You were likely met by horrific news getting out of bed this morning of an horrendous attack last night in Las Vegas, when concert goers attending an outdoor festival were shot from a sniper who stood from the 29th floor of a hotel window, killing (at last report) 59 people and injuring more than 500. It’s the worst mass shooting in American history, which given its lenghty history of gun-related violence, is quite a thing.
You may also have been greeted by news reports about this mind-boggling event – in particular the way it’s been framed as a shooting. Undeniably it’s a shooting, but it’s interesting how little the word “terrorism” has been used so far in context with reporting the incident.
Meanwhile I happened to notice this other incident on twitter this morning:
The stabbing, which occurred in Marseille, was also horrific – in this case it resulted in 2 victims, not 600. And yet, it was defined as “likely terrorist plot.” The suspect in this case was of Arabic descent.
Even closer to my own home, on Sunday night a man stabbed and then mowed down a police officer with his vehicle as well as four other bystanders. The suspect, Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, was of Somali origin. In the end, Sharif was charged with attempted murder. Nonetheless:
So the day after the Vegas shooting, in what was in retrospect, an attack that by any sensible definition, was an act of terrorism designed to kill as many people as Mr. Paddock thought possible, we are greeted with headlines like this:
The message is clear – if you’re not from another country, or of a certain race, terrorism simply doesn’t apply.
That’s mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz pictured above, who on Wednesday was wading chest-high through flooded sections of San Juan carrying a bullhorn while looking for victims. The optics of the picture are remarkable picture because it was taken almost a week after Hurricane Maria devastated much of Puerto Rico. It also demonstrates what a tough and left San Juan in ruin, but it’s also a magnificent testimony to what leadership is supposed to look like.
You’re not seeing much leadership in Washington. The response by the Administration and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) to the dire situation has been tepid at best, and outright indifferent at worst. While the island isn’t as easily accessible as say, Florida or Texas, the United States still stands as the most powerful country to have existed, so surely to goodness if you’ve landed astronauts on a giant rock 300,000 miles away, you can also muster up the resources to send in some ships to an island off your right coast.
Cruz took to the airways Friday night on CNN, where she begged for help. “I will do what I never thought I was going to do. I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying,” said Cruz.
Then Cruz started taking her digs at the Trump Administration. “If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency.”
Well guess who was Tweeting this morning? Yup:
There’s no way of spinning it. Trump’s tweet was dripping with rage towards a (very popular) female politician, who just so happens to be a Democrat, and perhaps worst of all, an hispanic.
So the President “goes there” yet again. Hillary Clinton, another accomplished poli, is a “nasty woman.” An African American football player protesting police brutality? You’re a “son of a bitch.” And who can mistake the obvious tinge of racism, accusing residents of “wanting everything to be done for them.”
It’s classic Trump-ism. Criticized by someone directly, heaven forbid this time a woman from a racial minority, he reaches for his phone and rages to the base. It’s a much a release for him as it is consumption for the folks who worship him.
By now you’re probably familiar with the situation surrounding Colin Kapernick, the NFL quarterback who’s been protesting policy brutality toward visible minorities in America. It seems like distant history, but Karpernick’s protest began just over a year ago, when he sat during the national anthem during a preseason game in San Francisco.
After getting released by the 49ers in the weeks following his sit-down, Kapernick, who had decent career numbers, can’t buy a job in the League, which has only cast more coverage of his protest, leading to other NFL players symbolically joining in. Media coverage was cranked up to a near frenzy last week when President Trump referred to kneeling players as, to paraphrase slightly, “sons of bitches”.
Let’s not lose focus here. This is about how the police are supposed to do their job.
What is happening with American law enforcement contrasts with how Canadian police handle high stress situations. A couple of days ago, in my own Canadian city, a man was walking through downtown in broad daylight carrying in improvised shotgun. Here’s how my local police force handled what could only be described as a very dangerous situation:
It’s intense stuff, but this is how a trained police force is supposed to react – attempt to diffuse conflict, and use force only as last resort. The video ends with the suspect running away – and from what we know, gunfire was exchanged with the police, and the suspect was shot, but not killed. In the days following that incident, the officers at the scene rightly received praise for their restraint.Contrast how my local law enforcement handled that situation with how police officers in Minnesota handled this situation after pulling a car over in St. Paul with a broken brake light, with two African American passengers:
On the passenger side sat Philando Castile. After being asked to produce his driver’s licence, Castile was shot and fatally wounded while reaching inside his glove box. The officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was eventually charged with manslaughter and brought to trial.
