Another Shooting Pervades the American Psyche

More times than I can recall, but to often for sure, I have written about accounts of senseless violence, usually mass shootings.  Last Friday night, Elliot Rodger executed a vile and violent shooting rampage in Isla Vista, California, near the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB).

Mr. Rodger, a 22 year-old Santa Barbara City College student, murdered six, stabbing three men in his own apartment (two roommates and one visitor), shooting three women at the UCSB Alpha Phi Sorority House (killing two of them), and moving on to a local deli where he shot and killed another man.  Then, “according to authorities,” he took his own life.  But before he initiated his vicious attack, he wrote a 137 page, 107,000 word Manifesto, which he referred to as “My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger,” detailing his brooding and pent-up anger due to constant rejection by women.  He characterized his existence as that of a “kissless virgin.

Several themes or points of emphasis emerged from a summary of what would become Mr. Rodger’s digital introduction to the world.  Some of those include:

  • A commitment to wage a war on women – “I will attack the very girls who represent everything I hate in the female gender: The hottest sorority of UCSB”
  • A bitter form of envy – Elliot Roger around the fringes of Hollywood, but really in it.  He was close enough to see the world of the rich and fabulously famous, but never experienced it in a first person way.  He resented that his “damnable mother” had not “married into wealth instead of being selfish.”  After attending a private Katy Perry party at the largesse of wealthy friends, he was reminded again of the many perks of wealth and fame.  About that he wrote, “I couldn’t help but feel a bitter form of envy at all the rich kids at the concert.”
  • Sought advice in the art of love from Dale Launer, the writer of “Blind Date,” Love Potion #9,” and “Ruthless People.” – According to Rodger’s writing, Dale Launer tried to teach him how to get a girlfriend.  It didn’t work.  Ultimately, Rodger felt there was nothing Launer and people like him could do to help him get girls and lose his virginity.
  • Believed winning the lottery was the only way out –  “I knew I was always destined for great things. This must be it! I was destined to be the winner of the highest lottery jackpot in existence. I knew right then and there that this jackpot was meant for me. Who else deserved such a victory? I had been through so much rejection, suffering, and injustice in my life, and this was to be my salvation. With my whole body filled with feverish hope, I spent $700 dollars on lottery tickets for this drawing. As I spent this money, I imagined all the amazing sex I would have with a beautiful model girlfriend I would have once I become a man of wealth.”
  • Realized he needed to start planning for the Day of Retribution – “Without the prospect of becoming wealthy at a young age, I had nothing to live for now. I was going to be a virgin outcast forever. I realized that I had to start planning and preparing for the Day of Retribution, even though I hadn’t yet had any idea of what day that would be.”
  • His first “act of preparation” for the massacre was the purchase of his first gun – “I had already done some research on handguns, and I decided to purchase the Glock 34 semiautomatic pistol, an efficient and highly accurate weapon. I signed all of the papers and was told that my pickup day was in mid-December. That fell in nicely, because that was when I was planning on staying in Santa Barbara till. After I picked up the handgun, I brought it back to my room and felt a new sense of power. I was now armed.”
  • He would eventually purchase three handguns – Purchased a Glock 34 semi-automatic pistol after failing to win the $120 Megamillions Lottery in September 2012; bought a second handgun in the spring of 2013 when he began to seriously think about the Day of Retribution; a year later he bought a third handgun…just in case one of them jammed

One of the undeniable themes that arose from this “massacre” is Elliot Rodger was a sick individual who hated women…and men.  The center of his enmity seemed to be the women who rejected him, but, he also bore a robust resentment for men, the wealthy, and beautiful people, many of whom it seemed to him, managed to get the things he wanted most, but could never obtain.

The bottom line is chilling; seven dead, 13 injured, and countless lives of friends family, students, and others, changed forever.  Inside Rodger’s car, police found three semi-automatic handguns and over 400 rounds of ammunition.  In the past, I have discussed previous abuses of firearms and the need for appropriate legislation to address the scourge of gun violence in America.  That position still stands.  However, this time, I have a simpler suggestion.  One that even the gun lobby should be able to embrace.   I ask that each of you (readers) in your own space and time, observe a moment of silence to honor all the victims of this tragedy, including Mr. Rodger.

