shooting” incident reported by a security guard at St. Catherine’s College in St. Paul made the media rounds, it first appeared to be another school shooting. A campus was locked down and law enforcement were called to the scene looking for the perpetrator. As it turned out, the perpetrator was the security guard himself who had irresponsibly brought his own firearm to work and “accidentally” discharged it, shooting himself in the shoulder.  He said he was afraid he would lose his job if he reported the truth and so he fabricated a shooter- of course a young black man wearing a hoodie:

Police arrested Ahlers, 25, on Wednesday, after he told investigators during questioning that he accidentally shot himself with his handgun and lied about it because he feared losing his job, according to St. Paul police. St. Kate’s prohibits people, including security guards, from carrying guns on campus.

St. Kate’s terminated Ahlers on Thursday. University President Becky Roloff said in a statement that the university “strongly condemns racial discrimination, racial stereotyping, and racial profiling of any kind. The statements attributed to the former employee concerning the race of an alleged suspect are deeply troubling and do not reflect our values.”

The man lost his job. A campus was locked down for nothing. Police were involved in an unnecessary search for a black man. And there are no “accidental” shootings. There is irresponsible handling of a deadly weapon however.

A St. Catherine University security guard put African-American men at risk of being hurt or killed during an intense manhunt in St. Paul, after he allegedly falsely accused a black male of shooting him, community leaders said Friday.

There were real implications to what Brent Patrick Ahlers told police, said community activist Robert McClain. He received calls regarding three people stopped by police during the search for the “suspect” Tuesday night, including by officers with guns drawn.

“When they look for someone who they assume is an active shooter, they don’t look in a nice way,” McClain said. “They don’t stop and ask questions in a nice way, so you victimize people who haven’t done a thing.

Good grief.

Law enforcement officers are a part of our communities and there to serve us and protect us from harm. Sometimes that does not work out well and there are plenty of recent incidents of officer involved shootings of young black men gone wrong that have left families and communities grieving. The latest outcry has come in St. Louis where the last two days have seen protests after the acquittal of an officer who shot and killed a black man.

We have a lot of work to do regarding relationships between law enforcement and communities of color. It is understandable that people of color are angry over the acquittals of officers after shootings of black men. This is a uniquely American problem and it is because of all of the guns in our communities. Officers are armed and citizens are armed. It doesn’t work out well and racism plays a part. When everyone is armed, too many people do not feel safe.

But officers are often involved in non-violent support of their communities. A story in the Duluth News Tribune caught my attention this morning. It is written by a female officer who comforted a young girl during the rescue of her father and sister in their drownings in Lake Superior. Officers are often traumatized by tragic incidents and sometimes even leave the force. But this officer chose to write a beautiful story about how she spent hours with a young girl who had lost her father and sister. Thanks goodness for officers like this one and their dedication to their communities and the victims of tragic incidents.

There was a law enforcement panel at the Protect Minnesota summit last week. All participants were caring, dedicated and educated individuals who cared a lot about how gun violence affects their communities and they are working to lessen the impact of gun crimes and gun violence. They all agreed that they saw too many gun suicides and too much urban violence and they want to work with us to solve important problems and lessen the grief that devastates families and communities.

And we know that many officers are themselves victims of shootings when trying to intervene in incidents or in actual ambushes by people who hate officers or have a grudge of some kind.  We have our very own home-grown terrorists. This is yet another element to our gun violence epidemic that we are ignoring at the risk of losing lives.

Good grief.

The grief that comes with a violent and sudden death never goes away. Another story in the Duluth News Tribune this morning was so poignant and difficult but I am grateful for the man who told his story of grief over an accidental shooting that took the life of his son while hunting decades ago:

He allowed Mark to move ahead a few steps. Just then, a grouse flushed along the trail.

“When a grouse flushes, your instinct is to be quick,” Kern said.

He was. He shouldered his shotgun and swung on the fleeing bird. In that split-second, he wasn’t aware that Mark had moved directly into the path of his shot.

“I shot him right in the back of the head,” Kern said. “Killed him instantly.”

He speaks openly about that day, not without showing some emotion. He shares his story with others from time to time. He hopes it might serve as a powerful reminder to other hunters about the importance of safe gun handling, about being aware of where one’s hunting partners are, about understanding the finality of an ill-advised shot.

…”the finality of an ill-advised shot.” Bullets are often final.

Hunting season is happening right now in Minnesota. Every year we hear of hunting accidents involving guns and too often it is one family member or a friend shooting another family member or friend. The guilt and pain that comes with that must be unimaginable. But this man goes on with his life as best he can and lives forever with his grief. More from the linked story:

Over the years, Kern has regained his inner strength and a sense of who he is. He believes strongly that each of us has “a force” within. A kind of energy. A spirit.

He cannot, of course, forget what happened on that long-ago September day. He doesn’t try to bury the memory. He fully acknowledges the reality of what he did.

“This happened to me,” he says.

The loss of a child is too painful to consider but it has happened to members of my family and to friends. Most have thankfully not been due to gun deaths. Yesterday my chapter set up a table at a local event to educated the public about how they can reduce the chances that a child will be “accidentally” shot in the home of friends. The ASK campaign encourages parents and gives them the language to ask that awkward question. Most gun owning families actually think this is a good idea and if they are storing their guns unloaded and secured, they can avoid the awful tragedy of an “accidental” shooting. It was ( and is) well received and allowed us to have many great conversations with parents and others about the risks of unsecured guns and other issues related to guns and gun violence.  ASK

Every day in America about 7 children a day die from gunshot injuries. Some survive and survive with lifetime physical and emotional injuries and PTSD. (PTSD was a topic of discussion also at the Northstar conference on gun violence and public health.) A road rage shooting that is now being reported in the media has left one innocent little boy with terrible head injuries but hopefully not with long term disabilities related to the shooting. The article is titled: ” Children Under Fire”.

Good grief.

How can this be a title for a story? It can be because in America, people carry guns around with them in their cars. And stupidly and tragically, they shoot other people when they get angry over their driving.  From the article:

“Stop!” Hill screamed, turning to check on her son, who, just before midnight on Aug. 6, had become one of the nearly two dozen children shot — intentionally, accidentally or randomly — every day in the United States. What follows almost all of those incidents are frantic efforts to save the lives of kids wounded in homes and schools, on street corners and playgrounds, at movie theaters and shopping centers.

Good grief.

(…) On average, 23 children were shot each day in the United States in 2015, according to a Post review of the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. That’s at least one bullet striking a growing body every 63 minutes.

In total, an estimated 8,400 children were hit, and more died — 1,458 — than in any year since at least 2010. That death toll exceeds the entire number of U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan this decade.

Many incidents, though, never become public because they happen in small towns or the injuries aren’t deemed newsworthy or the triggers are pulled by teens committing suicide.

Caring for children wounded by gunfire comes with a substantial price tag. Ted Miller, an economist who has studied the topic for nearly 30 years, estimated that the medical and mental health costs for just the 2015 victims will exceed $290 million.

Good grief.

There is nothing good about grief. In America, the grief of families because of gun violence is remarkable, avoidable, preventable, and a national public health epidemic. We can do something about all of this but a minority of gun extremists and the corporate gun lobby get in the way of common sense. I wonder if they read about these incidents or have experienced the grief associated with gun deaths? I don’t wish it on anyone but stories must be told in order to make change.

In this post I have told quite a few stories. They involve victims, law enforcement officers, survivors, the grief experienced by the family of my friend, children, communities and families.

And I haven’t even touched on domestic shootings like the one that took my sister’s life. But they, too, happen every day. More grief.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month is October– soon. I will write more then.

We are better than this.

Shootings in the whirlpool of controversy

Tunnel lights or vortex glowThe controversial shooting death of a woman in Minnesota has been the subject of national and international concern and alarm. An officer shot a Minnesota woman for what appears to be no reason. She was not armed. She had called 911 to report a possible assault in the alley near her house. For some reason, she herself, was outside when officers arrived and apparently approached the squad car. After that, things get more fuzzy. The woman was shot and killed by a gunshot wound to her abdomen. An officer, two years on the Minneapolis Police Department, allegedly leaned over this partner to discharge his weapon upon reportedly hearing a loud noise. Some report it to be fireworks. Did others hear fireworks?

This shooting cries out for an investigation and answers. It appears to be inexplicable. But when someone, even an officer, shoots first and then thinks about it later, the victim doesn’t get to tell his/her story. What could possibly have gone wrong? What prompts and officer to be so fearful of an unarmed citizen who, by most accounts, was not a threat?

