Everyone Is Crazy Afraid

It’s amazing what fear can do.

It’s amazing what people will do when they are fearful. They go crazy. Man, do they go crazy.

If you don’t believe me, then consider this: A nutcase with a gun goes into an elementary school in the United States and kills teachers and little children. Normally you might expect a thunderous crescendo of noise calling for a ban on the proliferation of guns.

But exactly the opposite happened. People went out and bought more guns. There was a significant spike in the sale of guns after the Sandy Hook massacre.

Crazy.

But you need not be a rocket scientist to come up with the reason. People are afraid. Americans went out and bought more guns through fear. Yes fear. And fear becomes self-perpetuating. If more people have guns, it makes massacres of innocent people more likely, not less. In other words fear breeds more fear and stupidity. But I don’t want to talk about guns. I want to talk about fear. The more fearful we become, the greater the ignorance, the irrationality and stupidity of our actions.

Here’s another example: Brexit. I used to think the Poms were a bit measured and considered and less hair brained than their American cousins. But their decision to leave Europe was completely insane. Seriously, what were you thinking, English people? Has anyone in the UK looked at an Atlas lately? Geographically, you are part of Europe. No amount of wishful thinking is going to change that.

But I know why you did it. You were afraid. You were afraid of all those Syrian refugees somehow finding their way to the UK. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones fleeing war and oppression and ignorance and bigotry and zealotry. The ones who need someone to show them a bit of compassion. And if you stayed as a part of Europe, you were going to have to accept your share and do your bit. Anti immigration is fear. Xenophobia is fear. You don’t need to be afraid.

Fear has become our mantra especially when we are confronted with lone wolf terrorist attacks that inflict mass casualties. What happened in France, Germany and Turkey is appalling, unacceptable and outrageous. And when Governments are powerless to protect their citizens from these attacks, as they seemingly are, everyone becomes fearful and irrational. If Donald Trump becomes the next President of the United States, God forbid, it will be because Americans are afraid. They want a leader who they think will protect them. Who will talk and act tough and build walls to keep people out and ban people on the basis of their race or religion.

Little do they realize this only makes a bad situation much worse. Banning all Muslims or attacking all Muslims or excluding all Muslims because we are afraid of them only creates more fear. It makes Muslims fearful of us and the whole cycle self perpetuates. We need to break the cycle. Instead of fear, we need to show love and compassion and understanding and tolerance and be inclusive. As people, we are all in this together, irrespective of whether we are Muslim or Christian or any other religion you care to name. What happened in Nice and elsewhere was an attack on humanity. And as human beings we need to stand together and embrace one another. We need to reassure Muslims we don’t fear them nor should they fear us. The vast majority of Muslims don’t want to kill us nor do we want to kill them. There will always be individuals who are fanatics. Muslim and Christian alike.But these fanatics don’t speak for anyone except themselves. And when these fanatics attack some of us randomly, they are attacking all of us.

They are attacking humanity and it is humanity as a whole that needs to respond. Let me say it again. That means all of us in this together. Xenophobia was never a chapter in the guide book for being human.

We have to stop being afraid and start being inclusive.

A Letter To America

Dear United States Of America,

I am a huge fan. I really am. You have much that I admire. You value democracy and the right of the individual. You try and help as best you can although sometimes I do question your priorities.

You have a bit of a curiosity, a kind of an understanding about the rest of the world even though sometimes I have to mark you down on your knowledge of geography.

You embrace freedom but I have to say lately you’ve been embracing it a little too enthusiastically for my liking. I mean what’s with your freedom to bear arms? From where I sit, it looks like a freedom to kill each other. And you’ve been doing that with monotonous regularity. May I remind you, 13 killed and many more wounded in your latest shooting massacre. What’s more you have a propensity to choose schools, elementary and high, to demonstrate this freedom.

Can’t quite get my head around that one. These are just innocent children.

Your President is pretty mad with you. I just saw him on TV looking and sounding grim. He called these massacres ‘routine’ and demanded that your Congress pass stricter gun laws. Then he made a really good point. He said the United States was the only advanced country on the planet that sees these mass shootings every few months. Wow.

