We welcome expressions, support, and collaboration from like-minded organizations

 

 

Recent Gun Control and Criminal Justice Posts
 
USRESIST NEWS Gun Control Briefs cover emerging gun control policies at the federal and state level, as well as efforts made by corporations, students and other third parties to address gun violence.

Recent Gun Control and Criminal Justice Posts

 

Calls to Defund LAPD Increase Amid Growing Gang Database Scandal

Calls to Defund LAPD Increase Amid Growing Gang Database Scandal

August 7, 2020

Summary:

On July 10, three Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers were charged with felonies when an internal investigation revealed they knowingly documented dozens of innocent people as gang affiliates in 2018. The complaint shows how Michael Coblentz, Nicolas Martinez and Braxton Shaw falsified Field Identification (FI) Cards used to conduct interviews during stops. An untold number of these were then entered into the state’s gang database, CalGang. The officers could have been motivated by a department policy that hinges performance reviews on interaction with gang affiliates.

In LA, participation in a gang is a punishable offense. Furthermore, if a person commits a crime, he can be subjected to a harsher sentence if he is documented as a gang member. Depending on the judge, a gang label can mean the difference between probation or jail. The LAPD is the state’s largest police department and the biggest contributor to CalGang, responsible for about a quarter of all entries. But on July 14, the California attorney general made it impossible for the LAPD to access the database except to remove individuals from it.

With the officers’ credibility challenged, the District Attorney’s office announced that it contacted over 750 defendants in criminal cases that the officers participated in since 2002. Convictions in these cases, from drug offenses to homicide, could be overturned if the officers provided crucial testimony or evidence. In addition, the LAPD announced it was investigating over 20 other officers for suspected falsification of FI cards, with potential victims numbering in the thousands. Lawsuits against the department have already been filed, with many more expected to come.

Analysis:

It is impossible to overstate the racial implications of this scandal. Because Black people are stopped by police at a higher rate than other races, we know that the majority of those mislabeled as gang associates on FI cards were likely Black. Unfortunately, once charged with a crime, Black people also suffer disproportionately in every phase of the criminal justice system. They are statistically less likely to be able to afford private counsel and more likely to accept harmful plea deals.

Mislabeling individuals impacts the wider community as well. CalGang describes its database as a source of “accurate gang-related intelligence.” The more people added to it, the more funding and resources the LAPD can demand for its Gang Division. When numbers are artificially inflated, it paints an inaccurate picture of gang activity in the city and exposes communities to more violent and heavy-handed police tactics.

The LAPD was already in hot water, with residents and activists calling for defunding the department. Now that call is even louder. Black Lives Matter Los Angeles is energized. Its People’s Budget LA coalition is proposing significant change to the city’s police budget and demanding city leaders focus on “care not cops”. Additionally, a Change.org petition wants LAPD funding to go toward improving infrastructure, education and social services.

Resistance Resources:

People’s Budget LA, a coalition led by Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles
Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, a local chapter of the global Black Lives Matter movement
Change.org petition to defund the LAPD

This brief was compiled by Laura Plummer. If you have comments or want to add your organization to this brief, please contact me@lauraplummer.me

Trump Deploys Troops to Chicago to Help His Re-Election

Trump Deploys Troops to Chicago to Help His Re-Election

 By Erika Shannon

July 28, 2020

Policy Summary

The Trump Administration has announced a plan to deploy federal agents to several American cities as a part of “Operation Legend” and the so-called “Protecting American Communities Task Force.” The federal agents started being deployed as early as June as a rejoinder to the George Floyd protests. Trump’s claim is that he wants to help curb street violence; violence that he says is worsened by anti-police policies. Chicago is at the forefront of the cities that the Trump Administration has their eyes on. The plan is to send 150 federal agents to Chicago as part of an urban crime fighting strategy. There is debate as to whether or not these federal agents will act as “secret police” in the city, but Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot says she does not want the agents in Chicago to be utilized in the same way that agents deployed to Portland this month were. These federal agents have been sent to predominantly left-leaning cities, with Trump claiming they have spiraled out of control due to Democratic leadership. The Department of Homeland Security has cited an executive order regarding monuments, memorials, and statues that would allow deployment of federal troops to individual US states without their permission.

