Welcome to Common Gunsense

I hope this blog will provoke some thoughtful reflection about the issue of guns and gun violence. I am passionate about the issue and would love to change some misperceptions and the culture of gun violence in America by sharing with readers words, photos, videos and clips from articles to promote common sense about gun issues. Many of you will agree with me- some will not. I am only one person but one among many who think it's time to do something about this national problem. The views expressed by me in this blog do not represent any group with which I am associated but are rather my own personal opinions and thoughts.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Too many questions

Why all the shootings? Why all the heartache? Why the chaos on the streets of one Missouri town after the shooting of a Black teen by a police officer? Why the huge funeral of a Minnesota police officer after being shot by a man who said he hated the police and would shoot an officer if he was stopped by one? Why the shooting of a young girl by her own law enforcement father when he thought she was trying to break in to their house? Why the open carrying of guns on our streets as a show of manhood and and a display of power? Why the militarization of our police forces all over the country?

In Ferguson, Missouri the situation has escalated to the point of the National Guard now being called in by the Governor to quell the now violent protests. Why? One shooting incident has turned this city into a war zone with Molotov cocktails, tear gas, military equipment, curfews, guns, looting, vandalism and all of the things that come with out of control mobs of angry people. This all started of course with the shooting of Michael Brown, a Black teen who was stopped by a Ferguson officer a week ago. The community reaction came about because of what appeared to be an unjustified shooting by a police officer. There is much more information to come out about what actually happened that we may not know for months as the justice system sorts this out. What the Ferguson community, and now the nation, are concerned about is the violence that has erupted as a result of the shooting. We should all be concerned about and have questions about the propensity for police officers to target young people of color. This Mother Jones article explores the truth of the matter:
The killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, was no anomaly: As we reported yesterday, Brown is one of at least four unarmed black men who died at the hands of police in the last month alone. There are many more cases from years past. As Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Missouri chapter put it in a statement of condolence to Brown's family, "Unarmed African-American men are shot and killed by police at an alarming rate. This pattern must stop."
But quantifying that pattern is difficult. Federal databases that track police use of force or arrest-related deaths paint only a partial picture. Police department data is scattered and fragmented. No agency appears to track the number of police shootings or killings of unarmed victims in a systematic, comprehensive way.
Here's some of what we do know:
Previous attempts to analyze racial bias in police shootings have arrived at similar conclusions. In 2007, ColorLines and the Chicago Reporter investigated fatal police shootings in 10 major cities, and found that there were a disproportionately high number of African Americans among police shooting victims in every one, particularly in New York, San Diego, and Las Vegas.
"We need not look for individual racists to say that we have a culture of policing that is really rubbing salt into longstanding racial wounds," NAACP president Cornell Williams Brooks told Mother Jones. It's a culture in which people suspected of minor crimes are met with "overwhelmingly major, often lethal, use of force," he says.
The linked article contains some revealing graphs as well that paint a picture of the problem in America. People of color have an understanding that they could be targets of their local police more often than White people. In a community like Ferguson where a majority of residents are Black and the overwhelming majority of officers are White, the potential for problems existed and then erupted after the shooting of an unarmed Black teen.