In Minnesota, this is the third such recent incident of officer involved shootings that have raised eyebrows and caused protests and even trials of officers. First there was Jamar Clark. Then Philando Castile. And now Justine Damond.

Some explanations are rolling out but don’t seem to provide good answers so far. From the linked article above:

“It’s certainly reasonable to assume that any police officer would be concerned about a possible ambush under these circumstances,” Bruno said. “It was only a few weeks ago when a female NYPD cop and mother of twins was executed in her car in a very similar scenario.”

Bruno was referencing the case of New York City police officer Miosotis Familia, 48, who was killed July 5 after a mentally ill man shot her in the head while she sat in her squad car in the Bronx.

Officers do have justification to be fearful of ambushes because they have happened with some frequency in America. (Pittsburgh, Tacoma, NYC, Their lives are on the line whenever they are on duty.

And then, this:

On Tuesday the BCA released some information, based in part on an interview with Harrity, who said the two were responding at 11:30 p.m. to a call of a possible assault in the quiet Fulton neighborhood when he was startled by a “loud sound.” Damon, who was the 911 caller, approached Harrity in the driver’s side window of the squad car “immediately afterward,” according to the statement.

Noor, who was in the passenger seat, then fired across his partner, striking Damond in the abdomen.

A loud noise sounding maybe like gunshots? Did anyone else hear that noise? Would that be enough to shoot someone? Especially an unarmed woman?

She first called officers trying to help someone she thought was being raped:

Justine Damond spent her last moments trying to help a stranger.

At 11:27 on Saturday night, Damond called police to report a possible sexual assault, according to a 911 transcript obtained by the Star Tribune Wednesday.

“I’m not sure if she’s having sex or being raped,” Damond told the operator. After giving her address, Damond continued: “I think she just yelled out ‘help,’ but it’s difficult the sound has been going on for a while, but I think, I don’t think she’s enjoying it.”

“OK,” said the operator, “I’ve already got an officer on the way.”

About eight minutes later, Damond called 911 again to make sure they got her address right. She repeated the report of hearing a woman screaming, and the operator assured her the officers were en route.

“Thank you,” said Damond.

Moments later, one of those officers would fatally shoot her.

Wow. This just does not make sense.

And now the controversy is swirling with not enough answers. They will hopefully come. A family in Minnesota and Australia and several communities are devastated. The family and community of the officer is devastated. The Somali community in Minneapolis has had problems with violence, intolerance and gun violence. This just can’t help.

Several letters to the editor in today’s Star Tribune deserve to be read and re-read about the shooting of Justine Damond. Here  is the first:

Thirty-some years ago, we were the owners of the house Justine Damond lived in when she was killed. One New Year’s Eve we let our 13-year-old son baby-sit his younger brother and sister for the first time while we celebrated less than a mile away. We’d been calling hourly to see how things were going when right after midnight our son answered and said, “Was it OK that I answered the door for the police?” My heart stopped momentarily. It turned out that the elderly woman across the alley had her back door kicked in by two men who then robbed her, and the police were canvassing to see if anyone had heard anything.

We rushed home, not wanting to leave our kids home alone with possible bad guys in the neighborhood. Then, it was the bad guys people were afraid of, not the police.

Something has gone terribly wrong. Then, as now, the Fulton neighborhood was a pretty quiet, fairly upscale area with some property crimes but not much else. But, other things have changed significantly. There has been a continual push in the U.S. for more access to guns and gun freedoms like conceal-and-carry. It is no wonder most police are fearful when they never know who might pull out a gun. Their training has conditioned them to always believe the worst of everyone and every situation. Tensions and fear are high when someone always expects the worst. But that fear is no excuse or defense for the increasingly common case of police officers who are trigger-happy.

Today, unfortunately, I’d be as afraid of having my young (white) son answer the door for the police as I would be of the bad guys. We citizens have to demand better.

And here is the second:

Two immigrants came to the United States searching for the American dream. One came to heal; the other, to protect. Now due to the fear and violence surrounding firearms, both have realized the American nightmare.

State Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie

These shootings reveal tensions between law enforcement and communities of color. They also reveal the need for better training for officers. And the “elephant in the room” that gets swept under the rug is that there are just too many guns around in our country and that is leading to too many gun deaths.

This is of international interest because Justine Damond was Australian. They just can’t wrap their heads around the American gun culture. I’m with them. This article calls the shooting the  “American Nightmare”. From the article:

In Justine Damond’s native country, news of the meditation teacher’s baffling death has dominated the airwaves, newspapers and websites for days, feeding into Australians’ long-held fears about America’s notorious culture of gun violence.

In this image made from video, John Ruszczyk, father of Justine Damond, an Australian woman who was shot dead by a Minneapolis police officer, holds a press conference with his family in Sydney Tuesday, July 18, 2017. The death of Damond, a 40-year-old meditation teacher who was reportedly dressed in her pajamas, was shot late Saturday. The story has led Australian network newscasts and was splashed across newspapers' front pages on Tuesday. (Channel 9 via AP)
In this image made from video, John Ruszczyk, father of Justine Damond, an Australian woman who was shot dead by a Minneapolis police officer, holds a news conference with his family in Sydney on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (Channel 9 via AP)

“The country is infested with possibly more guns than people,” said Philip Alpers, a gun policy analyst with the University of Sydney who has studied the stark differences in gun laws between the nations. “We see America as a very risky place in terms of gun violence — and so does the rest of the world.”

While police officers carry guns in Australia, deadly shootings by police are exceedingly rare; only a handful are reported each year, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology. And though the U.S. doesn’t keep a national database of deadly police-involved shootings, even incomplete statistics show there are hundreds every year.

America’s reluctance to strengthen its gun regulations and its seemingly endless stream of shooting deaths have long been a source of confusion and concern in Australia, which instituted tough gun ownership laws in 1996 following a deadly mass shooting. At the time, then-Prime Minister John Howard — a conservative — warned Australians against following America’s lead on gun control, saying: “We have an opportunity in this country not to go down the American path.”

The “American path”….

I have a theory. Ever since conceal carry weapons permits laws have passed, there are more people on the streets armed with guns. It is truly difficult to know when someone could be a danger to themselves or others and it’s also difficult to sift out who could be a “good guy” with a gun or a “bad guy” with a gun. Officers often respond with fear and excess violence when fearing for their own lives. Too often, innocent citizens are killed by officers and then the officers are found to be not guilty because they were justified out of fear for their own safety.

We have a circular problem. More guns carried by citizens means officers need more guns. When officers have more guns and citizens have more guns everyone feels unsafe.

And when the NRA ramps up that fear of others as they have in the last few weeks, we have volatility in our public interactions. The most recent NRA TV screed came close to urging violence against the media. Our very own President has verbally attacked many media sources calling them fake news and lying about their motives.  He skirted suggesting violence against the press ( from the article above) which fits right in with what the NRA is doing. When a free press is vulnerable to attack, physical or verbal, our democracy is at risk. As I wrote in my last post, when protesters are not safe from the ramped up encouragement of violence against them by the “guys with the guns”.

By the way, does anyone think that this NRA is representing average gun owners? This is an extremist organization seemingly representing the right wing of the Republican party. Is this even about guns any more? Or is it a not so subtle way for the guys with the guns to think about their enemies as those who are not like them or those who criticize them and their leaders?

Frightening.

None of this is OK. None of this is good for democracy. None of this is making us safer from violence and gun violence. No one is safe until everyone is safe is the slogan of the Women’s March from the NRA to the DOJ last week-end said. Someone picked a great slogan to describe the “American nightmare.”

There needs to be common sense when it comes to guns. Guns are dangerous weapons designed to kill other people. And they do that every day in the hands of officers and citizens alike.

More guns are not making us safer. We are being sucked into the vortex of a place that we must get out of before it destroys us. The path is going towards more senseless gun deaths and injuries and leaves many families living the American nightmare.

Time to wake up.

 

Post election musings

3d image Tolerance issues concept word cloud backgroundWell, I am finally coming out of my post election funk- at least for a while. I was among millions who were shocked and feeling numb after the election of Donald Trump. I know I am in my own bubble as are most people. We tend to socialize and communicate with people who think like us. To say this is a game changer is putting it mildly.

I need a reset in many ways. Not only did my candidate (s) lose, but I have been dealing with a major health crisis of a close family member. So I am feeling pretty out of sorts and in a fog after last week.