There is no doubt that Chicago needs help with their street violence issue. This past weekend in Chicago, 51 people were shot and 3 of those people succumbed to their wounds. It is a pattern that repeats most weekends in the Windy City.

Analysis

The real solution is not rooted in sending “secret police” to sweep protestors into unmarked vans or to engage in violence against demonstrators. The overwhelming feeling in Chicago is that militarizing communities does not make them safer to live in and is not guaranteed to help curb gun violence. Many believe that this is an authoritarian show of power by President Trump, and lawsuits have been filed in several cities, including Chicago. Several community organizations such as Black Lives Matter Chicago, GoodKids MadCity, and National Lawyers Guild Chicago have already filed suit, hoping to get the federal agents to back off. These organizations condemn the use of federal agents as “secret police,” and there is fear that these federal agents will interfere with lawful protests or arrest people with no probable cause that they have committed a federal crime. Using federal agents to secretly arrest people and put them into unmarked vans is a scare tactic that people are not taking lightly, in Chicago or elsewhere. Trump is trying to make a point that he is in control with the upcoming election. This move will only cause tensions, that are already high, to continue rising.

Resistance Resources

  • Black Lives Matter Chicago is an organization that is volunteer-run and fights for justice in Chicago. They work to end state violence and criminalization of Black communities
  • First Defense Legal Aid is an organization that will send an attorney to anybody being held by the Chicago Police or other Cook County Police Departments. They mobilize attorneys to help with public defense
  • The #LetUsBreathe Collective is an alliance of artists and activists that organize through a creative lens to imagine a world without prisons a
Trump’s Escalation of Tensions in Portland: Who Does It Benefit?

Trump’s Escalation of Tensions in Portland: Who Does It Benefit?

Trump’s Escalation of Tensions in Portland: Who Does It Benefit?

Summary

Recent weeks have seen growing unrest in Portland, OR in response to the deployment of federal officers from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

This deployment comes as a result of President Trump’s June 26, 2020 Executive Order, which was issued in response to the destruction of several national monuments as part of the protest movement ignited by the police killing of George Floyd.

The protests have continued for nearly two months and have morphed into more localized movements with varied objectives and demands. The mass unemployment, financial instability, and stir craziness of huge portions of the population due to the Covid-19 pandemic has no doubt contributed to the tense standoff. Add the political theatrics guiding decisions in a presidential election year, and the explosive situation begins to make sense.

While deploying the DHS officers was ostensibly intended to protect federal property from destruction by protesters (or “violent anarchists” according to DHS), their presence has  led to an escalation of the protests. Many photos on social media depict the scenes of a brutal police state or foreign military invasion. Outrage was echoed around the country in response to reports of unidentified, heavily armed officers driving up in unmarked vans and abducting citizens off the street without explanation. In response, a “Wall of Moms,” “Wall of Dads,” and most recently a “Wall of Vets” have represented the public opposition to this heavy-handed occupation.

Most of these officers come from a group known as BORTAC (Border Patrol Tactical Unit), the Border Patrol’s equivalent of a SWAT team, which is normally tasked with investigating drug smuggling organizations. According to a leaked internal DHS memo, these officers have not been specifically trained in riot control or mass demonstrations. The memo seems to acknowledge the problems created by this lack of training: “Moving forward, if this type of response is going to be the norm, specialized training and standardized equipment should be deployed to responding agencies.”

A separate DHS internal memo revealed that federal intelligence agencies are using the opportunity to gather information on the protesters.

Analysis

The deployment of federal officers from the DHS into Portland, OR has shifted Trump’s “law and order” rhetoric into an authoritarian reality.

Despite the pretense of protecting federal property, the forceful occupation of the city by DHS troops against the will of the Democratic mayor has only intensified the protests. Tensions have grown as news media report on these events to countless people confined in their home.

