Categotry Archives: Shooting Gallery


Letter to My Unconceived Child on the Occasion of Your Shooting Death

Categories: A Day in the Life, Hypothetically Speaking, Shooting Gallery, Tags: , ,

Dear Child,

In the wake of your untimely and altogether regrettable death by firearm in the United States of America, the question must certainly occur to you, as it does to your mother and I, whether this tragic ending was preventable. Was there a set of circumstances whose convergence could have altered your ultimate path from birth to violent death? Could you have, in some alternate timeline, come to a more timely and somehow less confounding end? The answer, inevitably, my dearest child, is yes.

I must apologize. The responsibility, of course, is mine.

If you are wondering, dear sweet child, whether it occurred to your mother and I to leave the United States of America, either before or after your birth, at some point before this occasion of your shooting death, I have an answer for you. Every day. We considered leaving every day. As you too well know, we never did.

I yearn for a good explanation for this decision. The decision which, single-handedly, placed us on a one-way train to the hospital in which I, only yesterday, shook in knowing grief as they peeled back the white sheet to reveal your somehow still recognizable face. To think it was in a hospital in the same nation in which you finally emerged to greet us, a face familiar but not yet recognizable, a body destined to contain the bullets of a young man whose sanity and predictability now comprise the bulk of online and televised debate across the land. They warned me that it might be a bit of a shock, to see the changes enacted by those bullets, to say nothing of the vain attempts by the surgeons to extract them. But somehow I knew before I saw. They say you always do.

I wish I could tell you that we were bound inextricably to the United States of America in some way. That we were not permitted to leave by law, restrained under threat of the same weapon which prematurely ended your life. Or that we were constrained by duty, the deepest of patriots who could not consider forsaking the beloved homeland. Or that we blithely maintained a buoyant certainty that your future would best be provisioned in this, the so-called greatest country in history. Alas, none of these are true. It was some combination of inertia, attachment, and misplaced hope. We desired to be close to friends and family, yes, to raise you with reminiscent experiences, to take you to old haunts and hangouts. Now, everywhere is haunted and we will never again hang out. Naive, foolish, willfully ignorant. These are just words that fall somewhere between hollow and insufficient. The truth, the real core of it, is far too human. We thought it wouldn’t be us. Nay, we knew. Only humans, perhaps only Americans, dare to know the future before it happens. For if we only thought it wouldn’t be us, only presumed, how could that be enough? How could any man who falls upon the mangled corpse of his child, torn asunder once by mortal ammunition and twice by frantic scalpel, look in retrospect to find calculated risk of this event? One in a million is twenty times too high a chance.

And yet, years before you were conceived, the chance was better than one in 29,000. Each year. Just one in 370 in a lifetime. Better than a quarter of a percent.

We took no heed.

We knew it would have to be us to change. It would never be the country. For all my preaching and ranting about the power of swift change, some patterns are too entrenched to be questioned. After Sandy Hook, they said, there could be no horror too great to shift the inevitable tide of bodies. Maybe after Columbine. The nation was too violent, too in love with violence as a solution. The guns were too available, too many in love with guns as a lifestyle. A country founded in blood, demanding the right to proliferate firearms to all, in an era when refusing to wear a regular uniform and form up as a regular unit was the height of treachery. It was a nation whose cities were transformed into tombstones, one at a time, as the gun-toters competed to place their city name higher on the grim leaderboard. Orlando. San Bernardino. Las Vegas. Parkland.

It was your nation, too. You might well ask if it even would have been you had you come to us in France or Finland, India or Indonesia, Russia or Rwanda. Grown up with foreign friends and phrases, mannerisms and expectations altogether Unamerican. Could you take some small sick solace from the notion that the only you who ever could really have existed could only have died as you did that day? Perhaps, perhaps. After all, your mother and I prefer nurture to nature, raised you to believe the same. What would we have discussed in Vantaa, Varanasi, or Vladivostok? At what point does the Ship of Theseus transform, does the American child become unrecognizable in some far-flung port? My kingdom for another night to discuss this with you in our trademark late hours when you will awake no more.

Instead, I am left to write you this letter. A letter you will never read, will never see, in the pathetic hope that it can somehow bend its way backwards in time to a moment before you were born, maybe even before you were conceived, when there was still a chance to throw the trolley lever and avert this disaster. What would I do differently if I knew? Everything, everything. How could I not?

Oh, the counter-arguments. There were many who said stay and make change happen, stay to influence the course of history in the way that only a talented privileged white male born therein could. Don’t use your ability to get out to make it that much worse for those stuck behind. Maybe the loudest voice for that argument was me, dear dead child. I had always known, always spouted, that had I been born in any other country, I would have spent my life jealous of the influential power of native-born Americans.

