White People and Guns

While there is always a lot of conversation about violence in black communities, a sad fact that is caused by a myriad of reasons, the vitriol is noticeably less when it comes to white men and guns.

To be honest, as this administration increases the surveillance on immigrants in this country, I have shuddered and thought out loud that the last thing we need is more white men with guns and charged with the power to “get rid of the bad guys.”

With the recent and tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead, the president is pushing his opinion that schools need teachers to be armed, acting out his belief that “the only way to stop bad guys with guns is to have good guys with guns.”

While the prospect of teachers having guns in schools is frightening in and of itself, the fact that more civilians might very well be deputized and therefore authorized to use guns is cause for grave concern.

During slavery, ordinary men – white men – were deputized and given the authority to catch runaway slaves. They were often assisted in their violence against African Americans by law enforcement officers.

White bus drivers in the South were deputized to keep order on their buses; they meted out violence against black people who dared challenge them when they were being unfair or disrespectful to their black passengers.

In her book At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance – a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, author Danielle McGuire writes that bus drivers were granted police powers and that they used their power to enforce segregation “with an iron fist.”

Many, she wrote, kept blackjacks and pistols under their seats and used those weapons when their authority is challenged. Writes McGuire: “The complaint records of the Birmingham buses are riddled with reports of drivers beating, shooting, and even killing black passengers.

One of the major reasons for the Black Lives Matter Movement is the brutality meted against black people by white men, some police officers and some not, with guns. Michael Dunn, who murdered Jordan Davis because he didn’t like the 17-year-old’s loud “thug” music and George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin …were white men with guns who felt like they had the right to shoot their victims.

It is worth noting that the young people who organized the BLM movement have not been violent but have gotten accused of being violent; their fight for justice has been obscured by the cries of “violence,” while these white teens – who are to be applauded – are just being referred to as activists. That double standard way of looking at the actions of black and white young people who are basically doing the same thing – fighting for justice and for their concerns to be heard- is part of why giving white people, specifically white men – more excuses to use guns against black people.

Someone will say that the mass shootings have been committed by white youth in white schools and that any armed teacher will be acting in response to a school shooter. But as happens in this country all of the time, the most often shot will be black students by white teachers who are afraid of them.

Our history is riddled with reports of white people – primarily white men – with guns feeling like they were authorized to attack and kill black people. In the South during the 60s and before, white men felt free to shoot and kill black men for even looking at white women, or for being accused of any number of crimes. No crime had actually to have been committed; the accusation was enough for these men to wield violent power against a black person. These “deputized” civilians were seldom arrested for their actions, and if they perchance did have a trial, they were most often tried by all-white, primarily all-male juries – who refused to convict them.

This is our history.

The underlying feeling of far too many white people that black people are bad and are therefore deserving of any violence they suffer from white people has not gone away; America’s racism is a virulent poison that infects everyone it touches, and black people are by far and away the targets of gun violence from white men.

Black women, long before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, suffered horribly on buses at the hands of white men with guns, using them to force black women to acquiesce to being raped and left for dead. Again, even though in many of these cases the assailant or assailants were known, they were seldom arrested, let alone convicted of a crime.

Watching the images of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents rounding up and arresting immigrants, some of whom are illegal and others not, drives home the point that this country does not need another reason to give white men guns with the power to make decisions on who is good and who isn’t, who gets to live and who doesn’t.

In the case of arming teachers, it is almost certain to be the case that the teachers who agree to carry arms will end up disproportionately shooting children and students of color and these children will have no recourse, no defense and not enough money to get a good attorney to keep them out of jail – if they, in fact, survive being shot.

It will be too easy for teachers to say “I was in fear for my life” as the reason a black child is killed, while little white children are given the benefit of the doubt.

Too many white people have been taught that they are better than black people, that they have superior morals and ethics, and that black people are inherently bad. Those core beliefs have been behind the violence – and the acceptance of that violence – that has resulted in the death, injury and/or incarceration of too many black people.

Armed teachers will just be another deputized group who will help keep America’s violence against people of color alive and well. This idea of the current administration is not a good one …and it is doubtful that it will stop mass killings.

