Tag Archives: guns

Racism and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

28 Oct
Define Refuge

Define Refuge

I was more than just a little bit disturbed yesterday afternoon upon hearing that all seven of the white terrorists who were armed and held the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge hostage, destroying many ancient Native artifacts during their occupation, were found not guilty of conspiracy. Ammon Bundy and his gang of heavily armed white terrorists occupied the Wildlife Refuge for 41 days and were found not guilty on all counts.

Here were the charges brought: conspiring to impede federal employees at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge through intimidation, threat or force stemming from the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Four of the seven defendants were charged with possessing guns in a federal facility. Two of the defendants faced an additional charge of theft of government and destruction of property. How is it that they were acquitted of all charges? In what universe does this make any sense? If this were a group of people of color, can we really believe they would have been treated the same way and accommodated in the same manner?

This is particularly difficult to understand juxtaposed what is currently happening in North Dakota, where unarmed Native protesters are being arrested as they protest the destruction of sacred burial grounds on Native land — land that was guaranteed to remain Native in an 1850 treaty. Protesters have been attacked and arrested by police with military tanks. Native unarmed and peaceful protesters were attacked with pepper spray and police dogs.

It is also difficult not to contrast the treatment of Bundy and his fellow whackadoodles with the treatment of unarmed black people in America being killed. I am thinking of the shooting of physical therapist, Charles Kinsey, who on his back waving his hands asking, “please don’t shoot me.” and the over 130 unarmed black men who have been killed this year.

I invite everyone to watch this great video by Dena Takruri who ask the question: “What if the Oregon Occupiers were Black, or Muslim?” Here is the link.

I wonder if we can all sit with some discomfort with the verdicts for Bundy and his accomplices. Can we look at ways we can create conversations  around the issues of race, gender, power, and equity?

Of Guns, Homophobia, Islamophobia, and Trump

13 Jun

PrideI suspect most of the country, like myself, is still in shock over yesterday’s mass murder in Orlando, Florida at the gay nightclub, Pulse. So much pain, so much loss, so much hate. As I reflect on the loss of life and the fueling of hate against my community, I can only hope that all of us within the LGBTQ community can stand in solidarity and support one another and reach out to support all of the families impacted by yesterday’s massacre. I hope we also unite and not give rise to the already intense Islamophobia the United States is currently engaged in. How disgusting and pathetic is Donald Trump with his comment around this tragedy: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” Have you no decency, Mr. Trump?

When do we start to have serious conversations around gun control? The 50 people dead in Orlando no longer have a voice, so we need to use ours individually and collectively. I am hard pressed to be convinced that a human needs access to a gun such as the one Omar Mateen used, an AR-15 type rifle,  to carry out his homophobic slaying. My heart also goes out to Mateen’s family, for they have lost their son and they have to live with the consequences of his actions. There is nothing good for anyone in this tragedy.

My hope is that we do not give into fear, that we resist feeding hate, that we look for our shared humanity, and that we offer love and support to all impacted by the shooting in Orlando. I also believe now is the time we take action and demand for greater gun control. Here is a link (thank you to my friend Nancy) to sign a petition asking for a ban of the AR-15 type rifle from civilian ownership.

Finally, I hope the entire LGBTQ community can stand in solidarity and enjoy Pride Month — let us defeat fear and hate with Love!

Ferguson and the War on Human Rights

15 Aug

FergThe scenes and stories from Ferguson, MO are both tragic and profoundly disturbing.  The death of Michael Brown, Jr., shot in the back by officer Darren Wilson, resonates deeply and clearly sends the message about how black male youth are disproportionately targeted and profiled. That his death sparked brief but significant street violence is understandable, but also sad. That hundreds of people exercising their rights to peacefully demand answers and inform the public have been brutalized by the police takes things to another shocking level. I find myself despondent and distraught, and the whole situation has me reflecting on the intersections of racism, violent culture, and hypocrisy.  It feels to me as though we have learned nothing from history.

