Media reports did not frame Willie Cody Godbolt’s slaughter of eight human beings including two children at a family gathering as an act of terrorism. After all, he wasn’t acting in the name of Islam, he wasn’t a Middle Eastern national and his motives weren’t political or ideological. He was simply, angry.
Try explaining to the survivors, whose scars of memory will never fully heal that this was not a terrorist act. Whenever a car backfires and a metal door latch clicks shut they will likely experience terror and the impulse to run and hide will be overwhelming. Combat veterans and police who have experienced rages of gun fire recognize the symptoms. It is commonly referred to as PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Police officers and soldiers enter into their work with a reasonable expectation that this or worse might someday be a reality for them. Family picnics should be devoid of expectations of danger. Yet, in 21st Century America such conjectures may seem too reasonable.
Jeremy Joseph Christian, a disturbed racist and avowed neo- Nazi, verbally assaults a young woman for assaulting his sensibilities by wearing a religious head scarf. This madman is further maddened by three young men who have the temerity to stand up for her. He used a knife to express his outrage leaving two of the men dead and the third badly injured. Mr. Christian was angry.
In Alexandria Virginia, Republican congress members and staff gathered for an early morning practice for an annual softball game against their democratic counter parts. James T Hodgkinson of St. Claire County, Illinois had little use for softball and even less use for Republican Congressmen that morning when he expressed his disaffection with a 7.62 caliber rifle and a 9mm-handgun, leaving Rep. Stephen Scalise of the First Congressional District of Louisiana fighting for his life. Mr. Hodgekinson was later killed in a shootout with police.
Dr. Henry Bello let his anger gestate for a full week after being forced to resign from his position at Bronx Lebanon Hospital in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment. Unable to locate the object of his anger he goes on a random rampage. Dr. Tracy Si-Yee Tam, 33, substituting for a co-worker was killed. Five other staff members were injured including doctors, residents, medical students as well as one patient. One of the doctors underwent brain surgery for wounds to the head. Cornered by police, Bello took his own life.
As aware of the dangers she might have faced as a member of the Bronx anti-crime unit Officer Miosotis Familia could not possibly have been prepared for Alexander Bonds when he approached her vehicle with a .38 caliber revolver as she sat wrapping up her shift in the early morning hours of July 5th . She survived the crack epidemic that permeated her Washington Heights neighborhood while growing up but she could not survive the manifestations of still another sick angry mind with a gun.
Alexander Bonds, suffered from schizophrenic bipolar disorder as well as a deep and abiding hatred for the police. He did not know his victim. He had been in and out of prisons and treatment at Bellevue hospital for his illness for over 15 years. He had been prescribed anti-psychotic medications. They were past the expiration date so he was not taking them on the night of July 4. His girlfriend had called 911 to warn that he “was acting in a manic, depressed state-paranoid” that evening and was likely a danger to himself or others. Police were on the lookout for him but unfortunately didn’t locate him until the moment he himself was shot and killed by officers while fleeing the murder scene and after turning on police with his gun.
As the news played out across the nation the carnival barkers of distrust inevitably used the stories to sell their snake oil remedies at the expense of our national soul. The racists who claim not to be racists point to Mr. Godbolt’s color and his previous criminality as an example of a dangerous black population infested with crime and in dire need of more “law and order”. Unfortunately they have an all too willing advocate in an Attorney General who has never been a friend to people of color or any other minority for that matter and who gives speeches to organizations listed as hate groups by The Southern Poverty Law Center. He recently pledged to one such group to do everything in his power to trample on the rights of LGBQT citizens in the name of protecting the “right” of extremist Christians to discriminate. He also plans to forgo the previous administrations directives to phase out the use of private prisons in the Federal penal system as well as its reversal of draconian sentencing polices and enforcement relating to nonviolent offenders of drug law. The lethal combination of corporate prisons and absurd enforcement will surely result once again in a tidal flow of people of color into the prison system. He has, as his champion, a president who once called for the death penalty for five young men for a crime for which they were ultimately exonerated.
The uber left (full disclosure -this might actually be considered my own tribe) will rightfully point to Mr. Christian’s actions as a standard of the alt right’s most extreme fringes. But does anyone expect also a serious examination of the foundational reasons for their extremism including the economic and deep seeded cultural dimensions of it when it is just easier to call him a Nazi and be done with the discussion?
Media and law enforcement will also tip toe around their responsibility for a climate they have partnered in cultivating over decades by infecting the imagination of Americans with a barrage of unflattering and frightening images of black men as perpetrators of the most heinous brutality and criminality. Sensationalistic coverage designed not to inform but rather to inflame or sadly and pathetically, entertain by blaring fear with reportorial shock are neatly intertwined with the continued denial of obvious institutional biases both in the enforcement of law and in the way police officers are recruited, trained and hired.