No doubt this escalation was not only predictable but inevitable with the deployment. We might look one step deeper into what Trump hopes to accomplish through the escalation.

Given his sagging numbers relative to Joe Biden, nothing weighs more heavily on Trump’s mind at present than his reelection.

When it comes to his handling of the Covid-19, only 32% of Americans approve of Trump’s actions, and he has recently shifted tone on recommendations for wearing a mask after months of defiance. Meanwhile, coverage of the protests is triggering an  increasingly divisive reactions depending on your news source. This situation tends to cause Americans to fight against one another, with Trump’s base going to his defense without considering the contradiction of sending armed federal troops to deal with peaceful protests..

The photos and videos depict a standoff that mesmerizes, overwhelms, and divides, and they also represent a genius way for the president to distract from the failures of Trump and Congress. Trump’s aggressive efforts to send federal troops to partrol American cities is vicious and wrong, but by focusing on this conflict, we are playing directly into his hands.

Resistance Resources:

  • Find Your Representatives allows you to find your representatives, how to contact them, bills they’ve introduced, committees they serve on, and political contributions they’ve received.
  • GovTrack.us tracks the United States Congress and helps Americans participate in their national legislature.
Hearings to Abolish Minneapolis Police Start This Week

Hearings to Abolish Minneapolis Police Start This Week

Policing in America (A New series by Laura Plummer that examines current efforts to reform police departments in cities and states across the country.)

# 2 Hearings to Abolish Minneapolis Police Start This Week

July 15, 2020

Summary:

Minneapolis is the epicenter of the nation’s ongoing debate on police reform. The Minneapolis Police Department, notorious for its involvement in the death of George Floyd, has been the target of local and national outrage. Police abolitionist groups were handed a major victory on June 26, when the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to change the city’s charter to dismantle the police department.

The council’s proposed charter amendment would replace the current department run by the mayor with a Community Safety & Violence Prevention Department under the supervision of council. Its creation would be informed by a robust, year-long community input process. The new department could choose to create a law enforcement branch staffed by trained “peace officers”.

On July 15 and 21, the city’s charter commission will hold two public hearings on the amendment. The commission can approve, reject or edit the amendment, but the council can act independently of its recommendation. If the council decides to put the matter on the November ballot, residents would be given the final say. Changes to the charter would go into effect in May of 2021.

Analysis:

The Minneapolis City Council is taking its cues from local advocacy groups like MPD150Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block. These and other groups believe that abolition of the police is preferable to efforts to defund or reform. Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar also joined in the call to abolish.

In 2012, Camden, New Jersey, famously dismantled its police department and rebuilt it from the ground up. While often touted as a success story, it was done in response to police corruption and rampant crime. If Minneapolis were to abolish its police department to address systemic racism, it would be the first city in the country to do so.

Opposing the council’s proposal are Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, various members of the charter commission and some civil rights activists, who believe that the absence of a traditional police force would make citizens vulnerable. For this reason, the matter may not make it onto the ballot in November, and even if it does, the voters may not support it. Whatever the outcome, local groups say they will continue fighting for meaningful change.

Resistance Resources:

MPD150 is a group of activists and researchers fighting for a “police-free” future.
Black Visions Collective is committed to “dismantling systems of oppression”.
Reclaim the Block aims to reroute police funding to social services.

The Trump Administration’s Cynical Decision to Restart Federal Executions

The Trump Administration’s Cynical Decision to Restart Federal Executions

Summary

On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected arguments against using a single drug to perform legal executions, which cleared the path for federal executions to resume after a 17-year hiatus.

This decision comes after Attorney General Barr announced last year that the Justice Department would resume federal executions, in line with Trump’s staunch support of the death penalty, having even suggested it may be appropriate for non-violent crimes. Since 2010, there has effectively been a moratorium on executions due to European and US manufacturers refusing to sell the government the drugs used in the procedure. By changing the protocol to include only the use of pentobarbital, the Trump administration sought to restart the procedures.