But there was also a note of resignation in his voice. Almost like deep down he knows stricter gun laws are never going to happen. Congress won’t do anything and innocent people will keep getting killed.

He said why can’t you be like Australia which got me pretty excited and surprised. He said Australia had a simple solution to gun deaths after they experienced similar massacres. Reduce access to guns. And guess what? It actually worked.

But every time somebody suggests tougher gun laws in the United States your gun lobby comes out and blames everyone including the victims. Everyone, apart from the person, who actually pulled the trigger. They were crazy but hey everyone still has the right to own a gun. Right? Sorry but you are on your own with that one.

I think you need to understand that any freedom must be accompanied by social responsibility. That’s why we have speed limits and make car passengers wear seat belts and have laws banning smoking in public places. Those kinds of laws should also apply to the right to bear arms.

I know I’m probably wasting my time telling you this. You’ve never taken any notice in the past. But seriously this has to stop.

You Americans, on the whole, are an easy going, friendly bunch. I want as many of you to live long and happy lives especially your children who have a whole life ahead of them.

But you are being stupid and pig headed and just plain wrong when it comes to guns.

Sometimes it takes your friends to pull you up. But believe me, I am doing it with the best of intentions. If you’ll pardon the pun you need to bite the bullet on gun reform.

Yours sincerely,

The Rest Of The World.

Why Are Americans So Obsessed With Owning Guns?

America has a big problem with guns. It is an obsession. It is also unnatural and unholy. Yes unholy. It is the only country that I know of that has the right to bear arms in its constitution. Actually, I am wrong about that. Three other countries allow their citizens to pack heat: Mexico, Haiti and Guatemala. But only one of them, Guatemala goes as far as the second amendment of the United States constitution. It is a fact that the good old US of A, enjoys the highest per capita gun ownership in the world. That is not a cause for celebration, in my view. More commiseration. I just happen to strongly believe that nothing good can come from owning a firearm. Guns don’t solve problems. They create them. In 2011, the most recent year for available statistics, there were 12 thousand 664 murders in the United States. Of those, 8 thousand 853 were caused by firearms. It is symptomatic of a society in trouble. A society that is afraid of its own shadow. Americans need to ask themselves some tough questions. Is it a society that seems to live in fear? Incapable of truly trusting each other and is that the kind of world, Americans want for themselves? The pro gun lobby is fond of saying guns don’t kill people. People kill people. But if they don’t have such an easy way to do it they might be doing it a lot less often.

Anyway, the purpose of this is not to talk about the right to bear arms. Well, kind of. Actually, what I want to do, is talk about a young woman called Rebekah Rorick, a high school senior in New York. Rebekah has just won a legal stoush with the school’s Yearbook committee. They had refused to publish a photo of Rebekah, wearing camourflage gear and holding a hunting rifle along with her hunting dog. This is the photo that Rebekah wanted to include in her High School Yearbook. But I will allow Rebekah, an amazingly articulate young woman, to take up the story after the Yearbook Committee said no:

“And I was like, ‘Why?’ And they are like, ‘Because there’s a gun in it.’ And I’m like, ‘But it’s a hunting rifle. I’m wearing camo. I have my dog with me,’” Rorick said. “I was ready to cry. I didn’t know what I was going to do. The only thing I thought to do was address it.”

And address it she did. She got her Dad on the case, who made a submission on Rebekah’s behalf to the Board of Education, arguing that the portrait was no different to any of the others because all it was doing was showing student interests. Hmm. Now don’t get me started on another of my pet hates. Hunting animals for fun? Sorry but I don’t see the fun in killing living creatures who’ve committed no crime. Anyway, back to the story. So what did the Board of Education do? They caved in of course. That’s the other big no-no in the land of the free. Thou shalt not take on the gun lobby because it is an argument you are never going to win. The School Board had a very different view from the Yearbook Committee.

School Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson said Rebekah’s photo did, after all, comply with the board’s policy against promoting firearms.

“We do have a policy against weapons, but at first glance, and even now, I do not believe that this is,” he said. “She is not holding the gun in a malicious manner. She is not pointing it anywhere. It’s to me, in my opinion, a nice photograph of a young lady in the Adirondack region that enjoys hunting.”