All of that aside though, there are a few things I need to say.

The NRA ( and corporate gun lobby) now have a seat in the White House. They spent a lot of money to get that seat. But then again, the NRA does not represent its’ own members. It represents the gun lobby and the gun industry. 74% of NRA members believe what I believe about background checks.  But this is not about the people in spite of what Donald Trump fooled his supporters into believing. It’s about power and control and greed. Follow the money.

The gun lobby did not win everywhere they spent money, however and several gun safety reform measures left to the voters to decide, passed. Washington state,  Nevada and California passed stronger gun laws.  In Nevada a referendum requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales passed (see linked article) and a similar measure almost passed in Maine. Most of the time when voters are asked directly they want stronger gun laws. Voters are not beholden to the corporate gun lobby.

My own Congressman Rick Nolan won in spite of massive spending by the NRA against him. Others won re-election or election running unafraid of the gun lobby.

Interestingly sales of guns and ammunition started dropping right after Trump was elected. What’s that about? No more need to hate the government and be prepared to fight against it? No more need for self defense from zombies that look like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? Confidence that guns will not be taken even if they wouldn’t have been anyway? No more fear of the “other”?

Never mind common sense.

Let’s look at the above linked article:

Before the election, “there was a widespread expectation that Hillary would win and some gun retailers began to stock up, expecting strong demand surge from the prospect of tightening gun control under a Hillary Clinton administration,” said Rommel Dionisio, a gun industry analyst for Wunderlich Securites.

“Obviously, that’s not going to happen,” he said. Now that Trump will be president and Republicans will control both houses of Congress, he said demand for guns will probably drop over the next year or two.

Go figure. What’s good for the goose is evidently not so good for the gander.

So far there have been no politically motivated shootings as were threatened if Hillary Clinton won the election. I wrote about this fear in my last postBut one anti-Trump protester did issue some threatening words. This is not OK. There should be no talk about using violence and threatening to kill people over elections from either side of the issue or the aisle. In America, because of the sheer number of guns and people with guns, it could actually happen.

As much as I do not like Donald Trump, I urge people on both sides to put aside talk like this and think about their words. Words matter. Trump knows that because he used all kinds of incendiary words during the election. He made a lot of promises and stoked a lot of fear. Already, he is making noises about walking back some of his promises but the fear he stoked is now a part of our political culture in a way it never was before.

The NRA was right there with him and have been for years in spite of Trump’s support for common sense gun legislation before he became a candidate and had to curry favor with the gun lobby.

So now, Trump has joined with the corporate gun lobby in his statements during the campaign to incite fear and anger. This incendiary and fear filled language has made gun toting Americans afraid of their own shadows. This article from The Trace explains:

It was a pitch that found a welcome audience among Americans primed by years of bilious NRA rhetoric. Rage at elites has long been the crucial context for the organization’s gun rights message, the force it has used to mobilize its membership. It’s not just that gun rights must be protected, NRA leaders argue — it’s that they must be defended from political leaders and journalists who have contempt for everyday people’s values and ideas of how America should look.

“Something has gone terribly wrong in our country,” the group’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, said at its 2012 annual meeting, held in St. Louis. “Almost every aspect of American freedom is in some state of decline.” The NRA alone, he declared, stood ready to lead the fight against tyranny imposed by the “global elitists and all their friends in the White House” who were conspiring to “hide the truth we all know in our gut.” Of course, LaPierre sniped, “No politician in any party will tell you that.”

Don’t trust anyone.

And since the NRA is well funded by the gun industry, they were able to spend a boat load of money in this election. More from the above article:

What has gone less noticed is how the group has succeeding in stoking populist furor that spills well beyond the people on its email list.

“Both the NRA and Trump promote a nostalgia for something that has been lost,” sociologist Scott Melzer, author of the 2012 book Gun Crusaders: The NRA’s Culture War, tells The Trace. The gun group and its candidate speak to “this white rural conservative population that feels left behind by economic shifts and cultural shifts. These changes pose a threat to their identity.”

Melzer says the NRA has figured out how to mobilize people by fostering a sense that they are threatened by outsiders. “That makes them the most effective social force in conservatism, and they’ve done so with language that Trump used,” he said. The NRA seized on this rhetoric to fuel its interest group politics.

Trump brought it to the larger arena of mainstream politics, then rode it to the Oval Office. (…)

By the Friday before the election, Clinton was considered the overwhelming favorite to win the White House. That morning, the NRA issued a familiar call to its millions of members: Vote for Trump not just to protect gun rights, but to stick it to the establishment.

Yup. The establishment. Who are they? If Donald Trump isn’t part of a certain kind of establishment, who is? Those who voted for Trump were fooled into believing lies and deceptions.

Part of my healing after the election was to spend time with fellow grievers. I knew I would find some at my church. What I found were people concerned about issues of peace and justice, the environment, racism, GLBTQ, violence, intolerance and those things Christians ( at least the ones in my church) care about. I was reassured that many groups and individuals in my church and my community are still planning to work hard to make sure hate doesn’t trump love and tolerance.

I am concerned about some local school students involved in racial slurs and hate speech. Who are the role models for our children? If we have a national bully sitting in the Oval Office, how can expect our children to aspire to better ways of doing thing and respecting their fellow students? If we have a President who surrounds himself with and listens to white nationalists and hate groups ( David Duke, KKK and others) how can we expect our kids and adults as well to respect their fellow human beings?

Calls have been made for Trump to step up to a microphone and speak to the nation to calm the unrest and intolerance. Marches and protests are taking place all over America, including in my own small city. People need to be reassured that Trump’s administration will not operate like his campaign did. If it does the country will be less safe and more unstable. That never leads to good things.

A friend in church who adopted a child from Tibet when she was a baby told me that her daughter, now a college student in Washington state, called home scared of how she would be treated. Her daughter thought maybe should buy some pepper spray for her safety since she was now fearing a backlash against students who look like her.

These are frightening times for your youth and our children. The fear extends to adults as well. We are better than this. We must be for our children and grandchildren. And when fear is felt by both sides for different reasons, it may not lead to peace and civil order. But some students are joining the protests against a Trump presidency and what it will mean for their future.

This gives me hope.

We absolutely need common sense now more than ever. Gun violence prevention groups nationally and at the state level will be fighting battles to loosen gun laws that need to be strengthened instead. People will still be shot- Republicans and Democrats alike and our national public health epidemic will not get better if we don’t take measures to stem the tide of violence. Civility does not come at the end of a gun barrel so making it easier for anyone to access guns will not result in safer and more civil communities.

The idea that armed citizens who are not trained to carry loaded guns on our streets and are barely vetted to do so should alarm us all. But in Trump country, this is what we will have. Please read this if you think we will all be safer. From the article:

Advocates analogize their preferred system of “reciprocity” to drivers’ licenses, which are issued by individual states but accepted by all 50. But this comparison elides how disparate the standards for concealed-carry licenses are from state-to-state — and the fact that, in ten states, you can carry a gun with no license at all.

It’s not clear whether a national reciprocity law would completely gut local gun restrictions. While the legislation would allow out-of-state visitors to flout local firearm laws, advocates for gun control remain hopeful that state governments would retain the power to enforce more stringent regulations on their own residents. The challenge there would be to block any workaround that might allow a New York City resident to take a trip to Virginia, secure a permit, and come home with a legal handgun in tow.

If that isn’t enough for us all to digest, think about the fact that a man who is in charge of one of our nation’s most right wing publications, Breitbart News, will be whispering into the ear of our next President. When White nationalists, the Ku Klux Klan and other alt-right and militia type groups are in charge of our country, it’s time to think about who we are as a country. Groups concerned about anti-semitic sentiments are concerned as they should be.

The Southern Poverty Law Center will be a watchdog and sounding the alarm if things go the way they are hoping it won’t. Read here:

But it’s not just sieg-heiling Nazis and cross-burning Klansmen who should trouble Americans concerned about what a Trump victory portends. It’s also the more polite, suit-wearing extremists who move in mainstream political circles and already have their nose under the Trump tent.

They’re people like Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who birthed the viciously discriminatory, unconstitutional anti-immigrant laws enacted by Arizona, Alabama and other states several years ago; and Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state who is now a senior fellow at the rabidly anti-LGBT  Family Research Council. Both are reportedly serving as key members of Trump’s transition team.

As is customary, Trump has pledged to be a president “for all Americans.”

