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.

Gunned down Americans- Rest in Peace

RIPIn what country are we living again? Historically we have understood that there are countries where awful violence affects the citizens and the rest of the world watches in horror. I would suggest that in the last week in America, the rest of the world has watched in horror as a disgruntled employee gunned down 2 journalists because….? Actually other nation’s citizens have been watching our gun violence in horror for years now but last week was particularly horrific.

We know more about the shooter of the journalists now and understand that he was an angry man and potentially violent. He had to be physically removed from the TV station after throwing things and making threats against other employees. 

As a result of that shooting, there has been a focus on the issue of gun violence prevention because Alison Parker’s father has chosen to use his grief to call attention to our nation’s lax gun laws and has proclaimed that he will work hard to make change happen. I wish him all the luck with that and we are all expecting to work with him. Many other family members of shooting victims have come forward over the years to work on the issue. This beautiful piece, written by the mother of a Sandy Hook school shooting victim, encourages Parker to get involved and offers hope:

Please use your emotions, your love for your daughter and the pain caused by the gaping hole in your life, and focus them into this issue. Once you’ve been touched by violence, saving the lives of others is the only way forward. Whether you choose to fight for policy and political change, or whether you decide to get ahead of the violence and prevent it before it happens (as I chose), always know you are never alone.

We are on a long, difficult road together, but with my son, your daughter and hundreds of thousands of others across the states, we will get there. I promise.

When will our leaders make this promise in the name of the victims and survivors? Unfortunately for them and for the country, not much happens as a result because of our entrenched gun culture and refusal of the corporate gun lobby to actually work to stop the shootings. Our leaders put their fingers to the wind and believe ( erroneously) that if they challenge the gun lobby, they can’t get re-elected.

I would also offer that if we had stronger gun laws and screening of potential gun purchasers and gun carriers more carefully as is done in a lot of other countries, the shooter of the 2 young journalists would likely not have been considered as someone who could legally buy a gun. And in a system where all sales require background checks or personal information as in other countries, there would be few avenues for him to purchase a gun. So angry people do kill people by other means but not anywhere close to the killings by firearms ( in America).

And we thought this shooting of 2 young journalist on live TV and recorded by the shooter was horrific. It was. And then yesterday, another execution occurred. A Texas state trooper was gunned down execution style while he stopped for gas at a convenience store. The details of this are almost too awful to contemplate. From the article:

A man shot a uniformed sheriff’s deputy “execution-style” while he fueled his patrol car in the Houston area, killing him instantly, authorities said.

Deputy Darren H. Goforth, 47, was returning to his car after pumping gas Friday night.

The gunman walked up from behind him and opened fire for no apparent reason, Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman said.

When Goforth fell to the ground, the gunman stood over him and shot him some more, authorities said. He died at the scene.

“He was literally gunned down in what appears to be an unprovoked, execution-style killing,” Hickman said. “I have been in law enforcement for 45 years, I have never seen anything this cold-blooded.”

Well, dear readers. This is the America we now have in no small part because of our twisted and paranoid gun culture. The corporate gun lobby is promoting guns for everyone everywhere and that is what we have.

(I am editing this post to include details about the shooter of the Texas law enforcement officer. He has been caught.):

Sheriff Ron Hickman released few details about the suspect Saturday in a press conference. Miles has a list of prior convictions including resisting arrest, trespassing and disorderly conduct with a fire arm, he said.

He was able to get a gun, of course. And now an innocent law enforcement was gunned down and his family will grieve for him forever. Senseless.

So now what? Is this how it’s going to be? Domestic shootings happen between people who know each other and one ( usually a male) decides to take out his anger by killing a spouse/partner and whoever else happens to be in the way. Suicides happen quietly but sometimes are also the motivation of mass shooters who were likely suicidal in the first place but had to shoot others first for some inexplicable reason. It happens quite often that way. The shooter kills himself after shooting all the others. Too hard to face what he/they did or knowing how awful it was to shoot other human beings, why live with those images in your head? And we do have a problem with young people in our large cities who may or may not be members of local gangs but who shoot each other over slights or arguments about territory or whatever. Easy access to guns adds to this urban violence problem. Also often enough, innocent people get caught in the cross fire and are killed by stray bullets. It happens often enough to alarm us. We are gunning each other down in America.

Are we alarmed? Do we care that we now have execution style shootings going on in our communities? Hyped up fears and mistrust of law enforcement officers  (and government) have caused other attacks in public places, here ,and here. There are others where these come from. And then the opposite happens. Officers themselves shoot and kill ( often) people of color over things that should not result in a shooting death. We have the recent shootings of Michael Brown, Walter Scott and Tamir Rice  to name just a few. We are gunning each other down in America.