Following Barr’s 2019 announcement, a case was brought by four federal death-row prisoners over whether the new DOJ execution protocol complies with the requirements of the Federal Death Penalty Act, which requires that federal executions be carried out “in the manner prescribed by the state” in which the prisoner was convicted.

In April, the case was heard by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, composed of Gregory G. Katsas and Neomi Rao, both appointed by President Donald Trump, and David S. Tatel, appointed by former President Bill Clinton. The panel voted 2-1 in favor of the DOJ, with Judge Tatel dissenting.

While the death penalty is currently legal in 28 states, the vast majority of executions since 1976 have taken place in the South, with Texas in the lead, followed by Virginia, Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri, Georgia and Alabama.

The executions are now set to resume within the month, despite the pandemic disrupting court procedures and the ability of lawyers to meet with their clients.

Analysis

A special political advantage comes with vowing strong punishment for a heinous crime. Consider the widespread support for former President George W Bush after the 9/11 attacks. In that moment, Bush gave voice to our collective anger and calmed our collective angst by promising revenge and justice.

The results were the Patriot Act, the legalization of torture, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Therein lies the challenge for death penalty opponents. Evidence may be on their side, but the horror of certain crimes causes an inevitable emotional response–and an opportunity for political exploitation– that must be tempered in order to set judicious policy.

One needs not delve into the debate over the inherent morality of capital punishment, which largely comes down to personal moral and religious judgments. One need only to investigate whether the death penalty, in practice, provides the sought-after justice it promises. The evidence shows the answer is conclusive: it does not.

The most cited failings of capital punishment in practice include the proven racial disparities (unequal sentences for the same crime committed by individuals of different race), rampant prosecutorial misconduct, woefully inadequate defense counsel, sentencing of mentally disabled individuals, and disproven junk science.

As the ACLU states: “Death sentences are predicted not by the heinousness of the crime but by the poor quality of the defense lawyers, the race of the accused or the victim, and the county and state in which the crime occurred.” Between 1973 and 2019, 173 innocent death-row prisoners were exonerated and released.

With the growing recognition of the failings in our justice system generally, more people have recognized the injustice of capital punishment, with a majority of Americans now supporting life imprisonment over the death penalty.

Even many conservatives have voiced opposition. Roger Viguerie, who has been called “one of the creators of the modern conservative movement” by The Nation magazine, made this case powerfully:

Conservatives have every reason to believe the death penalty system is no different from any politicized, costly, inefficient, bureaucratic, government-run operation, which we conservatives know are rife with injustice. But here the end result is the end of someone’s life. In other words, it’s a government system that kills people.

The Trump administration’s decision to restart federal executions is therefore a cynical political move that plays on emotion and ignorance about the system. Accordingly, the Trump administration made a point of highlighting that those set to be federally executed this year are all convicted of murdering a child. Highlighting this fact serves to provoke that instinctive, emotional support, framing Trump as the man who kills child murderers.

This move represents an undeniably cynical, regressive policy that emboldens the remaining states that apply the death penalty.

Resistance Resources:

  • The Capital Punishment Project works toward the repeal of the death penalty in the United States through strategic litigation, advocacy, public education, and training programs for capital defense teams.
  • The Death Penalty Information Center is a national non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment.
Police Reform Bills Stalled in Congress, Highlights Partisan Paralysis

Police Reform Bills Stalled in Congress, Highlights Partisan Paralysis

Despite broad swaths of Americans protesting in the streets, attempts to pass a police overhaul bill stalled in Congress last week. Both the GOP and Democrats introduced police reform bills, but neither survived the partisan divide, making it unlikely that Congress will take any action toward police reform before the November elections.

Given that an overwhelming majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle support major reforms to policing, it may seem surprising that Congress couldn’t find enough common ground enough to pass a bill. After all, there were some commonalities in the GOP and Democratic bills, including measures to restrict the use of chokeholds, increase transparency through the use of a national database of use-of-force incidents, and strengthen the required use of body cameras.