Will we have a President who stands up to hate, extremism, fear mongering, violence and intolerance?

Time will tell.

This is not the country most people voted for. Hillary won the popular vote by almost 2 million votes.

#Enough.

Halloween frights, elections and violence

skullHalloween is upon us. And it’s scary out there. In a few days, kids will be going door to door and hoping for lots of candy in their bags. Older kids like to scare people with their costumes and haunted houses and other haunted things are scaring people. This “older kid” was asked to remove his mask of a face with President Obama with a noose around his neck.He was attending a football game at the University of Wisconsin. Not funny. Scary and intimidating. We know what he meant.

Last night we were at a movie theater which is near a haunted ore boat that dresses up every year with all kinds of haunting music and displays of “brains”, “eyeballs” and other such scares inside. It is very popular with residents and visitors alike.

I am not so scared of things like that though I don’t particularly enjoy these kind of displays. I’m afraid of some of my fellow Americans. It’s just not funny or clever when hateful people display inappropriate halloween displays that mean something other than they look. Or maybe they do look exactly as intended.  A Florida resident got himself into some trouble by hanging 2 dummies from a tree:

There needs to be a hell of a lot of hate in your heart to think lynching people on Halloween is funny. And yet, here we are, Miami. A homeowner in Three Lakes, a small community in suburban Kendall, is celebrating the holiday by lynching two black-looking dummies in his or her yard. It’s also impossible to ignore what’s just in front of the display on the same lawn: A “Trump/Pence 2016” sign.

The Trump sign just seems to go with the display doesn’t it? Donald Trump is one scary man whose frightening rhetoric has reduced our election to its’ lowest point in decades.

I think it’s safe to say that this has been one of the craziest and mind blowing elections in modern memory. With 10 days to go, “bombs” are exploding all over the place with misinformation and total melt-down of some in the media and most on the Republican side of the aisle over a report issued by FBI Director James Comey.  Reasonable people can argue about this but there are also facts. The scary thing is that Trump and his GOP buddies are distorting it out of all proportion and as we learn more we learn how wrong they have been. It’s downright scary that a lie can travel this quickly and that this late election cycle report happened in the first place.

But there are a lot more scary things going on this election season.

Trump says the election will be rigged with no evidence to support the allegations. This has led to some of his supporters believing they can resort to violence if their candidate doesn’t win. Or, as an aside, actual voter fraud by Trump supporters. An Iowa Republican voter tried to vote twice, fearing that her first vote would not be counted. She was arrested for fraud. Now that is a rigged election.

But back to the potential for violence in this election. Some Americans are talking about taking up arms on election day and the day after they will start the revolution. And with so many militia and other hate groups already formed, that is certainly a possibility.

Americans in general are heavily armed with some owning arsenals:

Overall, Americans own an estimated 265 million guns – more than one gun for every American adult, according to the study by researchers at Harvard and Northeastern universities. Half of those guns – 133 million – were in the hands of just 3% of American adults, so-called “super owners” who possessed an average of 17 guns each, it showed.

It is not difficult to imagine that those with hyped up fear of their own government are ready to fight against it or start a revolution when they don’t believe in the results of a democratic election. The corporate gun lobby has promoted this kind of fear and paranoia for years. And, militia groups and hate groups are at an all time high.

 

Former Illinois Representative Joe Walsh, not known for his subtlety or  common sense, said this past week that he would be taking up his musket the day after the election if Hillary Clinton wins. He tried to excuse his hyperbolic and threatening comments by saying this:

The former Illinois congressman said he’s used the phrase “grab your musket” multiple times over the past several years but never meant that Donald Trump supporters should literally reach for their firearms.
“If I wanted people to take up arms, why would I recommend people take up an antique like a musket?” Walsh asked. “That’s just silly.”
We know what he meant. It was a not so subtle suggestion that he would take up arms and that he wanted others to do the same. There are no excuses for this kind of talk during an election. I wonder how closely he will be watched by law enforcement authorities? I’m just saying.

I’m pretty sure this kind of public talk about violence and taking up arms during and after a democratic American election is not a first but its’ frequency and boldness is. And it has never been promoted by a major party candidate for President before. But Trump is no ordinary candidate.

Which came first, Donald Trump’s paranoid and frightening rhetoric or the rhetoric of his supporters, some of them white supremacists and racists?   What we are now seeing is encouragement of these types of groups and sentiments rising to the surface. It’s an ugly side of America that has the rest of the world worried. Other countries have seen the result of these kind of dangerous despots and “patriots”.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, militia and insurrectionist groups are on the rise. Check out the hate map on their site. 894 hate groups are living amongst us. Just last week I came across this article about a group of folks fomenting fear and possible violence in my own state of Minnesota:

“Are you prepared?” Guandolo called out. “Are you prepared for the two or three dozen jihadis in, pick a city in Minnesota, with mortars or shoulder-fired rockets? You don’t think they can get those in the United States?”

North and central Minnesota have become fertile ground for traveling speakers who have built national careers spreading alarm about the danger they say Islam poses inside U.S. borders. At dozens of rural churches and schools, speakers have warned crowds about refugees and called on them to be prepared to oppose Muslims in Minnesota. This comes at a time of mounting political tension over immigration ahead of the contentious presidential election.

Thanks to Donald Trump, the anti-Muslim fear has risen to the surface and been exaggerated to the point of possible violence.  And more, from the article:

“Islam is not a religion,” he said, highlighting one of his frequent talking points. “It’s a savage cult. Therefore, it is unconstitutional for a Muslim to practice Islam in America.”

Dakdok argues for the mass deportation of Muslims from the United States. He wears a Donald Trump pin on his suit jacket. He warns of the end times.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Guandolo often works with ACT!, which they call the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America.

Dakdok holds the bulk of his Minnesota events in small northern towns — places with few, if any Muslims. So does Guandolo, and he said that’s intentional. The Twin Cities, he told the Warroad crowd, are overrun with Muslims.

Where is common sense? Why do Americans believe such hyperbole and fear? Without proselytizers like Trump and Dakdok, this would not bubble to the surface but be held at bey by those with integrity and the best interests of our democracy in their hearts and minds. But when hatred and venom against and fear of someone who could become the first  woman President in a free and fair election take over hearts and minds, this is what some believe is justified. From the linked article by above: by Bill Moyers:

A Democrat running for president is going to be smeared by the Republicans. This goes without saying. But a Democratic woman running for president gets extra layers of smear, though the smear required new material to work with. Clinton could still be viewedfavorably when she ran for the presidential nomination in 2007-08 — consistent, overall, with how she was viewed during the more than two decades between 1992 and 2014. Benghazi and emails were not yet in the picture. Now, should Clinton get to the White House, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) will be ready: He’s sharpening his pencils and knives, planning “years” of hearings on Clinton depredations. (…)  So much for the traditional political niceties. I suppose it’s remotely possible that a male potential president would be treated this way — but none has been. Ever.

Moyers is right. No male candidate has been treated to the abuse that Hillary Clinton has endured. President Obama was certainly treated to racism and a fear of our first Black President in addition to the decision by Republican leadership to refuse to work with him. We will look back on this time period in our history and hang our heads in shame.

Its no secret that I am a supporter of Hillary Clinton. I agree with her policy statements and her embrace of the gun violence issue to represent the majority of Americans who want stronger gun laws. I find what is happening now about Wikileaks and James Comey’s letter to Congress to be frightening for our democracy. This Washington Post article gets to the core of why the email “scandal” should be an eye opener to all of us and not because of anything Hillary did wrong but because of an invasion of privacy that could affect all of us. From the article:

A question we need to ask is why the leaked emails have been embraced as acceptable contributions to public discourse, rather than shunned as stolen property, and what this means for how we think about politics and privacy. Richard Nixon faced impeachment as a result of his coverup of the Watergate break-in, a parallel attempt to steal private communications from an opponent’s campaign. Somehow, a physical break-in sparks visceral repugnance in a way that hacking into computer accounts does not. That should give us all pause, because it is a testament to a frightening new reality: That communication technology has steadily amplified the breakdown in the line between public and private. Without a zone of privacy in which we can talk freely to those who are close to us, no one is safe. That’s the sense in which WikiLeaks is a threat not only to the presidential campaign of a particular candidate, but to us all.

I get this one. My computer has been hacked and there are people in the gun rights community who hate what I write and stand for. Some years ago, one of them threatened to post my home address. Someone tried to take over my blog as well. And I have been on the receiving end of some not so subtle comments intimating violence and threats. Many people working on gun violence prevention have had this experience. Why? Take a guess. This kind of invasion of privacy and intimidation is scary. There are actual trolls out there waiting to do harm and not just on Halloween.