There is much to think about in the case of the shooting of Michael Brown. He was a human being and an American teen-ager who happened to be Black and living in a community representing similar communities all over our country.  This article ran also in my local paper today. We learn more about Michael Brown and his life and the life of many others who live like he did. Michael Brown was a person. He had a family who loved him. He had friends who hung out with him. He was not a perfect human being and he was trying to eke out a life in the circumstances he was dealt. His story is the story of too many and far too often there are tragic ends. More from the above linked article:
Many of the young have no work. Some have served time in prison for violent crimes, including clashes with police. The apartment complex community had a tense relationship with Ferguson officers.
In this mix, 18-year-old Michael Brown was known as a good kid — not an angel, but someone who had hope for the future.
It is part of the reason why his death has reverberated so strongly: He had hope, and he was killed.
“If his grandma said go upstairs, he went. He was respectful,” recalled neighbor Kevin Seltzer, 30. “He didn’t bother people. That’s why the community here in Ferguson, the real community of Canfield, we’re upset now.”
Brown stayed at Canfield with friends and earlier this year with his grandmother at the adjacent Northwinds apartments. He had just graduated from nearby Normandy High School — no small achievement here.
He was heavyset and quiet, but not shy. He recorded rap music with his best friend and smoked marijuana with other young men.
Everyone called him “Mike-Mike.” He’s so big, they said, you have to call him twice. His cousin, Christine Ewings, said Brown had played on the high school football team but stopped because he was afraid of hurting smaller students. (...) 
Brown didn’t have a car or his license. Like many here, he walked to nearby stores, including the day he was shot.
Seltzer watched him leave that day in a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops. Brown, who Seltzer teased as being “LeBron big,” was headed for a nearby minimart to buy cigarillos, cigars often used to smoke marijuana.
He stopped briefly to chat with two white landscapers who had been chopping down trees in the complex. They complained about the work, and Brown put it in perspective.
He told them “be thankful you have a job because some people don’t have jobs around here,” recalled Seltzer, who is among the unemployed.
Moments later, he said Brown departed with a friend, Dorian Johnson, 22, promising to be right back.
Police said that Brown then walked to a minimart and stole some cigarillos. Williams said he didn’t know if that was true, but he said in this neighborhood it wouldn’t have marked Brown as much of a criminal. “When you’re growing up in a rough situation, everybody makes mistakes,” Williams said.
Brown was later shot after being confronted on Canfield Drive by police Officer Darren Wilson in front of several apartment residents.
And then this story has been released revealing initial autopsy reports. From the article:
While Case declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation into Brown’s death, another person familiar with the county’s investigation told The Washington Post that Brown had between six and eight gunshot wounds and was shot from the front.
In addition, Brown had marijuana in his system when he was shot and killed by a police officer on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, according to this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. (...) Residents and protesters have noted that allegations of marijuana use have been used in the past by some in an attempt to disparage the character of shooting victims, including in the Trayvon Martin case.
The last sentence quoted from the article raises more questions, of course. Teens and marijuana use are not unusual. So what, if anything, did it have to do with the shooting of Michael Brown? We can't escape the fact that racial justice and gun violence prevention are linked. Whether communities of color experience officer shootings, gang shootings, shootings of Blacks by other Blacks or shootings of Black citizens by White citizens and vice versa, it is a problem that needs to be named and a problem that deserves our attention. As we struggle with the issue of shootings and trying to prevent them wherever they occur and to whomever they occur, racial justice must be on our minds.

And this will not be over soon. The death of Michael Brown has brought the fomenting problems of race and poverty, race and violence, race and our education system, race and housing and all of those things we get smug about as a country to the forefront as we try to make ourselves believe we are not a racist society. We have to deal with it all openly and frankly and come together to demand safe communities for all Americans. Some serious soul searching is way overdue.

The proliferation of guns on our streets and in our homes is making us all less safe wherever we live. The idea that more guns make us safer, promoted by the corporate gun lobby, is just not working. In the Ferguson case, it was the authorized gun by a police officer that was involved in a shooting that has caused a national uproar. In other cases it is a Minnesota man who hates police officers and decides to shoot one in a routine traffic stop that causes a community to come together. From the article:
While lying in a hospital bed at Regions Hospital earlier this week, the man suspected of killing Officer Scott Patrick looked another officer in the eye and said, “I hate cops and I’m guilty,” sources tell WCCO-TV’s Liz Collin.
Why hate police officers? Is it because they use too much force in some cases or what appears to be too much force? Is it the anti-government sentiment fomented by the extreme positions of the corporate gun lobby and some in the gun rights community that lead to this behavior? Could it be something personal in this man's life that led him to hate law enforcement? Lots of unanswered questions.

Why do police officers sometimes use what appears to be excessive force in situations that may or many not call for it? We all have some thinking to do. I don't have the answers. I just have lots of questions. There are too many gun related tragedies every day in communities all over America for us to ignore this problem of gun deaths and injuries. About one thing I am pretty sure. When guns are involved the potential for serious consequences increase dramatically.

