It’s time to Break It Down!
In the June 15, 2016 Edition of “Break It Down,” I wrote the following as the first two paragraphs of the post:
Before preparing today’s post I decided to make a cursory inventory. At least six times previously, I have written about mass gun violence (in America). In the most recent instance before today I discussed the facts surrounding the June 17, 2015 shooting of the Charleston Nine at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC. Just two days shy of a year later, I find myself impelled to beat the drum once more. In an ironic twist, I visited the Mother Emanuel Church this weekend. As I was completing my exercise regimen, a spin bike ride, early Sunday morning, before my trip to Charleston, I read a news story and watched on CNN the story and gory details about the massacre at a gay club in Orlando named Pulse.
Each time such a tragedy befalls us; we as a society are diminished. It marks yet another cruel and crushing blow to a nation that I certainly wish to see aspire to emulate its better angels rather than the very worst in our human nature. I have ranted and railed repeatedly about the role easy access to firearms plays in the frequent carnage. I’ve discussed the prevailing politics, examined the NRA and its proxies (lobbyists and Congressmen and women), and lamented the lack of reform. Been there, done that, time and time again.
This past Sunday night, October 1, at 10:08 p.m., 64 year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire on an outdoor festival in Las Vegas from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino across Las Vegas Boulevard during the closing performance by singer Jason Aldean. By the time the shooting stopped eleven minutes later, Paddock had unleashed what is considered the deadliest firearms assault in American history. Incidentally, it displaced the previous record of 49, attributed to the above-referenced 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting at the Pulse Night Club. The toll: 58 fatalities (including Paddock) and 527 injuries.
The shooter spent three days in a suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Using that location as his operations center, he assembled a cache of weaponry that included 23 firearms (22 rifles and one handgun) inside the hotel. Some of the rifles were altered from semi-automatic to automatic so that they functioned with the rapid-fire action of machine guns. As police continued investigating the case, they discovered Paddock had at least 47 guns, explosives, and several thousand rounds of ammunition. Let’s not delude ourselves, or others, by saying he snapped. And…if you are an NRA member, or a hard core Republican, then by all means, let’s not even think of introducing the subject of access to firearms, or improved gun legislation into the discourse matrix.
Paddock used a hammer-like object to break two windows in the suite, from which he launched repeated barrages of gunfire on unsuspecting fans at the concert. The rapidity with which the bullets rained down on the venue created a level of confusion that made it impossible for those taking fire to discern from whence the attack was emanating. If ever there was one, this is an American made tale of woe.
It may surprise some to know, I am an NRA member, a life member, in fact. I maintain an up-to-date CCP…or Concealed Carry Permit, and have qualified for, and held a permit to provide security services. I am not your prototypical “anti-gun” guy. However, I do believe easy access to firearms contributes to the health crisis that is gun violence in America.
Gun violence results in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries every year. There were more than 73,500 nonfatal injuries, and over 33,500 deaths due to injury by firearms in this country in 2013. More than one third of the deaths were homicides, 500+ of those being accidental, and nearly 300 of undetermined intent. As you must know, gun ownership is perennially a hotly debated topic here in America. Approximately 1.4 million people were killed using firearms in the U.S. between 1968 and 2011, the equivalent of a top 10 largest U.S. city in 2016, roughly somewhere between the populations of San Antonio and Dallas, Texas.
Of course, gun legislation is not the only issue that has bubbled up with this tragic event. Another matter, just as controversial, and just as likely to be sidestepped in the mainstream conversation tableau, is what might commonly be referred to as the “white people cannot be terrorists” thesis. Mr. Paddock, like most white male mass shooters before him, has been referred to as many things, including, unstable, quiet, troubled, unassuming, and of course, the coin of the realm, “lone wolf.” One popular newspaper even had a headline that proclaimed: “Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock enjoyed gambling, country music, lived quiet life before massacre.” Just so we are clear, had Paddock been a Muslim, or an immigrant from a Muslim country, he would have been memorialized as a sadistic demon, the likes of which dear old exceptional America had never seen. If Woody Harrelson is available and willing, perhaps he can land the starring role in the movie. Already having immortalized the axiom “White Men Can’t Jump,” he’s had ample time to prepare to shine in “White Men Can’t Be Terrorists.”
Think whatever you like, but I find it virtually impossible to imagine memorializing the dude responsible for the largest mass shooting in American history as a quiet, country music lover who gambled a little in his spare time. Yet, even the President of the United States was reserved (given his acerbic style) in discussing the event. To his credit, he described the massacre as an, “act of pure evil,” which undoubtedly, it was. However, he must have kept his best stuff on ice. He didn’t call him fat or ugly as he did Rosie O’Donnell, he didn’t threaten to date him, as he did “Ivanka if she weren’t his daughter,” he didn’t even call him disgusting, as he did an opposing counsel who needed a break to breast pump, and he surely didn’t call him an S.O.B., as he did NFL players who exercise their First Amendment rights.
It has been asserted that such is the gravity and sway of white privilege. All this is not just relevant, but critically important at this pivotal juncture in our national experience. When an individual identifying as Muslim commits such a heinous act, the right, especially, will assert that Islam is the problem. When an African American does so, racist tropes are rolled out, followed by criminalization and dehumanization of an entire ethnic group. The normative experience of these other groups is consistently, if not universally contrasted with white men, who almost automatically get the “lone wolf” card.
For example, USA Today declared in a headline that Mr. Paddock was a “lone wolf,” prior to the completion of an investigation, before a motive was determined, preceding the acquisition of his travel history, his home being searched, or the contents of his computer being analyzed. His family and friends had not been questioned, nor the contents of his social media evaluated. White Privilege!
The lone wolf appellation is commonly applied to white suspects in mass shootings. Such felonious luminaries as James Holmes (Aurora, Colorado movie theater), and Dylann Roof (Charleston, SC – Emanuel A.M.E. Church) were given the label with the quickness when they killed twelve and nine people, respectively. While Paddock’s “act of pure evil” raised the stakes to become the most numerically significant wickedness of its kind, there is apparently still ample room in the big tent of white privilege to absorb the villainous stain and the malodorous stench so that he is not being labeled a terrorist.
We are paralyzed by an inexplicable reluctance, a deficit of courage, and an ideological intractability that precludes us from exercising the necessary resolve to act in our collective national interest by enacting needed responsible gun legislation. Moreover, we must rise to embrace the challenge to speak truth to power and to the meek alike. We must be willing to call a spade a spade, or more aptly, a terrorist a terrorist, when events such as this are foisted upon us. We must do this even when the perpetrator is white! Meanwhile, let us pray as we continue to navigate the “Nightmare in Las Vegas: Another Episode of American Gun Violence!”
I’m done; holla back!
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