However the branding of all police officers as racist and insensitive is disturbing, inaccurate and unfair. Communities and police must be able to engage in an environment of mutual trust and communication for the benefit and the safety of both. Officers often make decisions that are split second in nature and of a life and death variety. Tempting as it may be to paint all officers with the same broad brush we should consider that cops come in all shapes, sizes, colors and genders. Miosotas Familia, who worked for the American Red Cross prior to her service to the NYPD was a woman of Dominican heritage and a woman of color. She lived to serve all; her death serves no one at all.
Alexander Bond’s brutal execution of Officer Familia had little to do with his blackness itself. Instead it was likely the more common result of a lifetime of subjection to institutional bias because of his blackness and mental illness. A combination more potent than dynamite and becoming all too common.
Within minutes of the news of the Congressional softball rampage there was Newt (I need to appear relevant) Gingrich positively blaming the “left” for this tragedy as if the laws (or lack) of them that made this mess possible were a creation of the people on the side of the aisle who have provided the only pushback against the insanity that is gun passion in this country. According to reports James T Hodgkinson purchased his weapons legally from federal gun licensees. However on March 24 he was visited by the St. Claire Illinois County Sheriff for a reported incident involving his use of a firearm in an open area. Apparently he was sighting a deer rifle when he fired into a sparsely but nonetheless somewhat populated area, his neighbors being the source of this population. He had a permit for the weapon and a valid firearms owner identification card. Nothing he did was illegal. But it should cause us some alarm especially since this was not the first time Mr. Hodgkinson had used a firearm to put an exclamation point on his anger. In 2006 he hit a neighbor in the face with the stock of his shotgun, after punching the neighbor’s wife in the face in a dispute involving his teenaged foster daughter. This was after forcing his way into the neighbor’s home, damaging their property and forcibly removing the girl from the premises.
Mr. Gingrich’s accusations would be enough to make nauseous even the steadiest of stomachs if we weren’t already inured to such outlandish pronouncements by the likes of himself and our current Chief Executive who called for protesters to be removed from his rallies while speculating that it might be nice if someone punched them in the face, offering to pay the legal fees of anyone who followed up on his suggestion.
The idea that any political grouping or party is responsible for the worst polarization this country has likely seen since the civil war is moronic. James Hodgkinson’s bloody actions are no more the fault of the “left” whatever that really is than the actions of Jared Lee Loughner were of Republicans or Conservatives in his assault on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords resulting in her injuries and the deaths of six other human beings including six year old Christina Taylor Green. This is not to dispute that hateful rhetoric contributes to a climate we are all way too accustomed to nowadays. Of course it does but while it may be the match for the fuse igniting the actions of a few disquieted and disturbed souls it is not the only ingredient. The key ingredient, the explosive ingredient is always and always has been anger stoked to madness.
We are an angry people with a long tradition of addressing our anger violently. This should come as a surprise to no one who has been paying the least amount of attention. Along with this anger is also a long time honored tradition of firearm use. But anger is the real problem and to some degree as well, mental illness. After all, it is no coincidence that we refer too often to the mentally ill as “mad” or possessed of “madness”. The point should also be made however that mental illness does not necessarily involve rage or violence. Most mentally ill people are not violent. Rather, all too often they are the victims of violence and to a higher degree than the average member of society at that. But if the tendency and legitimacy of violence for any reason is presented continually in an aura of justification in this society then it should come as no surprise that the mentally ill may partake of it as fully as their fellow citizens who are not so designated.
A gun is not necessarily needed to inflict bloodshed on the innocent and unsuspecting, although I do not believe it is possible to argue against the notion of their ability to inflict maximum damage in minimal time. Still, in the right hands a knife can be quite effective as evidenced by the actions of Mr. Christian in Portland.
Anger is one of the most basic of human emotions and it is likely the easiest to access. Anger can also be a great motivator. Indeed without it we might too easily be relegated to the pitfalls of indignity and submission. But it is also the fuel of war.
Too often nowadays a simple disagreement may lead to a violent “resolution”. Words do matter and labels pack punches. Liberals are commies. Conservatives are rednecks, Muslims are terrorists, gays are godless and dirty, Mexicans are thieves and rapists, women are out of line, cops are all racists, Christians are theocrats, Jews are cheap and not trustworthy, the mentally ill are crazy, the homeless are lazy, the blacks are dangerous, natives and the Irish are all drunks, all Italians are mobsters, Asians are shifty and good at math and so on and so on and so on, and the only way to fix it for too many among us is to just wipe them all out.
The idea of violence as a solution to our “problems” is as American as apple pie. But if the rapidly evolving society that is 21st century America does not soon acknowledge our rather easy acquiescence to rage, our liberties will be left on a shelf like a shaved apple rapidly oxidizing as the final rotted ingredient in a pie only tyrants can enjoy. At the Second Virginia Convention in 1775 Patrick Henry stood and said “Give me liberty or give me death” It would appear that 242 years later we have had enough of the former and are ready to settle for the latter.