“Another Shooting Pervades the American Psyche”…and that is literally, “a crying shame.”  I’m done; holla back!

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Move Over Donald Sterling; Make Room for Robert Copeland!

In the world of octogenarian racial slurs, 80 year-old Donald Sterling is not exactly fading into the sunset, nor going gentle into that good night. In actuality, he has figured out inventive ways to pile upon his own dubious case. Still, we live in a world of what’s happening now, and right now, while the NBA is figuring out how to proceed with concluding the Sterling matter, Robert Copeland, 82, insisted on leveraging his opportunity to step to the head of the class.

Mr. Copeland, a police commissioner in Wolfeboro New Hampshire, erupted onto the national scene last week as he unrepentantly admitted using the N-word to describe President Obama. Ms. Jane O’Toole, a Wolfeboro resident finishing dinner at a local bistro in March heard a gentleman she did not know announce loudly that he

“Hated watching television because every time he turned on the TV he kept seeing that fucking nigger.”

The “nigger” to whom he referred was the President of the United States.

When she found out who Mr. Copeland was, she complained to the town manager in a letter. Initially, Mr. Copeland acted unfazed by the complaint. In an e-mail responding to the inquiry about the incident, he replied:

“I believe I did use the N-word in reference to the current occupant of the Whitehouse. For this I do not apologize – he meets and exceeds my criteria for such.”

According to the 2010 Census, Wolfeboro is a community of 6,269. News reports have indicated the population of the resort community is 97% white; there are about 20 black residents. As with most instances such as this that make their way into the sphere of the public square, there were supporters and detractors for the commenter. In this instance, however, the detractors greatly outnumbered the supporters.

By last Thursday when the town meeting convened, there was a contingent of citizens, more than 100, calling for Mr. Copeland’s resignation. He declined comment during the meeting. Meanwhile, the town manager indicated there was no mechanism to remove Mr. Copeland from office.

The good news is this was not an incident that needed to be considered in isolation. Yes, the actor had to stand on his own merit, or lack thereof, but because there have been a series of these off-putting divisive slurs recently, a number of people responded quickly calling for Mr. Copeland to be held accountable for his offensive remarks.

A number of prominent political figures denounced Copeland, including Senators Kelly Ayotte (R), and Jeanne Shaheen (D), and Governor Maggie Hassan. Even former and possibly future Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, who owns a vacation home in Wolfeboro, called for the commissioner’s resignation. Governor Romney said in a statement to CNN:

“The vile epithet used and confirmed by the commissioner has no place in our community: He should apologize and resign.”

Local elected officials also condemned Copeland. The town manager, David Owen, issued a statement last week indicating he and the town’s board found Mr. Copeland’s behavior:

“Reprehensible and totally inconsistent with the Town’s open and welcoming character. Mr. Copeland’s views are in no way representative of the Board of Selectmen of the Town of Wolfeboro, its administration, or the men and women of the Wolfeboro Police Department.”

Early this week, Mr. Copeland, despite his initial resistance, tendered his resignation to the town manager. In response, Ms. Linda Murray, chairman of the town board told the Associated Press:

“The resignation gives us the opportunity to move on. We are a very accepting community that really takes care of each other.”

Ms. O’Toole, who initially reported the incident also weighed in on the subject. She told the New Hampshire Union Leader she was:

“Happy he’s done this, not only for the town but for him. Hopefully we’ve taught our children a lesson that you can stand up and make a difference.”

On the surface, this can easily be viewed as another happy ending. But is it? Sort of…but the deeper truth is this is much bigger than old white men refusing to adapt to current day realities. That meme, while popular and easy to digest, is simply not the story in its entirety.

Racism is real, and it is not just the province of octogenarians, or even sexagenarians, as is Cliven Bundy. The sad truth is there is a pattern of discrimination planted by history, nourished by politics, and nurtured by economics; a pattern that ensures some groups face inherent disadvantage. I repeat racism is real. The idea that we have evolved into a post-racial society just because we elected Barack Obama President (twice) is simply a non sequitur; perish the thought.

