Mass shootings bring pain, but no change in the U.S.
Gun violence, acrimony, rage and anger reign inside the United States. Deadly encounters are commonplace and broken hearts and bodies follow. No one is safe. Politicians, preachers, researchers and leaders can’t seem to stem the flow of blood and sorrow.
We are watching an unraveling nation hurtling toward the abyss. Can it be averted?
According to the Gun Violence Archive, 232 mass shootings have happened so far in 2021. In May alone, the country experienced 60 such shootings.
There is no end or solution in sight as America hides behind its gun romance and Second Amendment right to bear arms. The list of recent deaths and shootings is painful and long: Two people were killed and over 20 injured in a mass shooting in Miami early May 30, the Miami-Dade Police Department said in a statement. Twenty people were injured and two were reported dead at Final Call press time. The Miami-Dade Police Department said the mass shooting happened outside a rap concert. Nine people were killed and one injured May 26 at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority control center in San Jose, Calif. The average in America is 10 mass shootings a week. America leads the world in gun deaths and shootings.
The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as a single incident in which four or more people are shot, not counting the shooter, in the same incident in roughly the same time and place.
Violence exacts an enormous toll on American society—claiming tens of thousands of lives each year. Statistics from Gifford’s Law Center lay bare the devastating scope of this “uniquely” American calamity. Here are some numbers:
• 39,000 Americans die from gun violence each year, an average of 100 per day.
• Americans are 25 times more likely to be killed in a gun homicide than people in other high-income countries.
• Black men make up 52 percent of all gun homicide victims in the U.S., despite comprising less than 7 percent of the population.
• Three million children are directly exposed to gun violence each year, resulting in death, injury, and lasting trauma.
• Women in the United States are 21 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries.
• Unarmed Black civilians are five times more likely to be shot and killed by police than unarmed White civilians.
Gunplay a public health menace?
Gun violence is America’s ugly, enormous and horrific reality. The country lacks the leadership, will and courage to fight it. In the Constitution, the Second Amendment affirms the right to bear arms. And with strong pro-gun organizations and heavy lobbying even commonsense gun safety protections are routinely rejected.
The wide availability of guns and the power of available weapons helps account for the high number of fatalities and level of harm inflicted.
According to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, “Gun violence is a public health epidemic that affects the well-being and public safety of all Americans. Compared to other contagious and infectious diseases, gun violence often poses a larger burden on society regarding potential years of life lost. In 2019, firearm deaths accounted for 925,023 years of potential life lost before the age of 65—more than diabetes, stroke, and liver disease combined.”
The Educational Fund believes in focusing on the root causes of fratricidal violence often seen in Black and poor communities. U.S. society must address inequality, poverty, underfunded public housing, under-resourced public services, underperforming schools, lack of opportunity and perceptions of hopelessness, easy access to firearms by high-risk people to stem deaths, said the group. In addition, it says community-based violence prevention and intervention efforts that build authentic relationships with those impacted must be backed.
Then there is the ever-present problem and pressure of racism and oppression Blacks face in a majority White society.
According to Chicago-based clinical psychologist Dr. Nyala Joan Cooper, “Blacks in America need to separate themselves from White logic. Why are we running amuck? Why are we killing our people? What is going on? What is going on is we are now reaping the negative benefits from Big Pharma, from drugs, from guns being dumped into our community.”
“We need to detoxify Black folks from all of the negativity forced on us,” she said.
And, Ms. Cooper added, Blacks are losing a cultural war. “We must imbue our community with that spirit of we are people, and we should be a proud people, and we have something to give to our children. And, we have something to contribute to the overall society and reject this notion of consumerism and individualism. In terms of us being able to make a difference, address this system that has been non-responsive to us since our time in this country.”
Chicago street activist Reality Allah said to understand violence in the Black community you have to understand American history. “The government is only concerned with gun violence when property values go down and it affects their money. The only true colors they understand is red and green,” he argued. “The only reason why some conservatives I even think talk about criminal justice is because they can’t sustain the current criminal justice system as it is, it costs too much money. They don’t care about locking us up.