I still cannot believe that anyone claims we live in a post-racist society. If anything, the election of President Obama has proved just how deep racism runs and how willing people are to exercise it. From the halls of power to the streets of America, the story is the same. The thread that binds Michael Brown, Jr. to Trayvon Martin to Rodney King is unravelling from the uneasy tapestry of the Civil Rights movement. Sure, we’re all equal now, but if an African American man is someplace that authorities don’t think he should be, that equality evaporates very quickly.

Sadly, the force used to apply that racism is growing exponentially. As the NRA-sponsored culture of guns and violence expands, the reaction to any perceived threat is to shoot first and ask questions later. The officer who shot Michael Brown, Jr. may have felt justified in using his firearm, although that justification is difficult to understand. Even if he did, why did he keep firing until Brown was on the ground dead? How can justice be had for anyone when presumptions of guilt end in the cold facts of death?

The very language we hear from our leaders is steeped in violence. We can’t simply deal with substance abuse, we need a war on drugs. Want to justify endless military action? Start a war on terror. Nothing helps build the prison industrial complex like a war on crime. By waging war on abstractions, we use language to justify needless violence. Those with the least power naturally suffer the most, creating a vicious cycle of loss. When the federal government offloads military supplies to local governments, it is no surprise that those who feel they are fighting these supposed great evils act like combatants rather than civil servants and keepers of the peace.

That irony leads to violent hypocrisy. In the name of protecting the people, suddenly we must gas them. In the name of freedom, journalists must be arrested for being in a fast food restaurant. That hypocrisy is modelled by authorities every day. When George W Bush exercised his executive authority, he was a bold leader; when the President of color does the same thing, he is a malevolent tyrant who must be sued and stopped.When white rancher and known tax criminal Cliven Bundy stands off federal officials, he is left in peace. When people of color peaceably assemble to request answers, they are shot with rubber bullets, gassed, and arrested. And quite sadly, the Mayor seems not to have a clue about racism.  Mayor James Knowles III continues to assert that Ferguson has no racial tension.  Really? The evidence would certainly point to the contrary. Adding to the horrific irony is that Hedy Epstein, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, was arrested yesterday along with 8 other protesters demanding justice for Michael Brown in St. Louis.  If this is not a cry for how we look at justice and the intersections of race and power, I don’t know what is. 

And so the cycle spins, with racism, violence, and hypocrisy grinding the marginalized and rewarding the powerful. In the end, the only thing that’s really surprising about Ferguson is that anyone is truly surprised. Sadly, every time we have another violent crime against a person of color from those in power, it is an excruciatingly painful reminder that we do not all start from a level playing field. People of color and other targeted populations are barraged with messages that this is not a safe place; that equity and equality are concepts reserved for those occupying the space of the dominant culture.

Mourning James Brady

5 Aug

James BradyJames S. Brady passed away yesterday. I am saddened by this loss and offer my deepest condolences to the family. I remember very clearly the day Ronald Reagan was shot by John W. Hinckley Jr. and watching all the commotion on the television.  We would learn later that it was James Brady, the White House press secretary who was shot in the head. While suffering memory loss, some paralysis that required a wheelchair,  and language impairment, Brady eventually prevailed and was transformed by the tragic incident.

Brady became a fierce gun control advocate and used his power and privilege to encourage the nation to look at requiring background checks and waiting periods for gun owners.  Fortunately, Brady’s legacy is that of working towards greater gun control and eliminating unnecessary deaths. I can only hope that his death will provide the impetus needed to work even harder at limiting access to guns and take a serious look at groups like Open Carry Texas –w hat good is coming from that? Have we learned nothing from the long and absurd history of gun violence in just the last 33 years?

James Brady was a dedicated public servant who turned his personal tragedy into an opportunity to engage the public in a much-needed conversation. His heroic efforts spurred Congress into taking simple, common-sense action. Sadly, 30 years later we see an even more partisan Congress paralyzed by the historically inaccurate Second Amendment rantings of the Tea Party and the shrill but effective lobbying of the NRA. What does it say about our nation that the shooting of one outspoken man could once lead to needed change but the slaughter of dozens of students and children now motivates us to do nothing?