Often incidents like the ones above give us opportunities to have a real national conversation that is necessary to get to some of the root causes of the violence demonstrated in Ferguson, Missouri, in Mendota Heights, Minnesota. Questions about the role guns play in our society also get asked in sad cases where guns become the first resort rather then the last resort as in the Virginia shooting of a 16 year old girl by her own father when he thought she was a burglar. From the article:
A police officer shot his 16-year-old daughter mistakenly believing her to be an intruder, then crashed his car on the way to the hospital, after the teenager came back home following a night out.
Sergeant Easton McDonald, who works for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia, was at home getting ready for work at roughly 3.30am on Tuesday when he heard the garage alarm sounding.
As he approached the interior of the garage he heard bangs and sounds coming from within, so grabbed a gun.
He opened the door and saw the dark figure of a person walking towards him and fired his weapon at her torso.
“The homeowner determined that he had just shot his 16-year-old daughter who was attempting the sneak back into the residence after sneaking out earlier that morning without the parent’s knowledge,” a statement from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office said.
And to make matters worse, the officer crashed his car while trying to transport his daughter to the hospital. I would think this officer has some questions and will hopefully think twice before shooting someone before being darned sure it is the right thing to do.

And the last question I asked was why the need for some gun rights extremists to strut around in our neighborhoods as a show of force and manhood after all of the shootings we have had in the past few weeks. But never mind common sense. The Texas Open Carry folks were determined to make their latest ludicrous show of force in a majority black neighborhood in Houston last week-end. Even after being asked not to do so, they are determined:
Why? Well, things got pretty ugly last week when representatives of the Fifth Ward, led by Quanell X, head of the New Black Panther Party in Houston, and representatives of the Houston branch of Open Carry Texas, led by David Amad, sat down to hash things out. The original plan was to hold a rally to encourage people in the historically African American neighborhood to get armed and do some of that gun-toting stuff that is so near and dear to the hearts of those in the Open Carry movement. Amad says he sees the rallies a way of encouraging African Americans to exercise their Second-Amendment rights to carry guns. The problem is many representatives of the Fifth Ward don't exactly see things from that angle.
Amad still says that this whole thing isn't about race; it's about guns, the power they give to the people, and who has the power, or, you know, the guns. "The mission of Open Carry Texas is to promote the open carry of firearms in Texas in all the neighborhoods in Texas, and the Fifth Ward just happens to be the next neighborhood in Texas we plan on going to," Amad says. "We try and be as intelligent and reasonable as we possibly can. We're not here to make enemies." (...) A meeting last week in the Fifth Ward rapidly deteriorated into verbal scrapping while a bevvy of reporters looked on. After that members of the state branch of Open Carry Texas voted to cancel the Fifth Ward rally so they can sit down with some different Fifth Ward leaders to talk things out and see if there's a better way to handle the whole thing. "We haven't canceled anything. It's just been postponed," Amad insists. "The Fifth Ward leaders recommended that we meet with them in private, away from all the cameras, and then talk about this and see what we can do."
Really? After what is happening on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, does anyone think that adding more guns to the mix would result in a peaceful solution to the problems? It sounds to me like the Open Carry folks intend to force themselves into this neighborhood like bullies where they are clearly not welcome. And force their way in with their assault rifles slung over their shoulders. Is this the kind of communities we want or deserve to have in the midst of a serious emergency in one of our cities due to a shooting? Such insensitivity and cluelessness is not only stupid, it's potentially dangerous.

I have a lot of questions. I don't think we have a lot of answers. But if come together as a country to at least talk about the questions and deal with the issues presented with some common sense, we may actually be able to reduce and prevent gun deaths and injuries. There are some root causes of violence and some root causes about the culture that contributes to the violence. Everything needs to be on the table. It's time to get serious and get to work. It's time take seriously our commitment to making our communities safe so our young men and women and everyone else can walk the streets without fear of being shot by an officer, by another young person, by a stray bullet, by an intentional homicide or by a domestic dispute gone wrong. It's time for officers themselves to be safe from those who would shoot them simply because they are law enforcement officers. It's time for young children to be safe from the many instances of accidental shootings happening every day in our country. It's time to address the problem of guns and suicide. It's time to take a good long and hard look at the risks of owning guns for self defense which sometimes ends in unintended consequences. And it's time to seek the kind of safe communities we want and deserve to have.

Too many unanswered questions. Too many senseless deaths.

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