The differences between the bills lay in the strength of the measures proposed (offering incentives versus imposing federal mandates) and, most significantly, the attempts by Democrats to peel back qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity, which is often cited by activists and civil rights groups as key to the lack of accountability in police departments, prevents police officers from being sued by victims and their families. This is important because civil suits are often the only recourse for victims of police violence, as prosecutors are resistant to pursuing criminal charges against police officers. The result is the shocking abuse of police power that has become all too common in the United States.

Currently, prosecutors must prove that an officer “willfully” violated an individual’s constitutional rights, while the Democratic bill lowers that standard to actions undertaken with “reckless disregard” for the individual’s rights. Lowering this standard would provide strong incentives for municipalities to restructure the police department toward de-escalation to prevent such abuses of power, as they are otherwise responsible for paying out damages to victims.

Analysis

In the wake of the protests, both Republicans and Democrats were quick to lament the death of George Floyd and call for police reform. So what explains the inability to come together to pass a bill pushing police reform?

One cannot deny the influence of police lobbying groups: the United Police Officers Association Super PAC has spent more than $7 million in the past two years alone. Yet, those donations are handed out on both sides of the aisle.

Another reason for the stagnation is partisan branding, with Republicans seeking to brand themselves as siding with ‘Law and Order’ and Democrats siding with ‘Racial Justice.’ And while Democrats shot down the GOP bill for being “inadequate,” Republicans claimed the Democratic bill is too punitive toward law enforcement.

Yet, despite calls among many protesters and some progressives to defund or abolish the existing police system, the Democratic bill proposes neither, focusing instead on improving accountability among police officers and their departments. Nonetheless, Trump pushed the narrative that Democrats are irredeemably extreme, stating in a tweet “Radical Left Democrats want to Defund and Abandon our Police.”

Other Republicans and Democrats are also quick to reinforce and inflame these battle lines. Such cynical jabs may gain some points among the electorate, but they also reinforce the misconceptions that further polarize the country and prevent compromise and reconciliation. In truth, politicians generally care about racial justice as well as law and order. Pitting the brands in staunch opposition helps no one.

Still, staunchly playing to one’s base can be a fruitful strategy in an election year. Despite protests on his doorstep, Trump shrugged off the lack of progress. “If nothing happens with it, it’s one of those things,” Trump said. “We have different philosophies.”

Resistance Resources:

The US Human Rights Network is a national network of organizations and individuals working to strengthen a human rights movement and culture within the United States led by the people most directly impacted by human rights violations. They work to secure dignity and justice for all.

The Law Enforcement Action Partnership’s mission is to unite and mobilize the voice of law enforcement in support of drug policy and criminal justice reforms that will make communities safer by focusing law enforcement resources on the greatest threats to public safety, promoting alternatives to arrest and incarceration, addressing the root causes of crime, and working toward healing police-community relations.

Killing of Rayshard Brooks Incites Calls for Atlanta Police Reform

Killing of Rayshard Brooks Incites Calls for Atlanta Police Reform

Summary:
On June 12, amid worldwide protests against police killings of Black people, 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks was shot in the back by an officer of the Atlanta Police Department (APD). His death has amplified the calls for police reform at the department.

Established in 1873, the APD has around 1,700 officers patrolling the city’s seven zones with a fleet of 300 vehicles. It operates on an annual budget of just over $204 million. African-Americans account for 58 percent of the force, and Whites 37 percent.

Qualified APD applicants are required to undergo police academy training, including physical, defensive, firearms and academic instruction. Graduates are required to complete additional field training under the supervision of a field training officer. They are also routinely coached in crisis intervention, fair and impartial policing, and reality-based scenarios.

The department has a use-of-force policy that governs the use of tasers, pepper spray, firearms and control holds. The APD has also banned choke holds, strangleholds, neck restraints, carotid artery holds and other weaponless control techniques that have the potential to cause serious injury or death except in self-defense.