Social media has made all of this even scarier. There are obvious benefits to the use of social media and email to organize people and voters. But when it is used to intimidate and interfere with free and fair elections, that is scary.

And speaking of scary, some elementary school polling places have canceled classes on election day because of fear of violence and whatever the far right element of our country have in mind for the day. Our kids and teachers should not have to be scared on election day. That is for third world un-democratized countries.

And speaking of third world countries, some Americans have given notice that the revolution will begin if the vastly under qualified Donald Trump does not win. You can’t make this stuff up. But here, from the above linked article:

Jared Halbrook, 25, of Green Bay, Wis., said that if Mr. Trump lost to Hillary Clinton, which he worried would happen through a stolen election, it could lead to “another Revolutionary War.”

“People are going to march on the capitols,” said Mr. Halbrook, who works at a call center. “They’re going to do whatever needs to be done to get her out of office, because she does not belong there.”

“If push comes to shove,” he added, and Mrs. Clinton “has to go by any means necessary, it will be done.” (…)

 

No question about what Mr. Halbrook means here. These are the guys with the guns talking  big and making threats. Their fear and paranoia, stoked by the NRA and the corporate gun lobby and now their very own candidate Donald Trump, have taken over any reasonable thinking about the issues of the country and what democracy means. It’s frightening stuff at the least.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We are a democracy. Power is passed from one party and one President to another without violence or threats of violence. It has been since the birth of our democracy. What makes the people whose thoughts are so contorted believe that democracy includes this kind of violence? What makes them believe that our democratic election will be rigged causing them to want to overthrow the results? We know the answer to that. Donald Trump. His suggestions about voter intimidation and suppression have now been legally challenged by the Democratic National Committee.  This is not what we do in a democracy. Why do they believe they can get away with this?

Arrogance? Fear? Ignorance? Paranoia? Desperation?

On this Halloween eve, let us all hope for non-violence and common sense. Working together towards peaceful and reasonable solutions is the way to solve our nation’s most pressing problems. We have been treated to some pretty scary tricks during this election season. Violent solutions would be frightening to say the least.

We are better than this.

This election can’t be over soon enough. But even after it is over, I am scared that threats against our first woman President and total obstruction to her agenda will lead to an inability to work together and make our country worse.

I want my country back.

After publishing this post, I ran across this amazing song written by Sara Barreilles and Leslie Odom, Jr. for This American Life. Please watch and listen:

It’s about the guns

little boyThe last few days have been difficult and heart-breaking to say the least. In my home state of Minnesota of course, a black man was shot to death by a police officer after being stopped for allegedly having a broken tail light. Really? So much to say here that I can hardly say it all. The victim had a legal permit to carry a gun around. He announced that he had that permit. Why? He didn’t have to according to Minnesota law. But he was a black man with a gun. Perhaps he was afraid that if he was found with a gun on his person, things would get hairy for him. He was right.

Would he have been alive had he not had that permit to carry and announced that he did to the officer? We don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud.

Philando Castile was his name. He was a beloved cafeteria worker in a St. Paul Montessori School. A role model to children.

Now he is dead.

So many unanswered questions. We don’t know why he kept saying that he had this permit to carry, or so his girlfriend said he was saying.

The gun lobby has been working hard to arm every American just in case….. Castile must have thought his gun and his legal permit would protect him from harm. It didn’t.

Where is the gun lobby’s outrage over these shootings? Are they standing with the Black Lives Matters protest in St. Paul because a man with a legal permit to carry was shot to death by an officer? Nope.

We don’t know why the officer fired his gun when Philando allegedly moved his hand towards his pocket for his ID.

We just don’t know everything. People react to situations in many different ways.

We do know that when a gun is present, things often go wrong.

We do also know that more guns are not making us safer.

We understand that there is racism abounding in our American communities fomented by fear and paranoia of “others”. We do know that the gun lobby is making it worse.

We do know that one Presidential candidate in the name of Mr. Donald Trump has said that the Orlando tragic shooting could have been lessened or averted if only someone had been armed.

Ludicrous.

And then came Dallas last night. Armed officers were gunned down by a couple of citizens ( or that is what we know so far) who seemed to have been upset by the peaceful Black Lives Matters protest over the Minnesota and Louisiana shootings of black men.

Four guys with assault style weapons and high capacity magazines were like snipers gunning down officers on purpose- armed officers.

We know that it is easy to get assault rifles and high capacity magazines in America- far too easy. We have made it easy. We allowed the Assault Weapons Ban to expire. What has happened since? Numerous shootings of innocent school children, movie goers, military members, officers, LGBTQ citizens, and others. That’s what our lack of common sense has done.

And, as a reminder to my readers, most of these guns were legally obtained by otherwise “law abiding” gun owners.

Hypocrisy.

Good guys with guns are as bad as bad guys with guns.

The least we can do is to keep guns away from the “bad guys”. But what do we do about the good guys?

Only in America. It’s about the guns. It’s about a gun culture and a culture of fear and hatred that, when combined, leads to tragic shootings and senseless loss of lives. From this editorial in the Baltimore Sun:

We are in the deep end, my fellow Americans, drowning in anger and frustration, guns and violence. I don’t know about you, but when I woke up this morning and read the news from Dallas, I felt like the country had tipped toward anarchy.

The U.S. is an exceptional country, all right. Exceptional for its political, social and racial polarization. Exceptional in its acceptance of gun ownership.

You can feel despondent. You can feel hopeless.

I am despondent but not feeling hopeless. As someone who has lost a sister in a domestic shooting, I have been re-traumatized by these latest shootings. I watched the now viral video taken by the girlfriend of Philando Castile. I watched the blood ooze from his shirt. I heard his dying moans and breaths. What if there was a video of my sister’s last moans and breaths? What if?

What if this was your loved one as President Obama said in a speech given last night before the Dallas shooting. What if? What if our elected leaders were made to watch videos and see photos of the victims’ last dying breaths? What if this was one of theirs?

And who will protect the children as I asked in my last post? There was a 4 year old girl in the back seat of Philando Castile’s car who saw him shot and watched him die. How can we forget the children who witness such awful murder in their young lives?

What if Congress just straight up passed stronger gun laws without pandering to the corporate gun lobby as House Speaker Paul Ryan just did:

“We’re not going to rush it,” the Wisconsin Republican said at a news conference. “We’re going to get it right. And that’s what we’re working on with our members.”

No rush. Every day 90 Americans die from gunshot injuries.

No rush. 5 officers were just gunned down in Dallas.

No rush. 49 LGBTQ Americans were just gunned down at a nightclub in Orlando.

No rush, Speaker Ryan.

Shame.

Heartbreak.

Outrage.

Tears.

Sorrow.

Before the Dallas shootings but after the Minnesota shooting, the words of Protect Minnesota’s Executive Director Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, were sent out to supporters. She was urging us to look at the Philando Castile shooting from many perspectives. But in the end, it’s all about the guns. Here is the email sent out last night titled “Thoughts on the death of Philando Castile:

 July 7, 2016
Posted by Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, Executive Director

“Another terrible tragedy occurred last night, this time in our own backyard, when Philando Castile was shot dead by a police officer in Falcon Heights. Philando was a much loved 32-year-old cafeteria supervisor at a St. Paul Montessori school who was black. According to police reports, he was pulled over for a tail light violation and a handgun was “recovered at the scene.” According to his girlfriend, the officer shot Philando as he reached for his identification as per the officer’s request. Philando was armed, but had clearly announced that he had a permit to carry a handgun. His girlfriend, sitting next to him in the car with her young child in the backseat, streamed a video of Philando as he slumped over, bleeding, having been shot four times point blank. The video allows us to hear the officer yell at her and then handcuff and detain her, while she narrates, weeps and prays that Philando will survive. It is difficult to watch.

Because this awful incident involved gun violence, Protect Minnesota is expected to make a definitive statement and “take sides” on the issue. At this time, with so much still unknown, I am not prepared to do either. But I do have some thoughts to share. What follows isn’t short and pithy–I’m a pastor after all!– but I hope you’ll find it helpful.