This June, a jury found Yanez not guilty.
And so it goes in America.
The Castile case is not an aberration. Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Akiel Denkins in Raleigh, South Carolina. Freddy Gray of Baltimore. Gregory Gunn of Montgomery, Alabama. Laquan McDonald of Chicago. Walter Scott of North Chraleston, North Carolina. Akai Gurly of New York City. Samuel DuBose of Cincinnati. The list is nearly endless – but all are connected by an important thread: All were black, and all were shot and killed under suspicious circumstances.
While the vast majority of American officers are decent people who do their job with integrity and restraint, a significant minority of police have repeatedly demonstrated the lack of ability to diffuse situations, or in the case of the Castile killing, using a level of force grotesquely out of proportion. The unjustified killing of civilians in the United States is born out of local police forces that are poorly trained, unqualified recruits, many of whom seemingly carry a prejudicial attitude while fulfilling their duties.
That’s the essence of the Kapernick protest – too many people of colour – men, women and children, are being assaulted or killed by people who are supposedly there to protect them. And so while Kapernick, still unemployed, continues to push for equality, his movement now finds itself struggling to overcome Trump’s SOB remarks. Since the President undignified criticism, other NFL players have “joined the movement”, although their protest has become more of a cause célebère for their own personal grievances. The NFL and its owners, predictably and hideously, have also highjacked Kapernick’s sacrifice into its own PR campaign.
It’s a shame. What Kapernick did was important in highlighting yet another example of fundamental inequality and injustice in America. Whether his country is willing to return its focus to the purpose of his protest, or perhaps even better, are willing to look at how law enforcement functions north of their border, is yet to be seen.
In the spring of 2007, I visited New Orleans which at that time, was still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded a good part of neighbourhoods who were so unfortunate as to be under the level of Lake Pontchartain, which sits directly north. Actually, the flooding mainly affected the lowest sections of the city, both literally and socially. No section was more devastated than the 9th ward, which at more than 10 feet under lake level, was essentially washed away.
Although I’d arrived some 18 months after the storm, you might be fooled into thinking it had happened the week previous. One very sunny afternoon I decided to take a stroll, by myself, through the 9th. The ward appeared as though an atom bomb had been dropped, with entire streets marked by concrete pads from which houses once stood. Dotted here and there were houses that managed to stay standing, but most had been abandoned. The big red numbers spray painted on the front indicating the number of human bodies that were found inside, were still painfully visible.
What happened to New Orleans wasn’t only an indictment of the sad state of affairs within the then George W. Bush Administration, with unqualified cronies like Micheal Brown running the rescue show. It was an indictment of the indifference response in America to devastated communities. The people who had their homes swept away, poor, mainly African American, were simply forgotten. Many were bussed to Texas, where they became somebody else’s problem.
The mistakes, the bumbling and the institutional prejudices which left 10s of thousands holding the bag in The Big Easy was one of the great American scandals of the 2000s. A kind of event so traumatic to a region that you’d have thought “never again.”
10 years later, we find ourselves right back in that place with the situation in Puerto Rico, which was devastated last week by Hurricane Maria. The night after Maria hit, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz was giving her assessment of the situation which ought to have raised a million red flags of concern in Washington:
The response from the Trump Administration however, was indifference (at best) and outright hostility (at worst). Response to providing relief to the island has been pathetically slow, marked by squabbles over implementing the Jones Act, an old, archaic, utterly out of date piece of legislation that has little meaningful relation to disaster relief. And yet, that’s the hill President Trump and his party in Congress decided to defend – the Jones Act, instead of sending in badly needed humanitarian supplies.
And so more than a week on from Maria, 97% of the island sits stranded without electricity, and at least half the population has little or no access to fresh water. You might expect this kind of response from a 3rd world nation, not by the United States.
But then, there’s nothing really normal about America right now, is there?