Anti government sentiment, whipped up by extremists and the gun lobby, also result in horrific shootings. Take the shooting in Las Vegas in 2014 for just one example but there are many others. The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps track of potentially dangerous extremists groups who represent racist, white supremacist, anti government sentiments. These folks are armed and can do a lot of damage.And shootings also have killed some of our military members serving on US soil, also this summer, in the Chattanooga shooting. Expect to see more of these shootings like the one in the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston this summer. The hate and racism exhibited by the shooter there seems to have been some sort of catalyst for the shooter of the Virginia journalist or so he claimed.

It just may be true that one mass shooting contributes to another, and to another and the cycle continues until we decide we’ve had enough like Australia did after a horrific 1996 mass shooting there. For now, though, we are gunning each other down.

Officers fear for their lives every day because there are so many citizens with guns that they, themselves, get caught in situations where they believe they are defending themselves. When carrying a gun, officer or citizen) it’s there to use and sometimes judgment is impaired or race plays a role or fear. Some citizens apparently fear for their lives every day as well and sometimes kill others over something that shouldn’t result in a death. And with new Stand Your Ground Laws, people like George Zimmerman can do this and not be accountable for the death of an unarmed young black man.

The result is that the violence is increasing. The Gun Violence Archive is keeping track. There have been over 33,569 shooting incidents so far in 2015. It’s only August. So far this year there have been 247 mass shooting (4 or more shot and injured or killed) incidents in America. We have 4 months left in the year. What will happen next? We keep thinking we have seen the worst. When 20 first graders are gunned down by a young man who never should have had access to guns and we do nothing, we can expect to see more. When people are gunned down in movie theaters, churches, malls, schools and everywhere we go for no apparent reason, we are officially a country that has lost it’s moral compass in efforts to appease a group of armed Americans so fearful of losing something they value that they will allow just about any kind of carnage to keep their way of life. But there appears to be disregard for the valuable lives lost because of our love affair with guns.That love affair with guns has resulted in what we are now seeing in our media and on the streets of our communities.

There are ways to change what we are doing to keep guns away from volatile, angry people who don’t necessarily find themselves on the prohibited purchaser list for gun purchases at a licensed dealer. And, of course, we can require that every gun sale go through a Brady background check no matter where a gun is purchased.

But we aren’t doing these things.

A new report/study by Criminologist Adam Lankford points to our American gun culture as exceptional compared to other countries and provides some interesting ideas about why these kinds of shootings happen mostly in America. He was interviewed for this article:

“For decades, people have wondered if the dark side of American exceptionalism is a cultural propensity for violence,” he wrote, “and in recent years, perhaps no form of violence is seen as more uniquely American than public mass shootings.”

Lankford, author of “The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers,” looked at the situation globally, and considered a wide range of relative factors — the state of mental health coverage, the availability of guns, the valorization of fame, and other cultural differences. (…)

What the data clearly show is a strong relationship between firearm ownership rates – what is the percentage of firearms owned by civilians in a country – and the number of public mass shooters. That’s what I found in my study of 171 countries – that relationship was very strong. And it was even strong when you removed the United States from the analysis – it explains the variations in other countries as well. So that seems to be one of the critical factors, and the United States has five times the number of mass shootings than any other country – five times the second-ranked country – from 1966 to 2012 – and we have the world’s leading firearm ownership rate among civilians. (…)

There is nearly one handgun for every person in America – far higher than the ratio in ever other country in the world. How consequential is that?

Very consequential. It effects both who can get a gun to carry out an attack, and how many guns someone who’s decided to carry out an attack can get, which directly, in turn, effects the number of people they kill. One of the findings of my study is that attackers who use multiple guns kill significantly more victims. That was a global finding. (…)

It would be a great day for America if people struggling with mental health problems and had some motive to carry out an attack decided to take a different path because they couldn’t find the firearms they wanted.

That would be a great day, indeed. Let’s get to work to make that happen because we just have to be better than this. We can’t let the world look at us as people who gun down other Americans in public places because they hold a grudge in the workplace, are angry over a separation, are angry in general, or have mental illness that could lead to thoughts of homicide.

Yes. We are gunned down America.

In spite of all of this, gun violence prevention advocates are not going away. We will continue to discuss gun violence and solutions to the problem in the midst of yet another shooting even though the gun lobby doesn’t want us to “dance in the blood of the victims.” If we waited until we had no shooting tragedies, we would wait a very long time and that is exactly what the gun rights advocates want. Mass shootings, execution style shootings, keeping track of shooting incidents, writing about the carnage, witnessing a shooting live on TV, hearing about a neighbor killed by a  souse or partner- they won’t go away no matter what the gun lobby thinks. Ignoring it would be a total abrogation of our responsibilities to make sure our families and children are safe. And it would be a moral lapse of huge proportions.

No, we will not back down in the face of the fierce resistance of an armed minority of Americans. The public is with us. We will continue. Andy Parker’s voice will be heard and added to the many others like him working for reform.  The voices of other high profile shooting victims ‘ families will be heard. Those of us who have lost someone in a domestic shooting will continue to force the conversation to happen. We will be heard. But in the meantime, we are killing each other every day.

Where is common sense?

Rest in Peace America.