Category Archives: Crime

Race And Racism Influence Our Reaction To Gun Violence

So I was thinking about the recent shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise and the reaction from the media thus far, and I gotta say – it’s time for some race-baiting.

A country can reveal it’s racism and racial bias in many ways.  Not just in the obvious ways, such as the existence or prevalence of neo-Nazis or Klansmen, etc.  But also in the collective reaction of its media and the talking points that are generated after a violent incident, depending on the race of the shooter.

I have noticed a stark contrast in the conversation which happens, depending on whether the shooter is white or black, Latino or Muslim.  In general, if the perpetrator of a violent crime is a minority, the perceived threat that they and their actions pose become something external, to be kept at bay or controlled with more policing or security measures.  If he’s a Muslim, it’s terrorism – and it brings up the issue of immigrant vetting, not to mention discussion (criticism) of Islam.  If he’s a black person, the issue which makes the media rounds, in particular on state media like Fox News, becomes about “broken homes” and “thugs.”  A Mexican guy would bring up a similar conversation about immigrants and gangs.

Which brings me to the Scalise shooter, a white man named James Hodgkinson.  The discussion thus far, and the issue of what to blame for the violence, has been concerning “political rhetoric,” as well as possible mental illness.  Conservative outlets like Fox have even had the nerve to try to blame “the political Left,” but other mainstream media sources have also raised the question – is our lack of civil discourse to blame?  Is the issue one of the mentally ill having access to firearms?  Are prescription medications making us crazy?  The problem becomes one that reflects an internal societal dysfunction, rather than an externalized threat.  The blame shifts from the shooter himself to a more generalized “have we become too hostile” or “is something making us violent” scenario.

It brings to mind the differences in approach between drug epidemics, depending on the communities that are affected.  The recent problems with opiate addiction and overdose deaths from prescription painkillers are viewed and talked about in terms of a health “crisis.”  Which is not to say that it isn’t.  But look at the difference between that and the way the crack epidemic of the 80’s and 90’s and other drug problems that plague inner cities (black people) are talked about and handled.  In the case of opiates, the issue is seen as one of public health, whereas with the latter, it is a dangerous scourge, and for years has been dealt with by harsh criminal penalties.

One of the problems with talking about race and racism is that far too often, the very idea of it becomes a sort of taboo that is linked with overt and obvious perpetrators.  Nobody wants to be considered racist, and what frequently comes to mind when racism is mentioned are extreme examples, such as the aforementioned Neo-Nazis or white supremacists.  What we often forget is that racism and racial bias can be more subtle and nuanced, and reflected in not only the beliefs and words of racist people themselves, but also in our general, more indirect characterizations of people’s words and actions and how they fit into our view of the way society should function.  Any honest discussion or race should include the latter.  We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about this issue, and we need to be aware of how media can and often does shape our thinking and perceptions.

Photo credit:  Pixabay.com/IIIBlackhartIII

Colorado Springs Shooting: When Does Rhetoric Go Too Far?

 

“No more baby parts.”

That was part of a statement made to police by Robert Lewis Dear, the Colorado Springs gunman who killed three people and injured several others at a Planned Parenthood clinic on Friday.  It is a reference to anti-Planned Parenthood attack videos that were released earlier this year by the Center For Medical Progress, which generated a firestorm of controversy and became a defining issue for many Republican presidential candidates.  The most notable of those candidates was Carly Fiorina, who described, in horrific detail, a scenario in which a live baby could be seen kicking as it awaited the harvesting of its organs, which was alleged to have taken place at the hands of Planned Parenthood, during the first Republican debate several weeks ago.

Upon being posted to the internet, the “sting” videos released by CMP came under a large amount of criticism for being heavily edited and highly misleading, and the scenario that Fiorina described could not actually be found in any video pertaining to Planned Parenthood.  Still, the allegations became a highly debated wedge between the political right and left.  Flash forward to the murder of a police officer and two civilians on Friday, and the question of whether Fiorina, CMP and others on the political right bear any responsibility for the attacks has exploded on social media.

Many on the left are saying that Fiorina and company have blood on their hands, and that the murders are the inevitable result of increasingly hostile anti-abortion rhetoric from pro-life conservatives.  While I am about as liberal as they come on most issues and staunchly pro-choice, I have not been quick to jump on this bandwagon.  In my opinion, when we start assigning blame for murder upon someone other than the murderer because of words or expression, we begin to venture down a slippery slope that endangers free speech rights.  In my view, the responsibility for murder lies solely on the shoulders of the actual killer, in almost all cases.