These are weasel words that fool no one. The Board clearly understood the implications of upholding the decision of the Yearbook committee. The gun lobby would have been on their case faster than a speeding bullet.

But let’s just stand back and examine why the Yearbook committee might have a problem with a photo showing a young woman wearing camourflage clothing, holding a hunting rife. It just might have something to do with the massacre that occurred at Sandy Hook elementary school, where 28 people, where slaughtered by a young, deranged gunmen, or Columbine High School where 16 people were murdered. The Yearbook Committee thought it wholly inappropriate to show a photo of a student holding a gun. I think they were right and I applaud them for having the courage to make that decision, even though they probably knew it was never going to fly.

The photo will now appear in the yearbook. I am sure there will be those who say this is a victory for freedom. But I would simply ask, are you truly free if you live in a world where everyone is so paranoid about being attacked they only feel safe by owning a gun?

“I was so happy. I could not stop smiling,” Rebekah said. “I felt the board had a lot of courage. It’s something I’ll hold forever.”

Grand Juries, Too Soft On Police Who Do Wrong?

In the United States, grand juries have suddenly become de rigueur but not in anything like a good way. To put it bluntly, too many white policemen are getting away with killing black men and Grand Juries are rubber-stamping the process.

Now before anyone climbs on their accusatory high moral horse suggesting this is biased and anti police, bad luck, I’ve beaten you to it. I’m already on it and riding at full gallop.

My high moral horse says the police are yet again culpable. The grand jury got it wrong and the facts speak for themselves.

This time it’s the New York Police under the microscope. Or, to be more accurate, captured on video.

The victim was Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African American, father of six children and a grandfather of two. On July 17 this year, he allegedly committed the heinous crime of selling individual cigarettes on a street corner in Staten Island. A group of New York City police officers approached and surrounded him. Why they did this is a question that was certainly never answered by the grand jury but it’s one that really does demand some kind of explanation in my view. What made this case radically different from all the others, was that cell phone footage was recorded by an onlooker, as the drama unfolded. And because the footage was shared online, the one eyewitness became millions more.

Garner was genuinely puzzled that the police officers seemed intent on arresting him for such a trifling offence. He was a big man, but at no point did he behave aggressively towards the officers or show them any disrespect. But maybe he wasn’t assuming a submissive posture, quickly enough. In any case one of the policemen, Officer Daniel Pantaleo, placed Garner in a chokehold, compressing his windpipe.

It should be pointed out that this maneuver was outlawed by the New York Police Department 20 years ago.

Again there appeared to be no reason for the police to take such an aggressive approach to Eric Garner. It was not warranted by his alleged crime or behavior. The videotape shows Garner complaining repeatedly that he’s having trouble breathing. The police officers wrestle him to the sidewalk and Eric Garner dies. Emergency paramedics are summoned but the police officers, who were present, are clearly shown making no attempt at all to resuscitate Eric Garner.

Again let’s be clear on the facts. The coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide. He suffered from asthma, and Pantaleo’s chokehold killed him. The Staten Island prosecutor presented evidence against Officer Pantaleo to a grand jury. The other officers involved in the incident were given immunity in exchange for their testimony. But the grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on any charge.

An American journalist, Eugene Robinson wrote what I consider to be an insightful piece, in the Washington Post, about the tragic death of Eric Garner. He called it a depressing episode in the reality series, No Country For Black Men. In his view, equal justice before the law in the United States is just a cruel joke.

Robinson wrote that African American men are being taught a lesson on how society values, or devalues their lives. He says the Garner case raises two very important issues: One involves what he called the excessive license given to police to do whatever they must to guarantee that the streets are safe. The second, poses the question, has the pendulum now swung too far in the law and order direction at the expense of justice, liberty and equality?

Robinson believes the Garner case is part of what he called the ‘broken windows’ theory of policing. If you want to reduce serious crime, you crack down on minor, nuisance offending like selling loose cigarettes on a street corner. He draws a parallel between the Garner case in New York and the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In both cases, Robinson says, the grand juries examined the evidence and decided there was no probable cause, a very low standard of proof, that the police officers involved did anything wrong. He asks, would the results have been the same if the victims were white?