“Somebody asked me, ‘Why does it seem like people in your community hate one another?’ And I said, ‘Cuz you taught us how to hate us.’ And so you grow up in a country where and when you first come here, first time you ever stepped foot on this country’s shores, the only prominent emotion that you ever seen was hatred.
“So Black males have this disdain for one another, it’s the same disdain that America has the Black male. Psychologists say that if you stigmatize a group of individuals for a long period of time, as a coping mechanism, they will adopt that stereotype. But they’ll try to personalize it. ‘Oh, well, you know what, I’m a nigga.’ I’m gonna just take the ‘er’ off of it and put an ‘a,’ ” the activist continued.
“It’s still the same mentality but you’re trying to personalize it so you can make yourself feel good and empowered by it. And this is what Black males are doing to themselves in America and Black women as well in accepting the designations of being b—–s and hoes.”
Mr. Allah, who was incarcerated at the age of 22 for murder, says combating gun violence in urban America requires dealing with the traumas of young Black men. “You have to really address it in a holistic way mentally, spiritually, and physically. So you address these young men’s trauma and address some of the things that trigger them. We have to change the culture at the same time. So you go and you become a cultural warrior,” he said.
A deadly love affair with violence
Demetric Muhammad, a Nation of Islam student minister in Memphis, points to the historic romance between White people and guns as a major cause of today’s violence.
“Guns certainly have a storied history, you know, celebrating guns. You can hardly get anybody to agree that a movie is worth watching if it doesn’t have a certain amount of violence in it,” he observed.
“There is a perverse relationship with the glorification of violence through popular culture. Popular culture glorifies the violence, and it is reasonable to expect that if gun violence is so embedded in cultural forms of entertainment and expression, it’s unrealistic to expect that it will not ultimately manifest itself in real life. Gun violence is a cultural norm.”
Discourse, compromise, self-control and de-escalation are in short supply given recent spates of shots fired after a road rage incident or a domestic dispute. A Black woman was shot six times by an off-duty officer from Copperas Cove, Texas. Lacresha Murray said the alleged assault occurred after a road rage incident. Feeling ill she was rushing to a hospital when she confronted the driver of a car she said tailgated her. She also said she told the man, Eric Stoneburner, she was sick. Exiting his car, the man pulled a gun and started firing, said Ms. Murray. “I got hit six times,” she told local media May 23. “I saw the casings on the ground. They had ten or eleven down there. So you unloaded in my truck and on me trying to take my life, for what?” The officer has since resigned and now faces charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon causing bodily injury, said authorities.
“They don’t need anyone like that,” Ms. Murray told the media. “I was there. And the anger in his eyes, I feel like if he wanted to kill me then, he would have if he had another bullet in his gun.” into confessing.
“In the 10 years between 2009 and 2018, 1,121 people were shot and killed in the United States in a mass shooting, and 836 more were shot and wounded. The reach of each mass shooting stretches far beyond those killed and wounded, harming the well-being of survivors, their families, and entire communities,” observed Everytown.com, a gun control organization.
“Mass shootings do not need to be an inevitable element of American life. Just like all other tragic forms of gun violence, we can prevent them through common-sense policy solutions,” said the group. “Mass shootings are preventable. The United States is not the only country with mental illness, domestic violence, video games, or hate-fueled ideologies, but our gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than our peer countries. The difference is easy access to guns. In fact, even within the U.S., states with weaker gun laws and higher gun ownership rates have higher rates of mass shootings. Lawmakers should act to require background checks on all gun sales, support Extreme Risk laws that provide a process to temporarily remove guns from people showing warning signs, keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, and restrict assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.”
“Once again, we’re dealing with the tragic aftermath of another mass shooting, this time at a San Jose rail yard where an employee killed at least eight people. My heart goes out to those victims and their families whose lives were shattered today,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) after the mass shooting in San Jose, Calif.
