Two mass shootings in one week, and how America is crumbling under the weight of its original sin — unchecked & systemic racism.
Summer in America. This season conjures up many things to many people. Ice cream. Fireworks. The cascading perfume of hot dogs and hamburgers on a barbecue grill. Summer in America is also now becoming synonymous with something sinister — mass shootings. This week in particular has provided two potent examples in the western part of the country. And both of these mass shootings have commonalities that go back to something else that has been uniquely tied to summer in this country which is racially-motivated violence.
The week began with a shooting at the annual Garlic Festival in Gilroy, a town in the Santa Clara county of Northern California. The peaceful festival atmosphere was shattered by Santino William Legan, a 19-year old who arrived at the festival, snuck in and opened fire on the crowd with an
AK-47. Three people were killed, including a six year old and thirteen others
were injured. Legan then killed himself, which was confirmed by the local
coroner’s office on Friday. Then this morning, at the Wal-Mart adjacent to the Cielo Vista shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, a shooter walked in wielding an AK-47 and opened fire. 20 people were killed with 40 reportedly injured. The dead included three Mexican citizens at the last report. Law enforcement officers were apparently able to take the shooter, 21-year old Patrick Crusius of Allen, Texas into custody once they surrounded him.
Both of these domestic terrorists — let’s not beat around the bush — had gone onto social media prior to committing these heinous acts, showing an adherence to white supremacist ideology. With Legan, he had made an Instagram post exhorting those who followed him to read a 19th Century book entitled “Might Is Right” which has become a beloved text by white
nationalists and their affiliates online. In Crusius’ case, he had posted a manifesto of sorts that has drawn comparisons to the one posted by the white supremacist shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand earlier this year with the claim that he was acting in response to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Both are white American males radicalized by the resurgent current of hatredstoked online in forums like 8Chan and through associations on Twitter and Facebook along as well as offline thanks to the boorish culture of nativism stoked by Donald J. Trump and his cronies in the administration and others.
Yes, I’m laying this at the feet of Trump. Let’s not forget that he’s been on a
tear these past two weeks verbally assaulting the four congresswomen
known colloquially as “The Squad”: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar,
Ayanna Pressley & Rashida Tlaib by telling them to “go back to their own country” and attacking Rep. Elijah Cummings by calling his city of Baltimore, Maryland “infested” among other dog whistles. These blatantly racist attacks have been bandied about by media outlets and journalists who seem patently afraid to call it what it is. Seriously, the verbal gymnastics that I’ve seen employed to not call Trump a racist flat out would put Aly Raisman and Simone Biles to shame.
But I know why that is. To call Trump’s racist speech racist, is to look the truth dead in its eye and swallow the fact that they have been more than complicit in working to normalize it if not try to brush it off as if they spilled a milkshake on themselves. You’ve read those articles. Those pieces looking for the “heart of gold” from the die-hard MAGA crowd, even right up to Trump’s recent rally in Cincinatti, Ohio. This gathering had among its lowlights Trump coyly getting the crowd to decry Baltimore by comparing it to Afghanistan and a 28-year old who hopped out of his pickup to assault an older protester outside. Those who backed Trump and his rhetoric have had two years of coming to the realization that they weren’t backing a thoroughbred but a jackass heading for a glue factory somewhere outside of Pomona. Those that are remorseful about it, that is.
Consider this bit of history: 2019 is the 100th anniversary of one of America’s darkest chapters of history, the “Red Summer” that ushered in a nationwide swath of anti-Black violence which was met by Black communities that armed themselves as best they could. Poetry folks, you know that famous Claude McKay poem “If We Must Die”? Well, that was penned THAT SUMMER. Why do I bring this up? Because the vitriol that comes courtesy of the *president’s Twitter feed, the vile hatred that’s passed around his followers on social media like a White Owl blunt and parroted and propped up by those on Fox News as well as One America News Network (and a little bit on RT let’s keep it funky)is out to serve one goal — to use hate speech either coded or blatant as another weapon of aggression against Black people and other people of color in this country in addition to other means to satisfy that cross-section of the country that subscribes to this kind of stuff. It’s why the Muslim ban was put out there. It’s why there are families of migrants being forcefully separated, and children being caged all along the southern border and many placed in concentration camps and subjected to horrible treatment. That even taints the shooting in El Paso, illustrated in this tweet by reporter Ayman Mohyeldin:
Just to note — Customs and Border Patrol has put out a statement denying
that they were going to send people to hospitals to look for people to detain
and deport. But the fact that this is even in the discussion should be a major
source of shame and a stain on the nation. But this is the cruelty in the air
that has been egged on. Crusius reportedly wanted to kill as many Mexicans
as he could according to sources close to the investigation, enough to drive
ten hours to El Paso which shares a border with Ciudad Juarez in Mexico.