It will just give more white people a legitimate excuse to use a gun against members of a race whom they do not understand and do not want around.

A candid observation.

How Do We Make People Care?

This week in Columbus, Ohio, police shot and killed a 13-year old boy. Tyre King was apparently involved in an armed robbery; the amount stolen is said to have been $10, but that has not been confirmed. Young Tyre had a BB gun that looks remarkably real, even having a laser light on it that real guns have. Police apparently saw the gun and fired; only after Tyre lay dead did they realize the gun was not real. (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/tyre-king-13-fatally-shot-police-columbus-ohio-n648671)

Columbus authorities responded immediately, the mayor, police chief and public safety director holding a press conference the next day, and the day after that, meeting with faith leaders and finally showing up at a community forum at a local church. (http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/09/17/community-city-officials-talk-about-death-of-tyre-king.html). The pain of the community was and is palpable. The cry is, “enough!”

What was striking to me in everything that happened was the attempt of the police chief to make sure people in the community knew that this child was “an armed suspect,” though the gun was not real. In her press conference, Police Chief Kim Jacobs went to great pains to describe the gun, showing a large picture of what the gun looked like and only after all of that, say the child’s name and remind people that the gun was not real.

But the damage was done.

What Chief Jacobs appeared to be doing was protecting her police officer and trying to quell any violence borne of frustration that might erupt on Columbus streets, the kind of frustration that we have seen in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore. No city wants that experience on its hands. Columbus has spent a lot of money in revitalizing and the last thing people want is some angry group of people setting fires and fighting police.

I get it. And I don’t want the violence, either.

But it hurt to the core to hear this woman dehumanize and criminalize young King in that press conference. For those who believe police can do no wrong, Jacobs’ presentation made them rest in their assurance that what happened to King was his own fault.  As she talked, the chief kept talking about there being an investigation and said that the case would go to the grand jury …but her entire presentation showed a lack of sensitivity to what the pain of the black community is all about.

We don’t trust police investigations; we know, or feel, that the laws in place protect police at all costs, so that even when we, the community, feel like a video shows compelling evidence of police wrongdoing, the officer more likely than not gets off. We don’t trust the grand jury and we don’t trust the prosecutor. We feel like it is open season on black people, male and female, and that this nation doesn’t care about our feeling that at all.

As Jacobs spoke, I kept remembering how, when Michael Brown was shot, the police kept that young man lying on the hot pavement in his neighborhood, dead, while they compiled a report about who he was and what he had done. Before his body was moved, they had criminalized him and left the way clear for Officer Darren Wilson to be cleared of wrongdoing.

Jacobs was seemingly doing the same thing: criminalizing this little boy ( because that’s what he was) so that the officer would not be demonized.

The mayor, the public safety director and the police chief kept talking about there needing to be “transparency,” but even as I write this, nobody knows what really happened. The police in Columbus do not wear body cameras, and everyone knows that in a case where a civilian’s word is pitted against the word of a police officer, the civilian usually loses.

And so Columbus, a city that the mayor said is “the safest city in the world,” is reeling with pain and frustration and anger. There is no sensitivity to the pain. In this, an open carry state, King is the second person to be killed carrying a BB gun. John Crawford was shot and killed by police in a Walmart in 2014. Crawford was carrying the gun in the store and someone called police and said he was waving it around. Police arrived immediately and say they told him to drop the gun, but began shooting even as Crawford said it was a toy. Crawford was killed.

Then there was Tamir Rice who was 12 years old when he was shot and killed by Cleveland police officer. Timothy Loehmann. Rice also had a BB gun. Someone called and said a kid had a gun that he was waving around, but apparently also said that it was probably a toy. Police responded to the call and within three seconds of driving up on Tamir, probably scaring him to death. police shot him. He died later in a local hospital. The officer said he had no choice.

Neither Crawford or Rice were criminals. They were young black men with toy guns – which is legal. They were not bothering anyone. And yet, the judgements against them could be heard loud and clear; their actions, the sentiment seemed to say, caused them to die.

