Just days after Nicolas Cruz shot 17 people dead at Marion Stoneman Douglas high school two people posted messages on my Facebook: one reminding readers that police kill black people and there is no out pouring of grief; a second message stated that white liberals should not talk about gun control because people of color and/or LGTBQ people are constantly threatened and carrying a weapon may be their last recourse for effective protection.
Weeks later Stephon Clark was shot eight times in the back by Sacramento police. He was in his grandmother’s back yard. He was in his twenties, he was black, he was unarmed. According to the New York Times an independent autopsy determined most of those bullets hit him in the back.
Both killings have prompted protests and marches. In South Florida there has been a bit more news coverage of ongoing gun violence that impacts black residents. Marion Stoneman Douglas students who are black have been quoted highlighting how they do not feel heard.
People in the US, marginalized or stigmatized because of class, gender, race, and sexual identity view the lack of mass media coverage of the killing of black men and or LGBTQ people as a lack of social condemnation. They are angered when comparing the mass response in one case (Stoneman Douglas high school) and the limited or stigmatized response in the other (black men).
The United States of America is a violent country. According to Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit formed in 2013 to “provide free online public access to accurate information about gun-related violence in the United States” there are over 35,000 gun violence victims every year in the United States.
The rationale behind killing has long existed in the USA. From the days of acute state terrorism called Slavery and Jim Crow, the Indian wars through most of the 19th century, the Civil War, the killing of workers at different moments in history, to the current drug trafficking related gang violence, mass incarceration, right through into police involved shootings. In the middle of all this are people who see that violence levied upon them is not denounced, it is ignored even justified because of their human condition. But we may have hit a wall at Stoneman Douglas: the mass killing of young middle and upper middle class youth has pushed many people in that middle to question their personal, family and community security.
According to city-data the estimated median household income in Parkland FL (where Stoneman Douglas High is located) in 2016 was $131,340 while the estimated median household income in Florida was $50,000. Does the mainstream audience feel much more involved because of the victim’s faces? We can question the politicians but these questions must be dealt with at all levels of society. Why was Sandy Hook not that detonator? At least 20 little children were killed. What will Stephon Clark’s killing do to deter police involved killings? In the face of these random killings with guns do income and class matter? Does race matter?
According to The Washington Post
Public mass shootings account for a tiny fraction of the country’s gun deaths, but they are uniquely terrifying because they occur without warning in the most mundane places. Most of the victims are chosen not for what they have done but simply for where they happen to be.
But could this rationale be applied to the killing of many black men at the hands of the police? Many had done nothing and that nothing escalated until they were dead? Just remember a man selling cigarettes or a man sitting in his car discloses he has a weapon and a license. They both ended up dead at the hands of the police.
The Post adds that from 1966 through 2018 at least 1,077 people were killed in mass shootings across the United States, adding “There is no universally accepted definition of a public mass shooting, and this piece defines it narrowly. It looks at the 150 shootings in which four or more people were killed by a lone shooter (two shooters in a few cases).”
Almost three years ago The Guardian, a British newspaper started its own database – The Counted – of police involved shootings after a white police officer shot an unarmed black man Michael Brown in Fergusson, Missouri. The Guardian found that not one US government/law enforcement agency kept a database of police involved shootings.
The Counted shows that 1,093 people were killed in 2016 and 1,146 were killed in 2015 in police involved shootings. The breakdown by ethnicity shows that of the 1,146 killed 307 were black, 13 Native American, 195 Hispanic/Latino, 584 white, 24 Asian/Pacific Islander, 23 other/unknown.
According to Gun Violence Archive in 2016 there were over 53,000 gun violence incidents, over 13,000 dead, over 30,000 injured, 3,300 of these dead and injured were teens, 673 children 0 to 11 year old were killed or injured. That same year officer involved incidents left over 1,900 people shot or killed.
The numbers are only one measure of mass shootings by a lone gunman or police involved shootings. These problems go beyond these numbers. They are a reality that many organizations, politicians, intellectuals, media commentators try to explain from a variety of perspectives. That I assume is their job and their right.
What we must keep in mind is that all types of violent death must not be ignored, and must be understood and dealt with. And when these killings occur the responsible must be held accountable. The law must apply?