This is the cruelty towards the other that I and others like me hear now on
a daily basis. This is the meanness that has become a backing beat, a call to
others who chant “Make America Great Again” and post comments about
“libtards” and how “Democrats are ____”. Meanness that comes with a side
of evangelical Christianity that comes across like knockoff Manolo Blahniks
and is served up to the ignorant like flat tummy tea. There are those who
have clung to the idea that this would die out with the older folks who love
this racism. But as evidenced by these two mass shootings, that’s a fallacy
that is now reckless to hold onto. There is a younger generation that is being
radicalized in this hate through different methods, mainly online. They’re
given cover by executives at these social media platforms like Twitter and
Facebook, despite the alarms raised by many who saw these people being courted and molded by white supremacists domestically and overseas (including all of the Black women who sounded off about this with the #YourSlipIsShowing campaign on Twitter). Charlottesville and the chaos that ensued shocked all but those who had seen this coming.
Frankly, at this point, America is crumbling. Crumbling due to the violent and cruel nature of the systemic racism that is rising. Trump is the more prominent symptom of this, but make no mistake — the sickness has always been there. Gun violence is one frightening manifestation of this. It’s not surprising that when Legan committed the Gilroy shooting that there were two aspiring copycats looking to do the same this week. It’s not a surprise
that Crusius modeled some of his manifesto after what the Christchurch
shooter did. And yet you will still have others deny that race has a part in
any of this, while clinging to conspiracy theory megaliths like QAnon, who
also got a light shone on it by the FBI as being a spur for domestic terrorism.
James Baldwin’s birthday was yesterday, and his insight and writing on those white Americans who cling to hatred has never been more prescient. I’ve written about them before. There is a swelling of discontent at the way things have gotten among these MAGA-ites who are in a whine cycle about being tagged as racists due to their support of Trump. This discontent has for some of them, become a palpable desperation. A desperation that has painted targets on everyone who isn’t the default American. This is the desperation that Trump wants, in order to win the 2020 election to avoid a laundry list of crimes he’s involved in.
As cynical as I have found myself this evening, I find in looking online at
the responses to this shooting a certain anger. There are those who are quite
frankly fed up. Fed up with not calling things as they are. Fed up with the
“thoughts and prayers” that are issued by politicians who profit off of the
gun lobby in this country. People fed up when they realize that Monday
marks the anniversary where John Crawford was killed in a manner of
minutes in a Wal-Mart aisle for holding a toy rifle by police, yet Crusius was apprehended and given the breadth to surrender. Those angered by the
mass of crass individuals looking to tie this massacre in El Paso to
anti-fascists and those creating disinformation about Crusius. I see their frustration, I see their anger and I see them channeling it. Demonstrations took place outside of the White House this evening, with protesters chanting “vote them out!” in reference to all those in Congress who have blocked vital gun legislation. There are those who are going toe to toe with racists and the adjacent racists online. And others who are coming to grips with their own viewpoints. People are saddened at the rise of hate and intolerance that seems like it is a prepackaged microwavable dinner one can find in a store aisle.
But they’re beginning to mobilize. (Shoutout to Puerto Rico — WEPA) They’re growing tired of the daily bullshit. This has even hit Capitol Hill — it’s no coincidence that El Paso is represented by Will Hurd, the lone Black GOP member of the House of Representatives who recently announced he wouldn’t seek re-election — presumably out of disgust at Trump’s racist behavior among other actions. He’s the sixth Republican in the house to state that they’re not going to return to Congress.
The only way out of all of this is to start calling things as they are. Legan and
Crusius are just two of a horde of white supremacists that are home-grown
and being fed on a diet of intolerance. This rise has been in the works for years, dating back to when Barack Obama was in office. I referenced the. Red Summer of 1919 because it is a large-scale example of the fear that this cross-section of America has whenever there is Black and Brown advancement, especially considering that they will be a minority in America in a couple of decades. Public Enemy called it back in 1993, and we are seeing the seeds of it bear bloody fruit. There can be no civility, no tone policing. People are dying, children are dying. Call racists out. Anywhere and everywhere. And if those racists get uptight, offer them some “thoughts and prayers”.
UPDATE: as I was finishing this essay, I saw that another domestic terror incident was being committed in a bar in Dayton, Ohio. That’s three in this past week.
You know that saying, “We have met the enemy, and he is us?” This saying,
popularized in the Pogo comic strip by cartoonist Walt Kelly (which he didn’t originate, apparently)should be readily applied to that cross-section of Americans who have chosen to make such rabid hatred their bread and butter. That section of white Americans who have let their fear get them high on the drug that is racism, no matter what avenue they took to get there. And it’s high time they look in the mirror and accept it. Because the rest of us are fed up with their denial.