Despite having a use-of-force policy on the books, this is not the first time the APD has come under fire for use of excessive force against a Black person. The department was subject to a federal investigation in 2006 after officers shot and killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston when they entered on a no-knock warrant. During the George Floyd protests, APD officers pulled two Black students from their vehicle and tased them.

Experts believe that Rayshard Brooks did not have to lose his life and that police could have explored other alternatives.

Analysis:

#8CantWait is a nationwide campaign focused on saving civilian lives by demanding that police departments adopt the following eight policies: 1. ban chokeholds and strangleholds, 2. use of de-escalation techniques, 3. verbal warning before shooting, 4. exhaust all alternatives before shooting, 5. duty to intervene when fellow officers are using excessive force, 6. ban shooting at moving vehicles, 7. establish a use-of-force continuum and 8. comprehensive reporting.

The APD has already banned holds and established a use-of-force policy. In the wake of protests over Brooks’ death, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has also agreed to implement de-escalation, a duty to intervene and better reporting. #8CantWait urges Atlanta citizens to put pressure on their lawmakers to adopt policies around verbal warnings, exhausting alternatives and not shooting at vehicles.

Organizations such as the Georgia NAACP, Just Georgia, and the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) of Brunswick/Atlanta have also issued demands for changing how police interact with the public. These include eliminating laws that disproportionately criminalize Black people, ensuring the safety of protestors, conducting thorough investigations of police misconduct and requiring the APD to make amends for the systemic harm it has inflicted on Black families.

Resistance Resources:
#8CantWait: https://8cantwait.org/

M4BL Brunswick/Atlanta: https://m4bl.org/week-of-action/brunswick-atlanta-georgia/
Just Georgia: https://www.just-georgia.org/

Georgia NAACP: https://www.naacpga.org/

This brief was compiled by Laura Plummer. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact me@lauraplummer.me>

Misinformation, Disinformation Cloud Legitimate Protests

Misinformation, Disinformation Cloud Legitimate Protests

By: Ivan A. Moore

June 4,2020

Over a week after protests began in Minneapolis, demonstrations continue in dozens of cities. While these civil rights protests were intended to be peaceful, violence has erupted on a scale unheard of since the riots following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assasination. Many protesters declare that they want more than justice for George Floyd: they want to see major changes to America’s policing model, and possibly its complete dissolution.

Responses to the protests reflect the polarized, fractured nature of 21st century America. Misinformation and mixed messages have flooded the internet. While conservative outlets criticize protesters for looting and attacking police, left-leaning publications have suggested that much of the violence has been caused by police or even manufactured. Hoaxes and conspiracy theories abound on social media, including a viral tweet showing an image of Washington, DC engulfed in flames.

Misinformation is also being spread by some police departments. Following a chaotic night of arrests in Richmond, Virginia, the Richmond Police tweeted that they were forced to deploy tear gas to protect officers from violent protesters. Two hours later, they walked back the statement, calling their own actions “unwarranted.” Richmond Police Chief William Smith claimed that “there was no use of force by officers,” but protesters say this is patently untrue. One of my friends was arrested on May 31st for violating curfew, and she has allowed me to use her account of the events. The following excerpt is unedited, as per her request.

“From my experience in the jail, it was clear to me that local law enforcement is angry about the content of the protests and interested in punishing those involved, by means ranging from the banal like long periods alone in cells and strip searches all the way up to rough rides in cop vans to exposure to unsafe and potentially harmful  COVID-transmitting environments. They’re mad, they can take it out on you when you’re under their power, and they want us to know that. Those officers and deputies who aren’t actively spiteful are either unbothered by the actions of their colleagues or vaguely apologetic but disempowered to intervene. As of 1pm today, police chief Will Smith was saying that no protester had complained to his office regarding their treatment — but frankly this is probably because people treated badly were crawling home to recover. Be aware of this and always have someone backing you up on the outside, if you’re going to risk arrest.”

It feels impossible to discern the truth from this confusing, chaotic picture. Unsure who to believe, many Americans have turned to anecdotes and social media for answers. It seems that America’s flagging trust in the government and the news media is at its breaking point.