There is no power known to humans to raise the dead, though. Nor to propel one to fix irreversible mistakes before they happen. I am left with the regret that only the living can feel about the past. Do not mistake this tone for bitterness at our relative states, young sweet child. Only that I would switch our status in a heartbeat if I could, as would every parent who leaves after their offspring.

A heartbeat. I was not there at your last, at the moment you had time to wonder what could have been done, how you could have ended up anywhere else on the last day. How you could have instead been the person reading about another’s horror and tragedy, with your beloved empathy and compassion, yes, but also with that secret security of knowing, knowing, that it will not be you.

I did not know. We do not know. I do not know.

I am sorry.



America’s Inability to Be Self-Critical
  is (Literally) Killing Us

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Shooting Gallery, Tags: , ,

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
-Colin Kaepernick, 26 August 2016

“A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
-Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, 15 December 1791

As Michael Harriot effectively argued last Friday, a movement is abroad in the land to water down and whitewash the otherwise searingly potent national anthem protest initiated by Colin Kaepernick. This movement, borne of an attempt to make Kap and his allies palatable to a white audience, plus a good dose of knee-jerk anti-Trumpism responding to his notorious “SOBs” comment, is claiming that refusing to stand for the national anthem has nothing to do with the flag, the anthem, or the country for which they stand. It’s just coincidence, this reasoning claims, that the anthem was chosen as the vehicle for the message.

As Harriot concludes, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with standing for the anthem, but don’t participate in the erasure of his protest by taking away the crux of the message. If you take a knee, know it is about black people. Know it is about the flag. Know it is about America.”

Indeed, it would take unbelievable backflips of self-aggrandizing illogic for a protest against the flag and the national anthem to not be about America. After all, this is the country that is hosting the racism, that espoused and perpetuated slavery long after other colonial nations had forsaken it, that instituted a century and a half of pseudo-slavery after the Civil War, persisting today in institutions like mass-incarceration and staggering income inequality. This country harbors and forgives the police who routinely slaughter unarmed Black men and women in broad daylight. What country do you think Kap intends us to protest?

And yet the notion of criticizing even the slightest aspect of America has become so third-rail, so polarizing, so icky, that even alleged liberals recoil at the idea of embracing Kap’s worthy and obvious critique of the stars and stripes. Not about the anthem? Have you heard the third verse of Key’s ode to killing in the name of cloth?…

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
-Francis Scott Key, “The Star-Spangled Banner”, 1814

Never mind the celebration of murdering escaped slaves who were choosing to side with a nation that recognized their innate freedom. Let’s just focus on the cognitive dissonance between nestling the word “slave” in the same verse as “land of the free”. If you don’t think white supremacy is cooked right into the batter, all the way down, of those white stripes waving in the breeze, you are just willfully blinding yourself. And yet even much of the left-wing flees in terror from the chance to see a critique of America for what it is – a critique of America.

Those who can at least acknowledge the horrors of our so-called founding fathers, the spoiled ruffians who unpatriotically killed their own soldiers over feeling overtaxed, are quick to cite just how long it’s been since 1814. Two-hundred and three years! What a long, long, long time. Look how far we’ve come!

Which brings us to the other aspect of this post, the second quote up top, the tragedy of early Monday that dislodged the alleged scandal of Sunday in the American consciousness. Because the second amendment is even older, 225 years old, yet remains as hallowed today as anytime in that span – more hallowed, in fact, since Jefferson and friends wrote it with the intent of authorizing future like-minded ruffians to violently overthrow the government they were creating when it inevitably grew corrupt and in need of renewal. Not only would Jefferson and his cohort be appalled to see the United States still standing with a continuous peaceful transfer of power this long, they would be horrified to see the second amendment upheld like a Bible verse, and just as twisted in its interpretation. The notion, of course, as the text of the amendment makes plain, is that a militia was necessary to maintain security. Either this means that a standing army or whatever entity is responsible for defending the State should be allowed to have guns or, more likely, that each person should have whatever Arms are necessary to ensure their ability to form a militia that checks State power. In other words, the second amendment entitles us all to nuclear weapons.