Contemporary racism is epitomized by the marginalization of groups, executed with acute discretion and lack of fuss by well-mannered and too often well-intentioned people operating deeply flawed systems. For example, a US Department of Education report notes that black preschoolers (mostly four year-olds) are four times more likely to be suspended more than once than their white classmates. According to a 2013 report by Release, a UK group looking at drugs and drug laws, blacks in England and Wales are far less likely to use drugs than white people but six times more likely to be stopped and searched for possession of them. In both countries black people are far more likely to be convicted, and to get stiffer sentences and longer jail time.

Racism is alive and well. Not only that, it mutates to adapt to the body politic. As a case in point, President Richard Nixon once explained to his chief of staff:

 “You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks.”

There is no simple solution; no one size fits all remedy. There is much work to do to eradicate this most pervasive of scourges. Never doubt that. For now, “Move Over Donald Sterling; Make Room for Robert Copeland!”

I’m done; holla back!

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An Exceptional American: The Genuine Article

So much of the current news cycle is dominated by gossip and innuendo, or substantive stories about events that I have discussed already.  Looking at both sides of the ledger, a short list includes:

  • The Nigerian Girls’ Kidnapping
  • The mystery of Flight 370
  • The Donald Sterling saga
  • The Monica Lewinsky-Hillary Clinton-Karl Rove controversy, and of course,
  • The Solange Knowles Jay Carter dustup

While I occasionally re-visit an issue, not today, and I’m passing on the anything I haven’t done from that list, as least for now..

Frequently I reference the proverbial notion of the “Exceptional American,” usually in jest, if not derision.  Today’s subject, however, earned that sobriquet.  Yesterday, President Obama awarded Sgt. Kyle J. White the Medal of Honor during a White House ceremony.  The former active-duty Army Sergeant received the medal for his courageous actions during combat in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan.

I do not reject Exceptionalism on its face.  The concept, used in context, is certainly a viable one.  Political blowhards most often fail to provide proper context, or any reasonable facsimile.

President Obama described Sgt. White’s heroism and selflessness in explicit detail, as he said:

“Most of the unit had been forced to slide down the cliff to the valley below.  But Kyle saw a teammate — Specialist Kain Schilling — trying to treat his own shattered arm, using a tree as cover — what Kain later called “the smallest tree on Earth.”  I’m sure that’s how it felt.  Kyle sprinted through enemy fire to Kain’s side and began applying a tourniquet — shielding Kain with his own body as gunfire shredded that tree.

Then Kyle saw another man down — Marine Sergeant Phillip Bocks — in the open, 30 feet behind them, but too injured to reach cover.  Kyle remembers thinking, “It’s just a matter of time before I’m dead.  If that’s going to happen, I might as well help someone while I can.”

With bullets impacting all around him, Kyle ran to Bocks and began to pull the injured Marine to cover.  But worried that he’d expose Bocks to more gunfire, Kyle retreated.  The enemy rounds followed him.  He ran out again, pulling Bocks a little farther.  And once more he retreated to distract the enemy fire.  Once more he went out — over and over thinking to himself, “I’m not going to make it.”  Kyle could feel the pressure of the rounds going by him.  But somehow, miraculously, they never hit him.  Not once.  One of his teammates said it was as if Kyle was moving “faster than a speeding bullet”.

And finally, Kyle succeeded in pulling his comrade to cover.  Tragically, there on that cliff, Sergeant Bocks succumbed to his wounds.  But in his final moments, this American Marine surely found some solace in Kyle White — the American soldier who, until the very end, was there by his side.

Now, that other injured soldier, Kain Shilling, was still out there.  And he had sustained another injury, this time to his knee.  Kyle ran out once more to Kain’s side.  Kyle ripped off his own belt for a tourniquet, and soon got his hands on a working radio.  The voice of Charlie One Six Romeo came into base.  Crouching behind that lone tree, Kyle began calling in airstrikes to take out enemy positions.