In yet another twist in the Garner case, the only person to be indicted, who was involved in the Eric Garner killing, was the eyewitness, Ramsay Orta, who recorded the Garner incident on his mobile phone. He faced charges relating to weapons offences after a bust by an undercover policeman. Police allege Orta slipped a handgun into the waistband of a teen accomplice outside a New York hotel. Orta claims he was falsely charged in retaliation for the Garner filming. His case was also examined by a grand jury, which had no trouble at all in indicting him.

I think all of us have an obligation to be extremely careful in playing the race card. It’s easy and convenient and can be used to either confuse or silence justified criticism especially when there are two sides to every story. But in the case of Michael Brown and Eric Garner it happens to be true. Sadly, the category that defines America’s most feared and loathed citizens would appear to be young, black men. Ironically, Eric Garner didn’t even fit this profile stereotype. He was a middle-aged, overweight asthmatic man. He was engaged in an activity that warranted nothing more than being told to move along.

I hate to say it, but in my view, his capital offense, in the minds of those police officers who confronted him, was to be born black.

How Can Police Justify Shooting A 12 Year Old Child?

I don’t want this to sound like I’m some kind of armchair critic of the police because they have a tough job to do at the best of times. But something happened in Cleveland that left me dumbfounded, shocked and appalled.

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, was shot dead by police.

He was a child but he was waving what looked like a black handgun. It turned out to be a BB gun.

Police weren’t to know that or were not prepared to take the risk.

They confronted him and now Tamir is dead.

Let’s just pause for a minute.

A lot of questions need to be asked here. How did this happen? How could it have happened? Why did it happen? How could it be allowed to happen?

Let’s firstly deal with the how and the why.

According to the police account of what happened: A caller tells police “a guy with a gun is pointing it at people” on the swing set at a children’s playground at a local recreation center. The caller says on two occasions that he thinks the gun is “probably fake,” but the person pointing it is scaring people.

Police dispatchers send a radio message to officers that there is “a male with a gun threatening people” outside the recreation center. Officers respond and see the boy pick up what they assume is a black gun, tuck it in his waistband and take a few steps.

Police Officers draw their weapons, telling him to raise his hands. Instead, he lifts his shirt and reaches for the handle of the gun sticking out of his waistband. As he pulls out the gun, one of the officers shoots twice, hitting him at least once in the abdomen.

Tamir is taken to an emergency medical center but dies of his injuries. Police later determine the gun was actually a BB gun, with the orange safety cap removed.

Police later release a statement to further clarify what happened, which said: “Upon arrival on scene, officers located the suspect and advised him to raise his hands. The suspect did not comply with the officers’ orders and reached to his waistband for the gun.

“Shots were fired and the suspect was struck in the torso.”

It added: “Further information reveals that the weapon which the 12-year-old suspect was in possession of is an ‘airsoft’ type replica gun resembling a semi-automatic pistol, with the orange safety indicator removed.”

Now if you break all of this down you get a pretty good idea on what went wrong here. For a start everyone involved gives a completely wrong description of who Tamir Rice really is.

He is not a “guy with a gun” or “a male with a gun threatening people” or a “suspect” and that is a big part of why this went so dreadfully pear shaped.

Tamir Rice is a 12-year-old boy.

He is a child.

Too young and immature to really know what he was doing or what kind of trouble he was causing. If all of those involved in this had simply remembered that simple point, right at the very beginning, the outcome might have been very different and Tamir Rice would be a little wiser but alive.

I know we live in a violent and unpredictable world but since when did it become the police first response to open fire and ask questions later because clearly that is what they did in this case. Asking a 12-year-old to put his hands in the air does not constitute a meaningful question in these circumstances, in my view.

And in any case whatever happened to the simple art of talking to people? Negotiating with them? Couldn’t they have talked to Tamir and found out what the problem was instead of drawing their weapons and responding with lethal force?