Which doesn’t mean that I believe in absolute free speech rights or that we don’t already have instances where someone’s words can get them in trouble because of the actions of another.  There is the obvious example of someone yelling “fire” in a crowded theater and being held liable for any deaths or injuries that result from the stampede it would cause, which I agree with.  Under current law, a person also can’t incite a crowd to riot or violence without sharing some of the blame.  Charles Manson was convicted of many murders that he physically did not commit, but which resulted directly from his powerful influence as a cult leader.  I have no problem with him rotting in jail.  However, other than scenarios such as these, I generally believe that the person guilty of murder is the actual killer, and not someone else.  Robert Lewis Dear decided to kill, loaded his rifle, and pulled the trigger, not anybody else.

Fiorina’s debate speech pertaining to Planned Parenthood and the CMP videos are particularly problematic, however, because they have been widely debunked as misleading or outright non-existent.  If a person’s incendiary speech involves actual known facts, they can at least be afforded the defense that what they said mirrors reality.  Not so with Fiorina and CMP.  It can’t be denied that, if the lies about Planned Parenthood had not been published by CMP, a domestic terrorist like Robert Lewis Dear would not have had the misguided inspiration that led him to commit murder, even if it was just part of his motivation.  And Fiorina pressing the issue on a national presidential debate stage in graphic detail definitely fanned the flames of the controversy and kept it alive in the hearts and minds of potentially violent anti-abortionists who might be on the verge of snapping.  In terms of cause and effect, it can definitely be argued that Fiorina, CMP and the others who pushed the fraudulent narrative are linked to Dear’s ultimate decision to kill.  In other words, if the lie wasn’t put out there, at least that portion of Dear’s drive to kill would not exist either, or at the very least wouldn’t have been as strong.

While I don’t believe Fiorina or the rest of the opponents of Planned Parenthood who pushed the fake “baby parts” narrative share direct responsibility for the Colorado Springs murders, I do think they bear shame for putting an egregious lie out into the world, which ultimately resulted in the deaths of three people.  Words don’t kill, but rhetoric can shape consciousness.  And when that consciousness becomes one on the verge of murder or other heinous crimes, any decent person would tread carefully.  Which was perhaps too tall an order for Fiorina, CMP and many others in the Republican party.

 

Photo credit – Pixabay.com/WikimediaImages / 5249 images

 

Are We Becoming Immune To Police Brutality?

Nearly 25 years ago, the videotaped beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles Police officers caused outrage in Los Angeles and throughout the nation. The video became a singular, notorious representation of the use of force by police. The case came to represent a hotbed of racial tension, and the officers’ subsequent acquittal of criminal charges lead to the outbreak of the Los Angeles riots in 1992.

Flash forward to the present day, there are high-quality video cameras on countless types of mobile devices and phones. In addition, the advent of portable video recorders has lead some police departments to equip officers with cameras that record the arrests they make and the people that they encounter. As a result, there have been more and more incidents of questionable (at minimum) police uses of force that have been captured on video that, with the advent of the internet, are readily available to the public in an instant. However, there seems to be significantly less outrage these days when incidents similar to the Rodney King beating occur.

Case in point, the recent video of a CHP officer repeatedly punching a black grandmother in the face and head along a Los Angeles freeway. The video has gone viral on social media, but it does not seem to have the galvanizing power that the Rodney King incident did in the 1990’s. Perhaps it is because the officer is using his fists instead of batons. Maybe.

But even beatings that result in death do not seem to enrage the community or the nation as they did with the King beating.  In Orange County in 2011, Kelly Thomas was severely beaten by two Fullerton Police officers and later died of his injuries.  The incident generated some local protests, but it was not national news on the level of the King beating.  However, like the King case, the officers involved were later acquitted of murder charges, much to the disdain of many who followed the case.

Perhaps we have simply become desensitized to real-life violent imagery, made accessible largely through social media and the web. In an age of videotaped beheadings and other forms of extreme torture and murder easily accessed on shock websites at the click of a button, acts of brutality (whether by the police or not) sadly become a little more mundane. Violence has become digitally watered down in the public’s consciousness, and public sensitivity has waned as a result. Ironically, the more cameras and outlets that have become available as objective witnesses to police use of force, the less people seem to care.