1. On Racism
This was the second questionable shooting of a black man by police in the U.S. in as many days. According to the Washington Post, there have been 509 police killings in America so far this year, with African Americans being killed at a rate 2-1/2 times greater than whites. President Obama today said that African Americans are 30% more likely than whites to be pulled over and three times more likely to be searched by the police. Whatever other particulars arise, racism cannot be discounted as a key element of this tragedy. Often-hidden but always present, racism is like a strand of barbed wire woven into the fabric of our society. Its barbs catch, tear and hold back every institution, organization and individual as we strive to move forward towards justice. Since it would be naive to think that law enforcement does not reflect the racist attitudes that permeate our culture, this incident cries out for a full investigation by the Department of Justice. But nothing is black and white: according to Philando’s girlfriend in the video, the officer was Asian American. It’s safe to assume that he also experiences racial discrimination on a regular basis. At this time we cannot know how that factors into the equation.

2. On Police
There are approximately 1 million working police officers and law enforcement professionals in the United States, the vast majority of whom honorably serve and protect their communities. The risks they face have increased in recent years due to the ubiquity of firearms. More guns are being carried around in public now than at any time in our history, including during frontier times and the days of the “wild west”. Police officers now have to assume that anyone they detain may be carrying a gun and present a threat to their life. And the threat is real. According the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, shooting deaths of members of the U.S. law-enforcement community have increased significantly in recent years. For the first time in 2014, shootings comprised the leading cause of death for law enforcement personnel on the job, with ambush-style shooting attacks increasing the most. According to a 2010 press release issued by the San Mateo County, California, Sheriff’s Office,

“the law enforcement response is one of ‘hypervigilant urgency’… Should the gun carrying person fail to comply with a law enforcement instruction or move in a way that could be construed as threatening, the police are forced to respond in kind for their own protection. It’s well and good in hindsight to say the gun carrier was simply “exercising their rights” but the result could be deadly.”

That is a perfect description of what appears to have happened last night. Philando Castile was exercising his right to carry a firearm in Minnesota with a legal permit. He was totally within his rights and fully complying with both the law and the officer’s instructions when he was shot. The officer seems to have reacted with lethal “hypervigilant urgency” when he heard Philando announce that he had a permit to carry. Sadly, this is not unusual in the circumstance. According to gun violence expert David Hemenway in his book Private Guns, Public Health,

“Police officers, who receive large amounts of training, are still often inadequately prepared to handle ambiguous but potentially dangerous situations. Intense stress, confusion and fear are inherent in most possible shooting situations. Heart rates skyrocket, and it’s difficult to think clearly and to act deliberately. Not surprisingly, even police make serious mistakes.”

So even as we demand justice for the killing of Philando Castile, we can have compassion for the frightened officer who shot him.

3. On the NRA and the gun lobby.
In its continuing efforts to arm America in order to generate more profits for the gun industry, the gun lobby has done much to perpetuate two distructive myths that I believe may have played a role in Philando Castile’s tragic death.

Myth number 1: Gun violence is really just a “black on black” violence problem.
The NRA loves to quote statistics about how many black people kill other black people. Why? Because it feeds the fear that blacks are dangerous so we must carry guns to protect ourselves against them. In reality, according to FBI’s most recent statistics, 84% of white murder victims are killed by white people, compared to 90% of black murder victims who are killed by black people. Whites are six times more likely to be murdered by another white person as by a black person. And here’s the kicker: 82% of gun deaths in Minnesota are suicides, an overwhelmingly white phenomenon. Unfortunately, we never hear about the epidemic of “white on white” gun violence, but the “black on black” myth has been swallowed whole by the media. The image of the scary black man with a gun has become a psychological meme in white America–and the gun lobby seems to be fine with that. How do I know? Listen to their deafening silence in response to Philando’s shooting. A permit-holding, law abiding American who was exercising his 2nd Amendment right was shot point blank by a police officer for no other reason than stating that he had a permit to carry. Where is the NRA’s outrage? Have they joined the Black Lives Matter protesters outside the Governor’s mansion?

Myth number 2: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
We hear the NRA trumpet that after every terrible shooting. Well, this time it was a “good guy” with a gun who did the terrible shooting. If a licensed police officer who has completed many hours of firearms training and testing on justified and unjustified shootings could over-react to such deadly effect, how can we expect untrained “amateurs” to respond with measured self-control when faced with a real or imagined threat? This is the aspect of Philando Castile’s death that falls within the missional scope of Protect Minnesota. Our task is to counter the myth that more guns equal more safety. They don’t. More guns equal more gun tragedies. More gun crimes. More mass shootings. More domestic gun murders. More black on black gun violence. More white on white gun violence. More gun suicides. More unintentional gun deaths of children. And yes, more police shootings. The common denominator is the gun.

We at Protect Minnesota join President Obama, Governor Dayton and the larger gun violence prevention community in expressing our deepest condolences to the family of Philando Castile. We grieve at the senseless loss of a good man who was loved by the children at the school where he worked. We weep at the thought of the trauma that his girlfriend and her young child have experienced and will relive every time the video is played. Our prayers are with all people of color in our community who have been wounded by yet another apparently unjustified shooting of a black man by law enforcement. Our hearts are open as well for the dedicated and honorable police officers throughout our state and nation who will now face greater suspicion and increased risks.

There is no easy, definitive statement to make except this: In the wake of this tragedy, we will continue to do our job. We will counter the false claims of the gun lobby. We will build a statewide network of people and organizations who support sensible gun legislation. We will speak out against and work to prevent gun violence in Minnesota. I invite you to join us.”

The false claims of the gun lobby have us in this position. How do officers deal with armed citizens? Often they are outgunned by people on the streets. How do communities deal with more heavily armed young men in their communities? How do the young men in affected communities get their guns so easily and why do they feel like they need them? Why are officers so quick to stop people of color for minor traffic violations? Why are officers more afraid of black people with guns than white people with guns?

Governor Mark Dayton boldly said it like it is in his press conference yesterday:

“Would this have happened if … the driver and passenger were white?” he asked. “I don’t think it would’ve. So I’m forced to confront and I think all of us in Minnesota are forced to confront that this kind of racism exists.”

Today, President Obama said it like it is in his statement:

“Let me just say, even as yesterday I spoke about our need to be concerned, as all Americans, about racial discrimination in our criminal justice system. I also said our police have an extremely difficult job and the vast majority do their job in outstanding fashion,” he continued. “We also know when people are armed with powerful weapons, unfortunately it makes attacks like these more deadly and more tragic. And in the days ahead we are going to have to consider those realities as well.”

Realities. More guns are NOT making us safer. The gun lobby is dead wrong.

This is about racism. This is about intolerance. This is about fear. And this is, at the least, about guns.

 

UPDATE:

We now know that there was a single gunman in Dallas. He had served in the military. He had lots of guns. He claimed he wanted to shoot white people ( he was black). One lone man with extreme  and out of the mainstream ideas( and a loner according to neighbors) could do this much damage because he could buy an assault style rifle with many rounds of high capacity magazines. He knew what he was doing. He knew he could inflict a lot of damage on a lot of people. From the article above:

Micah Xavier Johnson didn’t have a criminal record and apparently acted alone in the carefully planned ambush during a march downtown, a law enforcement official, who was not authorized to comment publicly, told USA TODAY earlier Friday. Seven other officers and two civilians were also wounded.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Dallas police confirmed the identity of the gunman and said he was described as a loner by some who knew him. Detectives were in the process of analyzing the information in the journal, the statement said. (…)

Johnson’s Facebook account included the names Fahed Hassen and Richard GRIFFIN or Professor Griff, the Dallas Police Department said in the statement. GRIFFIN, who embraces a “radical form of Afrocentrism,” police said, also authored a book titled A Warrior’s Tapestry.

Extremism of any kind and guns and ammunition are a lethal mix. We have proof of that over and over again. But we are still waiting to act.

Why?

 

 

Peace and justice on Thanksgiving

Puzzle Pieces: Justice Concept.

As Thanksgiving approaches we should all pause and think about what is going on right now in our country. The Paris terror attacks have elevated the fear, anger and paranoia of Americans for good reason. But since the terror attack, some of the reactions have been amazingly uneducated and utterly frightening. I have been writing about this in my last few blog posts.

But now terror has hit Minnesota in the form of an attack by armed (alleged) white supremacists in Minneapolis against members of the Black Lives Matters protest over the shooting of a young black man by police last week.

This is a domestic terror attack- there is not another word for it. When so many people have been encouraged to arm themselves for perceived threats to their safety, this is inevitable. When so much hate, anger and fear is spewed on the air waves every day, what do we expect? More guns have definitely not made us safer or more polite. We have a violent and racist society.