There is much we do not know about what happened to young King. What we do know is that he was a kid. A 13-year old boy. Probably a know-it-all, like adolescents and teens tend to be. His parents may have bought him that toy gun, but may not have; he may have gotten it off the street or from a friend. He had probably seen “the big boys” carry real guns and imitated them. We live in a gun culture, a violent gun culture where “defending yourself” is a standard-bearer. He was probably trying to fit in with his peers. Kid stuff. Things that kids do in seeking love, affirmation and a sense of belonging. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people …but he was a kid. A normal kid in a society which does not allow black kids to be normal like white kids are allowed.

This kid, this little boy, is dead. I cannot wrap my head around it. I see in my mind’s eye his little body lying lifeless in an alley, and I hear the cries of his family and loved ones, weeping with a pain that is too deep to even describe.

Many who believe police are right all of the time don’t get it. While police lives are important, so are the lives of the victims of police. Someone said King shouldn’t have run when police showed up. True. But everyone who has ever been a kid and has been involved in something wrong has run when “the grown folks” have shown up.

It’s what kids do.

How do we make people care? How do we get white people, those who are so ready to demonize black people, care about black people on a human level, relating to the things that humans do when they do not feel loved, supported, affirmed and/or needed? I’ll bet this kid was trying to fit in, trying to have friends, trying in his 13-year-old way to find meaning in his life. He may have been getting ready to go down a path of crime, or he may have been involved in one stupid episode…that cost him his life.

There are a lot of things to think about in this case, but I am hoping that authorities will look at this boy as just that … a boy who did something dumb and not as someone who deserved to die.

He didn’t.

A candid observation ….

Mass Murders and White Men

 

 

Seal of the City of Aurora, Colorado
Seal of the City of Aurora, Colorado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

In the aftermath of the horrible shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I find myself asking what it is that compels people to want to commit mass murder.

 

And…I wonder why so many of these mass murders are done by white men.

 

I know people don’t like to talk about race, and I know it’s easier to talk about black on black crime.  While black on black crime raises hardly more than a whimper or cause for concern, when a black kills someone white, there is a fair amount of outrage.

 

But this mass murder thing: why is it that white men seem to be the primary perpetrators in crimes like these? Why is there still a sense of shock when it happens? How come there aren’t some studies being done to find out why this happens? Black on black crime has been said by some to be caused by the deep levels of self-hatred African-Americans have. Black on white crime is said to be caused by long-held anger on the part of blacks. White on black crime is credited to racism in many cases…but mass murder, perpetrated by white men on crowds of people, most of the time predominantly white, has no reason given, or at least I haven’t heard the reason. Have I missed something?

 

The latest alleged murderer, James Holmes, has murdered at least 12 people as of this writing, including a three-month old baby. He came into a crowded theater, released tear gas, and then opened fire. He apparently carried an arsenal of weapons, and he told police he had wired his apartment to explode. He came dressed all in black, and he apparently shot with abandon, aiming at nobody, yet aiming at everyone. This young man, 24, is, or was, a PhD candidate. I would assume he came from a fairly nice family, as “nice” is defined. So, what happened?

 

I think about the young me, Klebold, who shot and killed and wounded students at Columbine High School; the young men, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who blew up the Murrah State Office building in Oklahoma City, the young man, , T.J. Lane,  who is accused of shooting students at Chardon High School in Ohio earlier this year; and of course, there was the horrific shooting in Colorado where Jared Loughner shot Representative Gabby Giffords and 18 other people in 2011…all white men, and I don’t get it. Why does this keep happening, again and again?

 

Could it be that white men harbor some degree of self-hatred too? Or is it they carry a lot of anger about …well, about what?  If white men are angry, and especially so angry that they feel compelled to shoot whomever is in their way, why are they that angry?

 

Isn’t it a topic or subject or situation that somebody ought to at least look into?

 

My heart is so heavy for the people who were shot in Colorado. All they were doing was watching a movie, and now, some are dead, some are wounded, and all who survived or who will survive are forever changed. It seems like a fair amount of Americans are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, all due to domestic violence, and much of due to these mass killings.

 

It just seems that the tendency of white men to express their anger and rage through mass murder ought to be a subject for study. It’s proper to be horrified when these atrocities happen, but horror isn’t worth a dime if it cannot and does not lead to serious study so that the problem can be alleviated or reduced.