Analysis

Much has been made of the public’s declining trust in the government, the news media, and each other. The phenomenon is often chalked up to Americans self-segregating online: choosing only to engage with media outlets and online platforms that conform with their political views. This is a major contributing factor, but the story is much more complex.

For generations, journalists and news outlets have aimed for objective, unbiased reporting. While this has always been an unobtainable ideal, it meant that the news functioned as an educational resource, not entertainment. For decades, Americans received a similar “education”: Newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations across the nation relied on the Associated Press; TV channels were few in number, and staying politically moderate appealed to more viewers.

That changed precipitously with the advent of cable TV and the Internet. Suddenly, NBC’s nightly news had to compete with the likes of MTV, ESPN, YouTube, and 4chan. With the horizons of choice forever expanding, journalists faced tremendous pressure to retain their audience. In their quest to remain relevant, they discovered that politics is more engaging when it’s treated as a team sport: liberals vs. conservatives, urban vs. rural, baby boomers vs. millennials. Political competition and controversy are now baked into the business model of journalism. Consciously or not, Americans no longer look to the news for information, but to get their blood pumping.

With the pandemic continuing to keep many of us at home (and potentially unemployed), the desire for this type of stimulation is stronger than ever. Most people determined their opinions on Black Lives Matter and police brutality by the time of the Baltimore riots in 2015; as such, they tune into the news to see shocking images and hear their views confirmed. Beyond being informed, they seek to be shocked and validated. We’re fighting for our nation’s soul, yet we cannot extricate that battle from our desire for stimulation and entertainment. The police and protesters are gladiators in our national colosseum.

Even when we approach this issue in good faith, the truth takes a backseat to our ire, our fear, and even our boredom. Conversations about the nature of policing in America are drowned out by ferocious arguments about whether looting is justified — despite the fact that this is completely beside the point. Our society will be unequipped to have a productive dialogue about race and policing until we can put our own feelings and “teams” aside and focus on what matters: the lives of black Americans, and the role of police in our society.

Resistance Resources

  • The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is collecting signatures on a petition to Congress. Its demands include an impartial federal investigation into George Floyd’s death and police reform through federal legislation.
  • Interactive list of petitions, ways to donate, and other ways to be involved in the movement.

 

Gun Control:  Increases in Gun Sales During the Pandemic Raise  Moral Issues for  Society

Gun Control: Increases in Gun Sales During the Pandemic Raise Moral Issues for Society

Amid coronavirus panic, a new and unexpected debate has arisen: Are gun stores essential businesses?

When stay-at-home orders became widespread in March, gun dealers closed their businesses to comply with local laws. However, many reopened after the federal government advised states to designate them “essential businesses.” Some state and local governments have pushed back. In New Orleans, for example, the mayor issued an emergency proclamation giving the city authority to restrict firearm sales.

In total, 30 states have allowed gun retailers to stay open, due to the federal government’s guidance and legal action from pro-gun groups. Gun advocates have sued states that have not moved to make gun stores essential, arguing that this is a violation of the Second Amendment.

In the midst of this debate, gun sales have boomed. Background checks, a key indicator of gun sales, have ballooned in recent weeks. According to US News, the backlog for the federal background check system is over 80,000. A process that once took minutes now drags on indefinitely. Worryingly, federal law permits gun dealers to proceed with a sale if the check takes more than three days, as long as they don’t operate in a state with stricter waiting periods.

Analysis

For those that favor stricter gun control, this debate may seem confusing and myopic given the scope of the crisis. Why worry about the Second Amendment when unemployment is skyrocketing and grocery stores are experiencing widespread shortages?

But according to an opinion piece in the right-leaning National Review, public fears — and a resulting demand for guns — have been stoked by precisely these factors. Additionally, police departments are rejecting certain calls and making fewer arrests. Meanwhile, some prisons have released inmates as crowded, subpar living conditions spur outbreaks.