Mike the Gun Guy has written about the Minneapolis shooting. It’s something to consider. From his post:

If you don’t think there’s a connection between the Black Lives Matter protestor who was beaten up at a Trump rally in Alabama and the attempted killing of peaceful demonstrators in Minneapolis, then you haven’t been paying attention to the news or the Trump campaign.  When you stand up in front of a cheering-jeering audience and call someone a ‘jerk’ or a ‘dope’ or a ‘crazy’ because they yell something during your speech, you’ve abandoned any degree of public civility and are now just pandering to the lowest and meanest folks in the crowd. (…)

But they don’t have to keep quiet if they can go to a rally headlined by Trump.  And they don’t have to keep quiet when they walk up to a demonstration held by Black Lives Matter because another Black man may have been gunned down by the cops.  After all, these guys have a Constitutional right to call someone a name and they also have a Constitutional right to walk around with a gun.  Put those two rights together and you know what you get?  You get three young Black men in the hospital with gunshot wounds and the cops, in a shooting which took place right outside a police station, still looking for the guys who pulled out the guns.

It happened right outside the police station.  Think about that.

Didn’t these armed thugs know that armed police officers were nearby? Of course they did. They didn’t care. Their hate, racism and anger fueled them and combined with guns, it didn’t go well. The suspects have all been arrested.

We don’t know yet what exactly happened in the case of the shooting of Jamar Clark in Minneapolis. Both sides have a story to tell and evidence to bring. An investigation will hopefully bring some justice and peace to citizens of the 4th precinct.

No matter what happened to Jamar Clark, one can understand mistrust of officers by people of color given the incidents that have happened over many years’ time. The tenuous relationship between people of color and law enforcement has been much in the news all over our country.

A Chicago officer just turned himself into police over the shooting of a black teen in October of 2014. It turns out that the officer shot the teen 16 times, many of the bullets shot after the teen was lying dead on the street.

These are difficult times for America. When there are so many guns on our streets and in our homes, the inevitable result is mistrust of others. Yes, black teens and young men are dying in greater numbers than their white counterparts. Yes, white men are dying more often than their counterparts of color in gun suicides. Toddlers and small children are “accidentally” shooting themselves and others at an alarming rate. Mass shootings occupy our media spaces on a regular basis. Yes, white radicalized home grown terrorists are shooting people of color. Stand Your Ground laws are unmistakably aimed at people of color and affect them at a greater rate than white people.  And yes, black young men are also shooting each other and innocent people in gang related shootings all over America. Police officers are being shot by others in various scenarios. And police officers are sometimes shooting  young men of color in sometimes justified shootings, sometimes not.

The issue of race and guns needs to be examined so we can understand the issues faced by our communities of color. It is not without controversy as nothing is with gun rights and gun violence prevention. The Trace has written about the history of race and gun rights. It’s worth the read for a better understanding of what is going on in our own country right now.

It’s impossible not to connect the dots from this article with the summer shooting of 9 Black people at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, South Carolina. It was an act of terror and it was an act of overt racism.

Home grown extremists are shooting Americans on a pretty regular basis.

We have a gun problem that is contributing to all of the above.

Minnesota has had a rough year for shootings. There have been many shootings in the communities of color. There have been horrific domestic shootings and the usual suicides which account for 80% of gun deaths in Minnesota. Just yesterday, a man in a domestic dispute was shot and killed by officers in a Minnesota suburb. Domestic cases are among the most dangerous for officers.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Getting a handle on our nation’s public health and safety gun violence epidemic won’t be easy. But we shouldn’t stop until we have the conversation we deserve about the causes and effects of devastating gun violence. Common sense and resolve have to lead the discussion.  Facts will be important but our sense of justice and common values should be at the forefront of the discussion and decision making.

You may have conversations around your Thanksgiving table with family and friends about the many controversial  topics surrounding us. There are terror attacks, Syrian refugees, what to do with old aunt Sally, how to deal with cousin Peter, what to do about Uncle Joe’s drinking, where to go shopping on Black Friday and other important and not so important topics. If shootings and gun violence come up there are some answers to some of your gun toting relatives in this article in The Trace. “Arming” yourself with the facts rather than arguing at an emotional level may make your Thanksgiving table conversation less confrontational.

This Thanksgiving is going to be very difficult for a lot of people who are missing a family member because of a deadly shooting. Please think of them while you are with your own family and friends. And stay safe this holiday season.

God help us all. We will need all the help we can get to deal with all of the tragedy and unrest surrounding us.

Guns for terrorists, lies and elections

pinocchioThis post has been edited since first posted to include new information.

It’s no surprise that we are in the middle of the 2016 Presidential election. Candidates are posturing about all issues before them but in light of the Paris terror attack, the rhetoric has become hysterical and downright deceptive. The lying is absolutely stunning to me and the fact that Americans are buying it is what I am truly afraid of. When Donald Trump can drum up the fear and anger of Americans to get elected, we have a serious problem that we should all fear. How can we believe someone who claims that there were people in New Jersey who cheered when the Twin Towers collapsed? This claim received a “pants on fire” rating from Politifact. 

When we elect a President, among other things, truthfulness should be at the top of the list. This person will be the leader of the free world that is now more dangerous and complicated than ever.

One area of discussion that most of the Republican candidates don’t want to have is the ability of terrorists to be able to legally buy guns in America from licensed firearms dealers. An article from Media Matters sums it up nicely: 

NRA: Rep. King “Is Pushing A Scheme To Deny Your Second Amendment Rights” With Terror Watch List Legislation. The NRA’s online magazine America’s 1st Freedom misidentified Rep. King as a Democrat in an article opposing the legislation, writing, “Amid the horror and outrage over last week’s Paris terrorist attacks, on the pretext of stopping terrorism, New York Democrat Congressman Pete King is pushing a scheme to deny your Second Amendment rights — and deny your right to due process in the bargain — by banning firearm sales to anyone on the FBI’s so-called Terrorist Watch List.” [America’s 1st Freedom, 11/20/15]

Anyone can get a gun through a private sale with no Brady background check. So the argument that terrorists will just get their guns somewhere else is true but ludicrous. We can prevent that as well as most Americans understand and want us to do.

And let’s get this straight. Republican Congressman Peter King is pushing for a bill that would keep terrorists from having guns. He’s not a Democrat. Are the people who write this stuff ignorant or clever?

Why in the world would the gun lobby oppose a bill like this? It would not deny law abiding citizens’ right to bear arms or due process. And yes, there are problems with the list:

So, clearly, the watchlist itself needs improvement and that ought to come first. But nonetheless, there surely are many thousands of people who are legitimately on the list. And those who are should surely be barred from legally obtaining firearms.

But as usual, the National Rifle Association has stood in the way of legislation that is designed to prohibit terrorists from purchasing firearms legally, and that obstructionism goes back to 2007.

Naturally, one the NRA’s arguments is that terrorists will just acquire firearms illegally, so such a law would only hurt “law-abiding citizens.” The gun lobby also trots out its standard rap about this kind of legislation being “sponsored by gun-control extremists.”

We just don’t need those kinds of false statements. It’s all hands on deck right now. Let’s fix the problem in a bill that will prevent those who are actual terrorists from being able to buy guns. If we truly care about the safety of America, we will get to work post haste and get this done. We can’t wait for the politicians who are clueless, deceiving us or so in bed with the corporate gun lobby that they are afraid, to get on board. The time is now to act.

The New York Daily News has been on the attack against the NRA’s opposition to closing the terror gap and now going after their fearless leader, Wayne LaPierre in this latest publication. So where is Mr. LaPierre? Where is a statement from the NRA about a bill that could save Americans from a terror attack? From the article:

At issue is the NRA using their overwhelming influence with lawmakers to block a law that would ban anyone on the terrorist watch list from purchasing a gun.

The bill, known as the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act, was proposed in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris that left 129 people in Paris dead and hundreds more injured. Gun control advocates say that a legal loophole allows suspects on the terrorist watch list to purchase guns while the same list prevents them from flying on U.S. airlines.

The bill was originally proposed in 2007, but has been blocked by conservative lawmakers who are heavily backed by the NRA.

According GOP House member and bill co-sponsor Rep. Peter King of Long Island, the NRA is opposed to any bills that might stop anyone from purchasing a gun.

“Anything which they feel restricts the use or the ability to retain a gun they’re opposed to,” King said.