Let us honor James Brady’s legacy by pausing to reflect on our national discourse around guns and look for meaningful solutions to prevent future tragedy.

 

Guns, Gun Culture, Starting a Dialogue…

13 Jun

Gun ControlThis has been yet another horrific week for schools across the United States.  Following the school shootings in Santa Barbara and Seattle, we lost two youth to a school shooting in Portland, Oregon at Reynolds High School.  If one calculates the average number of school shootings since Sandy Hook, we are averaging at least one school shooting each school week — 74 shootings and counting.

These school shootings take place against a backdrop of decreased gun restrictions and more aggressive gun activism. Consider the Open Carry Texas group, who are carrying guns into public places, including the Baby Toys departments at Target stores. Consider Cliven Bundy and his crew, arming themselves to defend his right to renege on a government contract. Consider the shooters in Las Vegas, who were too extreme for Bundy and one of whom trolled for guns on Facebook despite a felony conviction that prohibited his ownership of firearms.

I am inviting perspectives from all sides of this debate here, for I am truly nonplussed. With full transparency, I am not a proponent of guns and I am a strong supporter of gun control. With that being said, I am so very curious as to how people are not supportive of gun control? I am not passing judgment but I am confounded and horribly worried about youth being killed just attending school. How does the supposed right of a hunter or an antique collector become an imperative to proliferate arms?

I wonder why people feel they need access to guns? How does this promote a culture of peace? How does this promote a culture of non-violence? I hear people quoting the Second Amendment and I wonder if everyone has read the history of this particular amendment and how it has morphed, as living documents do. Strangely, the right to participate in a “well-regulated militia” has become something quite different. Since the NRA transformed from a hobbyist organization to a lobbyist for firearms manufacturers, its efforts have clouded the issue effectively. This has resulted in confusion over legal intent and such ready, under-regulated access to guns that schoolchildren find firearms drills routine — until the day that it turns out not to be a drill.

Where do we go from here? How do we respect individual rights but protect our most vulnerable and intentionally marginalized citizens? When is enough more than enough?

Bigot of the Week, April 25: Earl Bullard

25 Apr
Boss Hogg or Earl Bullard?

Boss Hogg or Earl Bullard?

I want to thank my friend and LGBT ally, Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to address this week’s BWA.  Apparently, Earl Bullard and his cronies would prefer drunk drivers in the state of South Carolina to having LGBT folk, specifically Crystal Moore as the openly lesbian police chief of Latta, South Carolina.

Sadly, South Carolina is just one of 29 states that has no legal protection for LGBT folks.  Consequently, one can be denied employment for membership in the LGBT community.  Bullard seems more like a caricature after he spews his homophobic venom:

I would much rather have.. and I will say this to anybody’s face… somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children.

Because that ain’t the damn way it’s supposed to be. You know.. you got people out there — I’m telling you buddy — I don’t agree with some of the lifestyles that I see portrayed and I don’t say anything because that is the way they want to live, but I am not going to let my child be around…I’m not going to let 2 women stand up there and hold hands and let my child be aware of it. And I’m not going to see them do it with 2 men neither.

My goodness. So according to Mayor Earl Bullard children are far safer riding in a car with a drunk driver than a sober lesbian police chief? I must confess, I am having some difficulty grasping the logic here.  I suspect our Bullard also believes there is a Big Gay Agenda trying to take over the world — bwah-ha-haah!

CALL TO ACTION: Bullard’s behavior only proves how desperately we need to pass ENDA and protect the LGBT community from discrimination. Currently, it is legal under federal law to fire someone for being gay. Under state and local law, it depends on each state and municipality whether gay people are protected in employment. Act locally AND nationally — if you have local protection laws, ensure they are enforced; if not, work to get them passed. This year’s midterm elections are a great opportunity to ensure that the next Congress will be ENDA supporting.