That’s what parents do. That’s what teachers do. That’s what any sane or sensible person would do. But it’s what Cleveland police didn’t do. And shame on them.

Cleveland Deputy Chief of Field Operations Ed Tomba said the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice was “very very tragic.”

“We don’t come to work every day and want to use force on anybody,” he said. “That’s not what our job is. We’re part of this community.”

It’s a bit late now to be making those kinds of statements particularly when the circumstances point to the exact opposite being the case.

Deputy Chief Tomba said the boy did not threaten the officer verbally or physically. So I ask why was it necessary to shoot him?

Tamir’s father told reporters that he couldn’t understand why police had failed to use non-lethal force like a taser to subdue Tamir? I guess that is certain to be one of the questions asked at the Grand Jury investigation into this tragedy.

Tamir’s Dad said his son was “respectful” and “minded his elders.” He said he could not understand why Tamir would have ignored what police told him to do.

Which brings me back to the question why was this allowed to happen?

This might be part of the reason. One of the police officers involved in this incident was in his first year in the job. We can only hope that this tragedy will prompt a serious and rigorous review of police procedures in Cleveland.

The police department’s Use of Deadly Force Investigation Team is investigating the shooting and has security camera footage from the recreation center. The officers, directly involved in the shooting, have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, which is standard procedure for police.

The evidence will eventually be handed over to a grand jury, which will decide whether the officer was justified in using force.

I don’t need a Grand Jury to answer that question. Children are not adults capable of making rational decisions. It is stupid and wrong to think they can. Tamir Rice clearly had no idea what he was getting himself into. He was relying on adults to make the kinds of rational decisions he was incapable of making. Unfortunately for him the adults let him down. There is simply no justification for lethal force to be used to kill a child under any circumstances.

And if I happen to be living in a world that says there is then quite frankly it’s one I don’t ever want to be a part of.

Making History

As the United States comes to grips with yet another young Black man shot dead by police and the inevitable civil unrest that follows, spare a thought for Iceland.

Yes Iceland. You know that Nordic country full of active volcanoes that sits at the top of the world.

This week Iceland made history. Its police force shot a man dead. In America where gun culture and the right to bear arms is as entrenched as apple pie this is everyday stuff. But not in Iceland. Police shooting anyone dead in Iceland simply does not happen. In fact this is the first time it has happened since 1944 when the country became independent.

The police in Iceland usually don’t carry guns. Violent crime in Iceland is almost non-existent. You might think that Iceland is anti-gun, but it isn’t. It ranks 15th in world in terms of per capital gun ownership. It’s just that they recognize that guns are dangerous, should be handled with care and are not to be used to randomly shoot people just because you happened to have a disagreement.

As you’d expect the news has the country reeling. The news editor at the Icelandic broadcasting service reported that the nation was in shock. This does not happen in our country, he said. So what did happen to trigger this unprecedented Icelandic police response?

Well it seems that a 59-year-old man, said to be suffering from mental problems, began behaving in a threatening manner at the building where he lives. Police were called but when they arrived he began shooting at them. Police exchanged fire and in the ensuing gun battle the man was killed. Like I said. Unprecedented. In Iceland.

Icelanders are worried because this has got the whole country debating the issue. They are also worried that this incident might change the country forever. And not in a good way. As one commentator said guns are part of the Icelandic culture. They are used for hunting as a sport but they don’t want to see their police force being forced to carry firearms, which are seen as dangerous and threatening.

The Icelandic police force says the officers involved in the incident will undergo grief counseling. And in a concept that will be pretty alien to most Americans the police have already apologized to the family of the man who died. Mind you not because they did the wrong thing but because it was the respectful thing to do. And also because the police were genuinely sorry they took a life. Could you see that happening in the United States?

There are still a number of outstanding questions that the Icelandic police are yet to answer such as why they didn’t try to negotiate with the man before entering the building. But most Icelanders are wondering where this is all going to lead.

This is a country where you can enter Parliament and the only request they make is to turn off your cellphone, so that you don’t disturb the politicians while they’re talking. Armed guards DON’T follow the Prime Minister or the country’s President. Icelanders don’t want that to change. But they might just find they have no choice.