In just the past few weeks – the Laquan McDonald video in Chicago. The Jamar Clark shooting in Minneapolis. The attack on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. The Paris attacks. and now, the San Bernadino massacre.
One thing that the #BlackLivesMatter movement teaches us is that the police are rarely held accountable. The firing of the police superintendent by Mayor Emanuel is the exception that proves the rule. But the root problem here is that racial profiling is persecution. Racist attitudes are empowered by guns and authority, and profiling becomes an expression of racism rather than an instrument of justice.
The Paris attacks fuel domestic Islamophobia, because it feeds a narrative of Muslims as a global single-minded horde of killer robots, never mind that Muslim Americans have been indispensable allies in the fight against terror.
The differing reaction between the Planned Parenthood shooting and San Bernadino – in fact, the initial reaction to San Bernadino alone, before and after it was known the perpetrators had Muslim names (see images above of the NY Post cover switcheroo) – illustrate the way in which compartmentalizing events into “terrorism” or “mass shootings” harms any effective policy response, or even a well-informed debate, about the role guns have in our society. Tragedies get labeled and sorted, and then dismissed from our attention by the next one, making it impossible to see the broader pattern. That blindness is willfully encouraged by special interest groups like the NRA and the $50m/year Islamophobia industry.
In a way, San Bernadino is the closest we have yet come to having the debate about gun control and liberty within a broader context of not just gun violence but also domestic terrorism. I tried to start that debate earlier, by asking (rhetorically) why gun owners don’t condemn as Muslims are asked to. But a more effective linkage was ironically made by Republican state Representative Tony Dale, who argued against admitting Syrian refugees to Texas because it’s too easy to get guns there.
Islamophobia is real, and if left unchecked will erode everyone’s rights, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, in ways far more insidious than mere gun control laws. If anything scares me, it’s how I was numb to the news while I thought San Bernadino was “just” an aggrieved white male. Only after it turned out that the shooter had a Muslimy name, did that numbness transmogrify into concern. The issue is not binary. gun control vs terrorism? I reject that false dichotomy. Even if the shooters are Muslim, the argument about guns in society and liberty applies. Its a debate we are told by the right that we cant even have. But I will not be silenced with the Muslim card.
There’s a great article in Slate that asks what price should we pay for liberty – and quotes Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent to the Supreme Court decision in 2010:
In evaluating an asserted right to be free from particular gun-control regulations, liberty is on both sides of the equation. Guns may be useful for self-defense, as well as for hunting and sport, but they also have a unique potential to facilitate death and destruction and thereby to destabilize ordered liberty. Your interest in keeping and bearing a certain firearm may diminish my interest in being and feeling safe from armed violence.
In this, guns are identical to Islamophobia and racial profiling – they make the wielder feel more safe, but at the expense of our society’s liberty. And we know what Benjamin Franklin said about safety and liberty. Clearly, as a society that has failed Jamar Clark and Laquan McDonald, we seem to deserve neither.