As absurd as this latter interpretation sounds on face, it was written by people who had just used single-shot muskets to complete a successful revolution against their government (and were about to use similar weapons to enact the most successful genocide in human history to date). They could no more have imagined the development and proliferation of assault rifles than they could’ve designed an iPhone. Indeed, these individuals themselves anticipated their own short-sightedness in projecting adequate laws into the future, which is not only why they made the Constitution infinitely alterable, but why they wrote the second amendment in the first place! Clinging to only the second half of this ancient text as though it is inalienable divine inspiration makes about as much sense as forgetting the third verse of our national anthem in evaluating the song’s worthiness as a loyalty oath for all Americans.

Something sinister and destructive is at the root of both of these denials, as well as in the heart of the modern-record-mass-shooter* who just killed 59+ and injured 550+ in Las Vegas a couple nights ago and the voice of everyone criticizing Colin Kaepernick and the many NFL players and coaches who have followed his lead. It’s the belief that America is infallible. It’s the belief that only terrorists or those who secretly sympathize with them could ever criticize America as a country, as an entity, stars, stripes, “home of the brave” and all. That self-criticism, hell, self-analysis is not the road to refinement and perfection, but the road to ruin and defeat.

*for now – wait a couple incidents till this gets surpassed

As I have observed in this space many times, this level of self-righteous zeal is simply absent from any other nation on the planet. It is essentially patriotic in Germany to disavow the Nazi ideology and everything it stood for, to quietly acknowledge the sins of the father in an effort to not repeat them. While some of Japan’s prime ministers visit a shrine honoring their war dead, it is highly controversial and criticized when they do so, at home and abroad. Sweden does not hold up their Viking ancestors as models of good citizenry who were right for the time, any more than the British espouse colonialism as their ongoing divine mandate. But somehow America, uniquely in the family of nations, clings to its centuries-old crimes as justified and honorable, as worthy of reverence, as immune to critique. And it is this ability to conflate a flag, an anthem, a founding document, with pre-eminent, infallible rightness, that empowers the racist cops, the mass-shooters, the NRA, the KKK, and all the other present-day monsters of our nation. After all, they and the model they are following are American – so how could they think themselves wrong?

If you’re looking for further explanations of “how Donald Trump happened,” this is a good place to examine. Many have observed the double-standard of Trump being allowed to criticize the USA while Kap was lambasted for same, but this misses the point of “Make America Great Again”. MAGA was never about critiquing America. It was about silencing America’s critics, the critics who were behind progressive change movements like gay marriage and Black Lives Matter. The notion was that progressive change takes us away from what makes America great – the racism, the love-it-or-leave-it-ness, the high walls and big bombs and guns for all. It is no wonder that Clinton’s retort that “America has always been great” (genocide, slavery, Japanese internment, mass-incarceration, school shootings, and all) was insufficient to appeal to either Trump’s demographic or America’s correct critics. The third road, the one I’ve long advocated, that “America is not great, has never been great, and will have to try very hard to be good,” remains unvoiced by all but Kap and other fringe radicals.

Of course, gun control and inroads against the current interpretation of the second amendment is hardly a fringe movement, even less so in the wake of ever growing slaughters of human beings by the firearms alleged to protect us. We are engaged in an ongoing horror-game-show asking us what the tipping point might be, a deadly Deal or No Deal. How about twenty kindergartners? No, not enough? How about fifty teenagers? No, still no good? What about sixty country-music fans? Any takers?

The sticking point is, in part, a result of our fascinated devotion to the old original document as it has been carried down and reinterpreted in a world as foreign to 1791 America as Saturn is to us today. One piece of this devotion is the conflation of money and speech which enables the NRA and their well-heeled corporate mercenaries to buy safe passage of deadly weapons to every man, woman, and child who would turn them on themselves and others. But the other piece is the notion that the second amendment, as unique among the family of nations as our almost uncountable pile of dead gun victims, is sacrosanct, not to be examined or criticized, let alone changed. As was observed in McSweeneys yesterday, basically nothing else we do in society enjoys this level of unfetteredness, which is entirely the result of our dedication to the idea that the revolutionaries were infallible.

Of course this idea is incoherent even with the Constitution as it stands today. We got rid of the notion that Blacks aren’t people (on paper, at least), that women aren’t people (ditto), that wealthy white landowners were the only people who deserved a voice (super-ditto). We have allowed men to marry men in all fifty states for God’s sake, but still recoil at the idea that stockpiling twenty-three assault rifles in your hotel room with more ammunition than was fired in the Battle of Bunker Hill is not your God-given right. Whatever you think of those racist slave-owning hypocrites who started the American experiment, what do you think they would say about this? Which idea do you believe they would deem more radical? Even if we are so obsessed with their myopic desires, maybe we can embrace at least the level of change we’ve already seen in other arenas and apply it to something that is killing us at a rate that would make the most ardent terrorist blush.