 

There are just way too many mass murders in America, too many white men who punish a slew of people for something they are upset about. It’s time for it to stop. Past time, actually.

 

A candid observation …

 

 

 

 

 

Right to Bear Arms vs Mental Illness

Rethink Mental Illness
Image via Wikipedia

America doesn’t feel so safe anymore.

The school shooting in Chardon, Ohio, has left three teens dead and their families devastated. The alleged killer has forever altered his life and the lives of those whom he killed and injured, and countless others. Sending one’s child to school used to feel like a safe thing to do. Not anymore.

Frank Ochberg, in an article on CNN’s web page entitled Why Does America Lead the World in School Shootings,” concludes that there are a number of factors leading to primarily boys going into schools with guns, including bullying and revenge, mental illness, violent role models, drugs and access to guns. (see http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/28/why-does-america-lead-the-world-in-school-shootings/?hpt=hp_c1) But Ochberg says that such problems exist in other countries as well. Why is America leading the pack, and why doesn’t it feel safe anymore, not like it used to?

I remember growing up in Detroit, I had no fear. Particularly annoying would be guys talking with their friends in the middle of a side street; one friend would be in his car and the other friend would be hanging onto the open window of the driver’s side. The two would be chatting as if nobody else in the world existed. You could honk your horn and, though the two buddies wouldn’t move immediately, you didn’t have to worry that they would pull out a gun and blow your brains out.

That’s not the case anymore. There seems to be unrestrained, wild anger amongst people, anger which people either cannot or do not want to contain. Rather than deal with their anger, more and more people reach for a gun.

It’s troubling that that seems to be the modus operandi in general, but the fact that kids have so much anger and despair that even they resort to gun violence makes a tenuous situation even more frightening. A child (and yes, a 17-year-old is a child) presumably doesn’t have the control that an adult has, nor does he or she really understand the repercussions of what they are doing. Kids generally have less fear as well, because it seems that it is life that provides us the experiences that makes our fear so solid. Kids have lived fewer years, and so have had fewer opportunities for carmelized fear…but the experiences they have had, it seems, has wrecked them to their very souls.

When I was young, a fist fight was the way to handle conflict. Not anymore. It makes me shudder to think that many people, especially kids and young adults, are carrying concealed weapons, because it’s legal to do so. Cell phones have made it so that we do not have much privacy anymore; the ready and easy access to guns have made it so that we do not have the luxury of feeling as safe as we once did.

Ironically, incidents like the Chardon High School shooting, or the Virginia Tech or Columbine shootings, do not make the outcry for more restrictions on guns in this country louder; no, the defense of the right to bear arms becomes more tenacious, because violence brings with it the fear of more violence. People look on mass shootings as evidence that there needs to be more access to guns, not less.

I refuse to enter into that argument, but what I am concerned with is that we are missing something early on. We are not learning, and therefore are not teaching, effective ways to handle conflict. Nor are we paying attention to a malady which is as prevalent as is heart disease or cancer: mental and emotional illness. In Ochberg’s article, he mentions schizophrenia and depression as being major mental illnesses that we pay way too little attention to, to our own detriment.  Nobody wants to admit that they don’t feel so good in their spirits or in their minds, and so they go on being sick, and doing things that only a sick person would do – like shooting someone because he or she offended, betrayed, bullied or ignored you.

My hunch is that T.J.Lane, who will remain in custody pending his trial for a triple murder, has been sick and tormented for a long, long time. My hunch is that he gave signs but that nobody paid attention, or, if they noticed, ignored what they saw.  My hunch is also that there are a lot of kids “out there” who are angry, depressed, lost, alienated and scared…and who would, if given the chance, do just what T.J. Lane did, or worse.

I doubt we will ever gain serious ground against those who defend the right to bear arms, but we had really better let go of our inexcusable fear of mental and emotional illness. It is a problem our society cannot afford to ignore – especially since the right to bear arms is a right that some hold more dear, it seems, than the need to take care of our sick. If we don’t open our eyes and our minds, I doubt that America will ever feel safe again.

A candid observation