As one of many Guardian articles points out
The Death in Custody Reporting Act, which was reauthorized by Congress in 2014, requires states receiving federal funding for law enforcement to report all killings by police officers on a quarterly basis. Many states have, however, continued to ignore the law without being penalized.
Nicolas Cruz, the lone gunman at Stoneman Douglas, will rot in prison if he is not executed on 17 counts of premeditated murder. But police officers almost never face consequences for their shootings or violent acts that leave over 1,100 dead in one year alone to be exact. This is a political culture and rationale of power (law and order) that must not be accepted.
Right after the 17 murders at Stoneman Douglas high school dozens of people who were invited to talk on different mass media platforms called on people to take action. The time of ‘thoughts and prayers is over,’ was repeated again and again. ‘Policy change now’ was a clear demand. Yet politicians from Trump down seem to talk about business as usual. In the Florida State Assembly a bill to ban assault weapons was voted down Tuesday February 20, almost a week after the Stoneman Douglas massacre. In early March the Florida governor signed a bill that would increase the age limit to buy automatic weapons and allow teachers to carry concealed weapons in the class room. At this point it seems there will be no reduction in gun sales.
The NRA is unapologetic and continues to rake in millions of dollars. The business of gun sales in the USA is at an all-time high.
According to an op-ed published in early April in Time magazine “At just 4.4% of the world’s population, Americans own roughly a third of all the firearms in the world. According to a 2007 survey, American civilians own about 275 million of the world’s 875 million firearms. For the world’s gun manufacturers, this fraction of the world’s population is their largest single market.”
That US consumers owned in 2007 a little over 31 percent of all the weapons in the world is not an earth shattering revelation, but it does reveal that breaking up gun business would require something much more drastic than gun control legislation. Gun manufacturers and vendors run legal businesses. They make and sell a product that even people with leftist politics want to have. In a recent –and my first – visit to shooting range I saw many black customers. I saw a dad with two teenage kids. One employee behind the counter told me shooting is a fun sport.
People are shot or shoot themselves to the tune of at least 30,000 deaths and injuries every year. Some people sell the story of liberty against tyranny. If we are armed the government could not take away our liberty or so goes the saying. But black Americans already have the all too common experience of being shot and or injured for little to no reason. They live under repressive conditions but their situation does not appear so in the eyes of the many. Those killings fall under the mantra of law and order. What fuels this culture? Is it fear? Is it hatred? Is it indifference?
The Broward County School District organized a town hall meeting in the city of Plantation Florida to discuss school safety on April 19, a little over two months after the massacres at Marion Stoneman Douglas High. Only one student brought up gun control, all other participants spoke about security. Where does this leave us as a society? There does seem an acceptance of fear and a loss of active hope as a central part of our lives. Those who fear change lay upon the rest of us their logic of fear. And when we lose the hope of our activity for change then we are in awe of security, of the status quo.
The birth of Black Lives Matter is directly linked to the history of gun violence in the USA. We all saw through a variety of media platforms the uproar of those days in Fergusson. Our first impression is that anger moves those protests. It is also hope that put those young protestors in the face of what the old status quo that is nothing more than violent repression in the name of the law, of the defense of business. But they fought those few days to declare in public that the old is far from over, and even more so to declare that active belligerent hope for change cannot be ignored because it is the evidence of what is new.
Unlike those and many other protestors many watch violence and comment its horrors, but do not witness violence it and do not live through it. We the People seem to be spectators of a classless utopia called the USA, despite the many stories that reaffirm the daily dystopian mess where the poor bare the ethics of rugged individualism while the rich gather government subsidies. And the ideal (political) middle, the middle class, that utopian essence of what the USA is, that always desired center of consensus and harmony is slip sliding away.
In this day and age of fake news and alternative realities we the Spectators have learned that we cannot rely nor trust corporate media information. This nagging doubt is nothing new in the political left, but it is now an invigorated battle cry as the right celebrates all things Trump. Yet at the same time we certainly cannot deny the visual narrative that digital media technology has delivered. People with cameras, its that simple.
If we have learned that any police involved killing does not prompt lasting pressure on the political class, we are now faced with the uncertainty that random gun violence on well-funded teenagers might not be the social detonator that the political class must listen to.