DISHONORABLE MENTION this week goes to Georgia’s legislature and Gov. Nathan Deal. In their infinite wisdom, they have passed the most generous concealed carry law in the nation, allowing guns in schools, libraries and numerous other public places. The law also starkly reduces penalties for being caught with a firearm in an airport making the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, one of the most dangerous.

Hero of the Week Award, August 23: Antoinette Tuff

23 Aug
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

This week, tragedy was averted; this week, children did not die. Credit for the peaceful resolution to a potentially devastating situation goes to one person: Antoinette Tuff.

When Michael Brandon Hill  walked into Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, GA with an AK47 style rifle, anything could have happened. Fortunately, he encountered Tuff, a clerk and bookkeeper at the school. Hill said he was off his medication and wanted her to call a probation officer. She called 911 and began to quietly and calmly reassure Hill that everything could work out fine. Even as Hill fired his weapon into the floor, she kept the line open and kept talking to him. While 870 students — Pre-K to 5th Grade — were evacuated, she was a model of courage and compassion.

The 911 recordings show a woman dedicated to humanity. She shares her own struggles, telling Hill about her husband leaving her and her disabled son, making herself a real person to him in the tense moment. She offered him encouragement.

It’s going to be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know I love you, though, OK?… We all go through something in life…You going to be OK.

It was building relationship with words of love and support and understanding, not armed guards or concealed pistols in teachers’ desks, that helped Hill make the right decision. Even after a brief exchange of gunfire with police, he was able to hear Tuff’s message and surrender. As things came to a close, what did this heroic woman say?

We not going to hate you, baby. It’s a good thing that you’re giving up, so we’re not going to hate you.

In the face of potential violence, she expressed compassion. She allowed Hill to retain his humanity, dignity, and that human chose to seek more help rather than be another horrifying statistic.

Thank you, Antoinette Tuff, for doing all the right things. Not just calling 911 as procedure demanded, but for seeing a person in pain and doing everything you could to help. Dozens of lives may have been spared, and millions have seen the power of a caring word triumph over the threat of a weapon.  Would that we had more Antoinette Tuffs in the world that answer violence with love and compassion rather than hate and more violence. Brava, Ms. Tuff!

Hero of the Week Award: April 19, Patricia Maisch

19 Apr
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Despite massive popular support and rising levels of public violence, the U.S. Senate failed to pass even the weakest of gun control bills this week. In the face of this shameful behavior, one voice called out in the Senate chamber: “Shame on you!” That voice belonged to Patricia Maisch, my hero.

The woman from Tucson knows what she’s talking about. She was in the crowd when Jared Loughner opened fire, killing six and wounding many others including Rep. Gabby Giffords. Maisch leapt into action, helping subdue Loughner before he could reload. She has become an outspoken advocate for gun control and had testified in favor of congressional action.

She spoke for all sensible Americans with her outburst (which got her escorted out of the building). Congress is broken. Human lives matter less than lobbyists and corporations. Someone needs to speak the truth. Thank you, Patricia Maisch, for taking up that charge.

Honorable mention this week goes to the latest two countries to approve marriage equality for their LGBT citizens. Uruguay passed a bill last week which simply awaits the President’s signature (which he has promised). New Zealand’s Parliament approved a marriage bill on Wednesday, resulting in a joyous celebration amongst the legislators and onlookers. They are the 12th and 13th nations to approve full equality as a matter of law. How sad that the “Land of the Free” is still waiting for the same kind of justice.

Government Of the Gun Lobby, By the Gun Lobby, For the Gun Lobby?

3 Apr
That's not how I remember it...

That’s not how I remember it…

Just over 100 days ago, Adam Lanza killed his mother, took two guns from her house to Sandy Hook Elementary School, and killed two dozen people there, most of them children under the age of eight. This horrific shooting capped a year with dozens of deaths in public shootings. Public sentiment quickly turned to the need to revisit gun control legislation.