“The common thread in every mass shooting is easy access to deadly weapons. We’re the only country that experiences mass shootings on a regular basis, and it’s largely because congressional Republicans refuse to take reasonable steps to reduce gun violence,” she argued.
As far as mass shootings, Mr. Allah makes a distinction between Blacks and Whites. “Black people commit mass shootings, it’s different from when White people commit mass shootings. Black people’s mass shootings tend to be more impulsive and it’s personal,” he said. “Now you want to talk about premeditated murder? White people will let that mentality fester in them. And the psyche is different. So a White person might just be sitting in his room for days and days and days and decide to go to the school and kill.”
A divine connection between a failing society and its evil?
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam connects current violence with America’s bloody past and the need for greater spiritual lessons, increased fairness and justice and actual change in society.
“I’m asking you to repent on behalf of the wickedness of your people, White people, for the evil that you have done to self, to others, to use to the Native people, the Indigenous. Wickedness is what’s making America suffer,” said Minister Farrakhan in his historic Saviours’ Day 2020 speech entitled “The Unraveling of a Great Nation.”
“The condition of America is puzzling,” he said. “The world is looking at a country going to hell,” he said. “America was not built on a firm foundation. Although the weaving was done strongly, the nation called America was doomed from its inception. How do you build a nation killing the native people? How do you build a nation, bringing a whole people out of Africa to America to be made slaves? This is your foundation, so for them to lie to you and make you think that America is a land of promise for you, and you believe it; no wonder Jesus said, You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who taught Minister Farrakhan, wrote about the violence levels in the United States. In a book published in 1973, “The Fall of America,” he observes, “The country of America displays and practices more savagery than any civilized country on the earth. And all of her educational institutions are not enough to make a man so intelligent and proud of his education and of being an American citizen that he would not practice the same savagery.”
“There is no such thing as law and order. The law is disregarded, as though it were thrown in the jungles to be carried out by savage beasts,” he said.
“ ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen.’ Substitute America for Babylon. She’s unraveling. America is falling, is falling. Why are you falling America? Because you have become the habitation of devils. A hole for every foul person, a cage for every hateful bird,” Minister Farrakhan said. The Hon. Elijah Muhammad teaches this is the day of America’s downfall and the country’s internal dissatisfaction and external wars will bring her to naught.
Dr. Abner Boles, who is with the San Francisco-based African Healing Alliance, offered his perspective on violence and the state of American society. The society has turned on itself with each segment feeling it is being persecuted or their rights are being taken away, he said.
“I think there’s an overall environment across the country where there’s this notion of those who have, and those who have not, and those who would like to have and think they are being oppressed,” the psychologist argued. “So I think there’s this sense of frustration, anger. Everybody feels as if they are less than they’re being (acknowledged) for lack of a better word, their existence and their goals and their aspirations are all being denied.”
“I think that that’s happening to all people. I think it’s happening to White people but it certainly has been happening for quite some time with people of color. I also think from a psychological perspective people have lost a sense of the value of some of our institutions, the medical institution, the law enforcement institution, the business institutions. People have a sense that they’re out of their own. I think people are lashing out against that,” said the psychologist.
Dr. Boles also cited other causes of violence and conflict, as America’s rabid “individualism” and need for sensationalism. “We are very quick now to immediately publish anything that happens. Whether it’s the person on the corner who is filming with a phone and they immediately post on social media and that gets energy going. It’s not only the prevalence of shootings but also the increased visibility. We’re very good now at making whatever is traumatic to us immediately available and present.”
“Lastly, I come from a perspective as a psychologist that Western cultural notions about what’s important and what we value is part of the problem. I think Western cultural notions are really based on individual aspirations, individual goals. I think that is a major factor. So people who have difficulties or struggles, it’s their problem. It’s not somebody else is hurting and therefore it’s your problem. We need to do something about it. I think that mentality, that’s the core of what we’re dealing with.”
Dr. Boles seemed to say America has become a society without limits of morality, religion, or law concerned only the satisfying of the aspirations of the individual. No one else matters; or matters too much.