The Daily News doubled down on their attacks on the NRA for their intransigence on sensible gun legislation, with a lead story Monday morning that began: “Under the gun, with its leader nowhere to be found, the NRA faced a fusillade of new criticism Sunday for prioritizing gun rights over prevention of a Paris-style massacre in the U.S.”

I found this response by the NRA-ILA to the discussion about the terror gap:

Regardless of whether the transaction is given the green light to proceed or is denied, the encounter is noted at the time and its import is assessed in the same manner as all newly discovered pieces of intelligence about the subject of the investigation. … What the attempt to buy a firearm means in a counterterrorism investigation, and as a result the subsequent actions it warrants, necessarily must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Of course, just because and individual is allowed to purchase a legal item doesn’t mean that person is thereafter beyond the reach of law enforcement. If authorities knew, for example, that a person were buying fertilizer to make a bomb, they obviously wouldn’t sit on their hands simply because the fertilizer purchase was legal.

The same would obviously be true of the otherwise-lawful purchase of a firearm by a person who officials had evidence intended to use it to commit a terrorist act. In this regard, current law, coupled with the FBI’s procedure, could actually produce useful and actionable anti-terrorism intelligence.

On the other hand, prohibiting every purchase by a watchlisted individual gives real terrorists under investigation or surveillance an easy way to determine whether their acts have drawn the government’s suspicion. All they would have to do is go to a gun shop and attempt to buy a gun. If they were denied and knew they had no other basis of denial, they would know the denial was watchlist related.

What? So we shouldn’t try to stop them at the point of sale because our system will get around to investigating who they are later? Really? And within hours, we could have a terror attack. And if a terrorist were denied a gun sale at a licensed dealer, he/she would know the denial was watchlist related? And so?…. What then? The terrorist would be stopped and would have to find another way to get a gun which is, as we know,  far too easy in our country. That is also why we need to require a Brady background check on ALL gun sales.

If we stop terrorists at the point of sale, just perhaps a terror attack would be averted, at least for a time. Meanwhile, the FBI would know for sure that that person was attempting to buy a gun. If someone on the Terror Watch List buys a gun, it just can’t be for sport. This kind of faulty reasoning by the gun lobby is ludicrous and potentially dangerous for us all.

It’s not time to be making things up about guns and terrorism in the silly season known as election time in America. Donald Trump appears willing to say just about anything to pander and ramp up the fear and hysteria. One of his latest deceptions is that black Americans commit the most murders in America. From the article:

The statistics, purported to be gathered by a Crime Statistics Bureau in San Francisco this year, appear to be fabricated. The Crime Statistics Bureau cited in Trump’s tweet does not exist. The FBI, which does gather official crime statistics for the U.S., has not yet released them for this year.

Last year’s FBI statistics show that the numbers in Trump’s tweet are incorrect and appear to be aimed at perpetuating racist myths about black people and crime.

In 2014, about 82 percent of murders involving white victims were committed by other white people, while only 14 percent were committed by black people, according to the FBI.

Among murders involving black victims, just under 90 percent were committed by other black people, while 7 percent were committed by white people.

Crime experts have concluded that homicides are most likely to occur among people of the same race because people are usually murdered by someone they already know, and most people primarily know people of their own race.

What we absolutely don’t need is Trump’s hyperbole and fabrications because it gives excuses for Americans to feel terror and fear that is unwarranted considering the facts. The rhetoric is leading to armed Americans “patrolling” the streets because of fear of “the other”. In Texas armed open carriers appeared outside of a Mosque making dangerous claims:

“We tried to talk to the mosque before we did this, but they wouldn’t return our messages,” said David Wright, dressed in black all the way from his backwards baseball cap to the barrel of his tactical shotgun. “So here we are.”

Wright said he organized the rally in the wake of an Islamic terrorist group’s massacre of Parisian civilians this month. Like millions of Americans, he wants to block Syrian refugees from U.S. shores, lest they replicate the attack here.

But like a fraction of those millions, he was convinced that Irving’s mosque had established the country’s first Islamic court earlier in the year—a false rumor that started online but grew in popularity after Mayor Beth Van Duyne made it the focus of speeches to Tea Party groups.

“They shut the illegal court down,” Wright said, incorrectly. “And then, they threatened to kill the mayor.”

Thus, the guns. A protester with a bandana over his face showed off his AR-15 to traffic. A 20-year-old who wants to join the Army and ban Islam in the United States carried a Remington hunting rifle while his mother held the sign.

“They’re mostly for self-defense or protection,” Wright said, eyeing his 12-gauge. “But I’m not going to lie. We do want to show force. … It would be ridiculous to protest Islam without defending ourselves.” (…)

“My initial impression was they were using them for intimidation,” Palmer said. “I doubt that they’d be happy if some of the Muslim churchgoers here showed up at their Christian church, their Baptist church, their Methodist church tomorrow morning with rifles slung over their shoulders.”

Palmer said the police chief personally warned mosque leaders about the rally. They in turn urged their worshippers to steer clear of the group, which calls itself the Bureau of American Islamic Relations and had recycled some of the signs it took to a Richardson mosque last month, on a national day of protest against Islam.

The worshippers largely took that advice, ignoring the protest until it broke up after a couple hours. The Muslims in the tiny audience declined to share their opinion — instead offering praise for freedom of speech and variations on “no comment.”

But back on the sidewalk, a man who wore a name tag that read “Big Daddy Infidel” and was afraid to give his full name worried about the day he would be forced to use his hunting rifle to take a human life.

It’s just a matter of time before some of these folks, armed to the teeth, will act on their fear and cause our very own terrorist incident. And that is exactly what Daesh would love to have happen. I wonder if that is what Trump and other candidates would love to have happen? Because if they don’t stop their own dangerous and false claims, they will be igniting a group of Americans who are ready to fight on the streets against their own and/or against those they fear will hurt them.

This is why we have a military and National Guard. We don’t need untrained and uneducated heavily armed people patrolling our streets with their military style assault weapons ready to go to war.

These are complicated and dangerous times. We need common sense and the facts. Potential and actual insurrectionists with guns are dangerous and have no common sense. We have our own home grown terrorists and mass shootings that need our attention. For example, 16 people were just shot and injured in a New Orleans neighborhood. From the article:

A manhunt was underway across New Orleans on Monday after 16 people were shot during a gunfight at an impromptu music video recording at in a city park, authorities said.

The victims were all in stable condition.

The shooting broke out late Sunday at Bunny Friend Park in the Upper Ninth Ward where about 500 people were gathered for the video shoot, officials said.

“At the end of the day it’s really hard to police against a bunch of guys who decide to pull out guns and settle disputes with 300 people between them,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said at a news conference.

Why isn’t this a terror attack? Where is the outcry over this mass shooting?  No one died, thank goodness. But does the scene look familiar? Two or more gunmen opened fire at a crowd of people. Chaos and panic.

Sigh.

Also in New Orleans a Tulane University medical student was shot by a robber when the student attempted to help the woman being robbed of her purse. Yes, it’s scary being on the streets of America. What the gun lobby wants us to do is arm ourselves as if this student could have stopped the robbery had he pulled out his own gun. It would have been another gunfight on the streets with potential collateral damage.

Since I posted this, I came across this article about the New Orleans shooting:

Landrieu said the shooting that erupted in a crowd of nearly 500 people is akin to terrorism.

“Dead is dead, whether it’s national terrorism or domestic terrorism,” he said.

“This is senseless. We will never stand for it,” NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said.

The answer is not more guns on the streets. It’s fewer guns on the streets carried by those who shouldn’t have them. We are ignoring what is before our very eyes every day.

Where are our priorities?  There is a lot of work to get done. Let’s get together and make it happen.

UPDATE:

Vox has done some research on the topic of discussion- terrorism. They found what I have been saying and many have been writing about. The chances of a Syrian refugee committing an act of terror against America are far far slimmer than an American radicalized citizen shooting up a bunch of innocent people. And many of these are labeled right wing extremists- they are radicalized by religion and ideology. Let’s look at what Vox wrote about:

Domestic terrorism kills a small number of Americans each year; far more die from gun violence annually. But what gets lost in the national conversation on domestic terrorism is that terrorist acts are largely perpetrated by American citizens already living inside America’s borders. Radicalization — whether it’s jihadist extremism or right-wing extremism — more often than not starts at home in the US rather than entering the country from abroad.

When will we admit to the facts? The safety of Americans depends on our getting this right.