The article fails to mention that requests for release are evaluated based on the inmate’s conviction, age,  how long they’ve served, and other potential risk factors. Moreover, many released prisoners are placed under house arrest rather than freed outright. Even if these former inmates decided to commit another crime, police are still responding to serious and violent offenses. They’re limiting action on issues like fender benders and minor probation violations. Theoretically, the situation for law enforcement could get worse, but selling guns when it’s near impossible to get a proper background check or safety training will not make us safer.

That said, while there’s certainly a self-serving economic motive for pro-gun groups, the motivations of pro-gun individuals are completely understandable. Like all Americans, they’re afraid that the government will not be able to meet our basic needs during this crisis. They recognize that our economy, our food system, and our law enforcement system are on tenuous footing. Stockpiling guns, among other supplies, allows them to feel safer in a deeply uncertain time.

However, the skyrocketing demand for firearms also points to an insidious individualism that is no longer serving our society. This individualism has also inspired Americans to shirk social distancing measures and ignore CDC guidelines. This mindset goes all the way to the head of our government, where President Trump is pressuring state and local officials to reopen the economy at the risk of public safety, Collectivist societies like Vietnam and South Korea have been more successful at social distancing and slowing the spread, while our government struggles to implement widespread testing or even convince us to wear masks.

In a profound and disturbing way, America has become the epicenter of coronavirus because we feel more inclined to point guns at each other than help each other.

Resources

Richmond Rally Demonstrates Increasingly Militarized Right-Wing Movement

Richmond Rally Demonstrates Increasingly Militarized Right-Wing Movement

Last Monday, protesters flocked to Richmond, Virginia to oppose the state’s recently passed gun control legislation. Although a recent poll suggests that a majority of Virginians support such laws, over 22,000 people swarmed the capital, some coming from as far away as Indiana and Texas. Many saw the rally as an opportunity to steer the national dialogue on gun control.

Some protesters donned camouflage and semi-automatic weapons. Also in attendance were known hate groups such as the League of the South, the American Guard, and the Proud Boys. Members of the latter wore patches with the acronym RWDS, short for “Right-Wing Death Squad.” Protesters carried Confederate flags and even lynched effigies. Alex Jones, of InfoWars fame, cruised through the rally in a tank. In a recent livestream, he accused Virginia Democrats of attempting to “trigger a civil war.”

Fearing a repeat of the tragedy in Charlottesville, Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency and temporarily banned weapons from the Capitol. These moves were derided by pro-gun advocates, and Jones went so far as to call Gov. Northam a “liar.” However, just days before the protest, members of a far-right group called the Base were arrested for planning a mass shooting at the event. One of its members wrote that he hoped the attack would spark a “full-blown civil war.”

Analysis

Although mainstream outlets dubbed the event a “peaceful protest,” its tone was anything but. The imagery and rhetoric were unequivocally violent, and true bloodshed was narrowly avoided. Attendees repeatedly invoked the Civil War, and perhaps they were on the mark; if anything had gone wrong at that rally, it would have changed the course of American history.

Moreover, this is the latest entry into a large body of evidence connecting the pro-gun movement with the rising tide of white supremacy. Increasingly, one wonders how many Second Amendment advocates are working out of genuine passion for civil liberties, as opposed to hatred and fear towards people of color. Certainly some protesters were there in good faith, but their voices were drowned out by extremists. As the planned attack by the Base illustrates, there is a non-negligible portion of this movement that’s hoping for genocide.

Equally concerning is the fact that mainstream media outlets glossed over the presence of overt racism and fascism. The presence of these ideologies in the pro-gun movement is too large to be ignored. In fact, it stifles the conversation when we pretend that this debate is solely about the tension between public safety and self-defense. As a nation, we must acknowledge the heart of this issue: our fear of each other, which crystalizes along racial lines.

Photo by unsplash-logoRux Centea

x
x

Join the Resistance---Your donation helps support the work we do to bring you news and analysis of government policies and the organizations seeking to resist them.

Pin It on Pinterest