Kyle stayed with Specialist Schilling as night fell.  And Kain was too badly injured to move.  Kyle was starting to feel the fog of his own concussions set in, but he knew that he was Kain’s best chance to get out alive, so Kyle took charge and ordered the Afghan soldiers to form a security perimeter.  He called in a MEDEVAC and made sure Kain and the other injured were safely on board.  And only then did Kyle finally allow himself to be lifted out.

As the helicopter pulled away, Kyle looked out the window, watching the darkness as they pulled away from that single tree on the cliff.  “When you’re deployed,” he later said, “those people become your family.  What you really care about is:  I want to get this guy to the left and to the right home.”

That’s Exceptional, and worthy of the claim.  Moreover, Sgt. White’s story did not end with that helicopter ride.  With the help of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, he earned a degree from UNC-Charlotte and now works as an investment analyst at a RBC Capital Markets in Charlotte, NC.

The story of Kyle Jerome White is that of “An Exceptional American: The Genuine Article!”  His bona fides are beyond dispute.  I’m done; holla back!

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Boko Haram: Terror Personified

The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad is quite a mouthful.  That is the formal nomenclature for the organization better known widely by its Hausa name, Boko Haram, which translates to Western education is sinful.  The group is an Islamic jihadist and takfiri militant and terrorist movement based in the northeast of Nigeria, north Cameroon, and Niger.  A central tenet of the organization is to establish a “pure” Islamic state rules by sharia law.

Boko Haram has a history of attacking Christians and government targets, bombing churches, attacking schools and police stations, and kidnapping Western tourists.  Recently, the group captured global headlines due to having claimed credit for kidnapping more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls.  The group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, says the girls, kidnapped from their boarding school three weeks ago, will be sold.  Unconfirmed reports indicate some of the girls have been sold into slavery for the sum of $12 each.  A number of the girls have also been forced to marry their abductors.

The young girls, aged 15-18, were studying for exams when they were taken from their dormitories in the town of Chibok, in Borno state.   The kidnapping resulted in 276 girls still being held captive, while 53 girls escaped.

Earlier this week, the group validated its thread to kidnap more Christian girls they attacked a Nigerian village and took 8 more girls; this time ages 12-15.  The most recent abductions followed closely a video in which Abubakar Shekau threatened to take even more Christian girls, force them to convert to Islam, and sell them into slavery.  This latest raid pushed the total number of kidnapped girls to more than 300.

In the video, Shekau exclaimed:

“I abducted your girls.  By Allah, I will sell them in the marketplace.”

President Obama, in an ABC interview yesterday, called the abductions “heartbreaking and outrageous.”  Also yesterday, the White House reported Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who welcomed the offer of American support.  The

United States has said it is prepared to send a team of military and law enforcement personnel to assist in the search for kidnap victims.  While President Obama and Secretary Kerry’s words and actions signal the U.S. moving toward involvement in this calamity, it remains an atrocity that has commanded attention globally, and one that should incite a worldwide response.

In Nigeria, there has been a furor over the level of activity the government has initiated in response to the abductions.  The President responded by insisting that the government has been active involved in trying to resolve the kidnappings, but is not broadcasting it.  In an unflattering comparison to the U.S, he noted:

 “We’ve done a lot – but we are not talking about it.  We’re not Americans.  We’re not showing people, you know, but it does not mean that we are not doing something.”

While I think that’s an interesting approach to take when discussing an ally whose support you hope to enlist, in the realm of the obvious, he is President of Nigeria, not the U.S., so that retort likely has currency in his country, and ultimately, that’s most of what matters.  On the other hand, I can hear the howls of the “Exceptional America” contingent.  It would not be surprising to see some of them, who typically favor military intervention whenever possible, to suggest the U.S. dial back it’s efforts in this Nigerian debacle.

Despite any heartburn that might ensue, based on President Jonathan’s remarks, these heinous actions demand a response from countries of goodwill around the world.  That alone should be enough to engage the United States of America, beacon of freedom, worldwide.  That is who we believe we are.  Is it not?

“Boko Haram: Terror Personified” – let’s see what we can do to resolve this atrocity.  I’m done; holla back!

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