Two basic proposals have massive support, even four months later. Universal background checks for gun purchases enjoys between 80 and 90 percent support cutting across party lines and declared political ideology. Bans or restrictions on certain assault weapons and high capacity clips (the things that made Lanza’s killing spree possible) enjoy 60 to 70 percent support, including a plurality of Republicans. The people want things to change.

Congress has done nothing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D – CA) sponsored an assault weapons ban. Sen. Charles Schumer (D – NY) led a bipartisan attempt to craft background check legislation. Everything is stalled out in the Senate and the House has made it clear that no action is forthcoming. Why won’t Congress listen to the will of the people? Apparently they are more afraid of the NRA than they are interested in doing their jobs.

Since Sandy Hook, public opinion of the NRA has plummeted. Lunatic spokesman Wayne LaPierre’s bizarre rants and proposal to arm every school have been met with scorn and disapproval. Somehow, however, the fear that the NRA will fund opponents of gun control has Congress paralyzed. The myth of the power of the Second Amendment and the very loud “out of my cold, dead hands” minority are ruling the day.

There has been a little progress. Connecticut (not surprisingly) is poised to pass sweeping new gun regulations; New York already has. So has Colorado, long a bastion of Western libertarianism and gun freedom. In the special election to pick the Democrat to replace Jesse Jackson, Jr. in Illinois, Robin Kelly ran on a strong gun control platform. Despite NRA resistance, she won handily, speaking to the needs of the district. These should be lessons.

Instead, judges who have ruled for reasonable gun restrictions are filibustered and no reasonable laws are moving. The American people overwhelmingly want action. We need to speak up. Contact your Representative and Senator. Insist that they take action and remind them that the will of the people is bigger than the NRA’s purse. It’s time we ensured that our representative government really represents us.

America’s Trigger Happy Traumas

14 Jan

880-from-my-cold-dead-handsToday marks the one month anniversary of  the tragic shootings in Newtown, CT, America seems poised to look at gun violence with fresh eyes. Vice President Biden is preparing to release a set of proposals from a panel he has led to discuss the issue this week. Gabby Giffords has founded a new organization to take a fair and balanced look at what weapons are reasonable and how they should be regulated. Media attention and statements from members of Congress seem focused on solutions rather than distracted by the insane posturing of the NRA. Perhaps, this time there is hope.

Or maybe not. The mere whisper of gun reform has the pry-it-out-of-my-cold-dead-hands crowd gnashing their teeth and rushing to the stores. Gun sales began to spike when President Obama was re-elected. Racists, home-grown terrorists, and conspiracy mongers — not at all a mutually exclusive list — took that as enough of a sign that their ability to fire off insane amounts of ammo in minutes might be curtailed. Sadly the deaths of 20 school children caused no reflection, just more fear.

Gun stores across the country have shut down online vending due to low inventory. Prices on high-capactiy magazines and semi-automatic rifles have more than tripled. Background checks for weapons purchases are up nearly 60% over a year ago. The arms race (predominantly white folk) is on, and the losers will be more innocent victims. Slate magazine is tracking gun deaths since Sandy Hook. Even with the necessarily incomplete information, over 800 people have been killed by guns — nearly 30 a day. Most of those deaths were caused by legally purchased guns. And yet there are those who maintain we have no problem and that military-style weapons belong in our homes and schools.

Perhaps the poster child for this mania is James Yeager, CEO of Tactical Response, a gun advocacy and training company in Tennessee. In a viral video, Yeager fretted about the government taking away his weapons, saying

I’m not going to let anyone take my guns. If it goes one inch further, I’m going to start killing people.

Yeah right, Yeager really needs to have a gun! Still think there is not a problem here? When asked to clarify his statements in an interview, Yeager maintained that he would open fire on anyone who entered his home if he thought they wanted his guns. Fortunately, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security revoked his handgun carry permit, citing “material likelihood of risk of harm to the public.” Unfortunately, that just gives the NRA another martyr to the cause as paranoia and gun mania sweep the land.

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