As I’ve said before, mass shootings are largely about violence itself. America is the biggest worldwide advocate of the notion that might-makes-right, boasting the largest military in human history and whipping it around the world with impunity and indifference. Most shooters are not only men, but have some sort of military background – this guy being a former defense contractor. Once one fully imbibes the notion that one deserves to end others’ lives because of something that makes one exceptional, it’s just too easy to drape that American exceptionalism over one’s own individual self.

Of course, America is exceptional. Exceptionally stubborn, exceptionally un-self-aware, exceptionally unable to get outside of itself to give itself a good hard look. So we keep killing our kids, every day, be they Black men in the street or white folks at a concert, be they in church or an office party, be they at the movies or the nightclub, be they driving or standing peaceably as can be.

Don’t stand for it. Don’t stand for the song that endorses this ongoing death. Don’t stand for people refusing to criticize the country of your birth. This country is wrong. We are wrong. It’s killing us, the best of us, and it’s not going to stop until we can admit how wrong we are and promise to truly change.


The War at Home

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Shooting Gallery, Tags: , ,


As you probably know, twelve days ago, five police officers were shot dead in Dallas. Ten days later, three more were shot dead in Baton Rouge. The alleged killers were both immediately killed, Micah Xavier Johnson and Gavin Eugene Long (a.k.a. Cosmo Ausar Setepenra) respectively. It has been reported that neither are linked to any extremist militant group. This is not true.

In fact, they are both linked to the same extremist militant group: the United States military.

No, I’m not trying to imply or state that these shootings were authorized military operations, though the thought occurred to me more than once that such a thing was possible. Not that our government is incapable of such sinister covert operations, having conducted its business this way repeatedly in countries the world over for most of the last century and well into this one. But I think the explanation is a far simpler one in the instance of these starkly similar shootings. And as we are taught in science classes, simple explanations are often the truest.

The military teaches you that violence is the way to solve problems. That there are good guys with guns and bad guys with guns and that the good guys with guns are morally obligated to shoot the bad guys with guns.

I’ve talked about this concept before, how mass shootings writ large in our society are inspired by a society that routinely preaches violence and murder as the way of getting what we want. Most clearly and simply, perhaps, in Violence is About Violence (26 May 2014), one of my many posts in the wake of a shooting incident. But it’s a lot clearer and more obvious when the killers are actually ex-military, veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq respectively, and actually took aim at a uniformed military force they found to be the enemy, namely racist police departments.

I’m not saying this action is justified. No killing is ever justified in any circumstances and this killing is no different. But the people who agree most ardently that killing is justified, the breeding ground for the whole notion that killing can be and routinely is bathed in glory, as long as it’s done by the “right” people for the “right” reasons, that’s the military. The Marines and the Army, where these police shooters were radicalized, where they were trained to believe that might makes right, that killing is good, that the ends justify the means, that the correct response to violence is more violence. And at least in this battle, the enemy was wearing a clear and visible uniform, wasn’t vague and shadowy and uncertain like the purported enemy in Afghanistan or Iraq. Wasn’t dubious like the 56 civilians slaughtered by US forces just today in Syria. No, these cops were clearly wearing the uniform that affiliated them with a group that has been executing Black civilians in our society for decades and caught on camera consistently for the last three years.

Does such affiliation deserve the death penalty? Of course not. Does it deserve any violent retribution? Never. But these acts are never “senseless” in the way they are bemoaned in the media. All these actions carry their own internal logic and to deny that is to willfully wish for them to happen over and over again. To attempt not to understand, to push away awareness, is to condemn ourselves to a permanent state of societal self-mutilation. Folks that the US trained to kill for their notion of liberty and justice applied their interpretation of that cause to the war they saw unfolding at home. Little could be less surprising.

I am hoping that this is the last such incident, just as I am hoping that the police have shot their last victim, just as I am hoping that the US will unilaterally stop murdering civilians at home and abroad. But I have a deep-seated fear that none of this will stop until we can face and engage our own priorities as a nation and begin to unpack the overwhelming glorification of murder that we put on such an elevated pedestal in the United States. There are a lot of steps, large and small, that we could take. Apologizing for the wrongs of the past, from slavery to conquest, genocide to nuclear bombing, would be a great start. Committing to never repeat those same mistakes, even better. Determining to come together to expend our immense wealth and privilege as a country on something other than imperialism, perhaps the best.

We still have the capability of being the country we imagine ourselves to be. We just have to wake up from our delusions first. If we don’t wake ourselves up, we run the risk of being awoken far more rudely and, well, violently.