Tag Archives: gun control

The year a third mainstream security stance emerged

TW: racism, abilism, drone strikes, mass surveillance, imperialism

I wrote at the end of last year that gun control had, at least in some way, become a more visible issue within the US over the course of 2012. At the time, I didn’t realize the potential for a similar set of politics to emerge on other similarly security-focused issues. A number of events over the past year, however, suggest that we’re in the midst of a messy, shuttering political realignment on security issues – with risks faced by both major political parties and the two pre-existing main political camps. What started last year with rising interest in gun control measures designed to restrict access to weapons or ammunition for people of color and people with documented mental illnesses, has become a full set of policy prescriptions that indelibly reflect discussions about rights cloaking opinions about power and privilege.

The most obvious incarnation of this is the rise of the Rand Paul-style opposition to drone strikes, which is always careful to drop mentions of strikes being unnecessary on US citizens or within US territory, or Stop Watching US-style opposition to mass surveillance, which inevitably drops references to the invasive nature of spying on “suspicionless Americans”. The familiar debates of the Bush era have apparently disintegrated in the past few years, with the issue no longer being whether existing anti-crime and anti-terrorism systems were “keeping us safe” or had contributed to drastic restrictions on people’s rights. Against the by-the-book moderate politics of many Democrats and the more hawkish interest in more police and military actions that otherwise dominates US politics, a new third bloc has emerged. It’s radically opposed to the current state systems of policing and targeting people, but fundamentally only on a contextual basis.

(I am far from the only person who noticed this way of thinking about state power this year, from here.)

There’s been something of a Faustian exchange that’s happened. Criticism of the policies and systems that have been grossly misused and expanded in the past few years have suddenly coalesced into a viable and identifiable political wing, even in the US government. But that new political force is at its core separate from the far longer outcry against these systems that’s been a part of the politics of many marginalized populations for centuries now. This new political faction’s ideas seem to be about shoring up differences between people in how these laws effect them. Rather than critical of state power, they’re predicated on merely making its fallout more guided.

There’s a question we should all ask ourselves as this new force continues to disrupt the old conversation about security: is it drawing supporters and support from those that previously have advocated for more violence or is it taking from and taking over a nascent movement that could have challenged the violation of rights of non-citizens, of people of color, of the mentally disabled or ill?

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The unfolding disaster

TW: islamophobia, racist criminalization, police brutality, violence against protesters, institutionalization, sexual assault

(Until recently, almost all substantive coverage of this has been actually from foreign media, like the above protest sign that explains “We don’t want a spying, lying NYPD commissioner” which was published in the UK newspaper, The Guardian.)

There’s astoundingly little for me to say about Alex Pareene’s piece on the on-going early contest for the position of mayor of New York. It’s rare to see the larger context of corruption, racism, and fear mongering so effectively pulled together to provide a detailed account of what the current political situation in that city is, so it seems definitely worth a quite read. To give you a taste:

Let’s run down the record quickly: Kelly’s NYPD acts (to the annoyance of the FBI) like an international intelligence agency devoted entirely to spying on Muslims. The department has a network of informants spying on American Muslims known as “mosque-crawlers.” NYPD spies monitored Muslims in Newark as well, compiling a vital list of… restaurants. The NYPD even spied on Muslims who sought to ally themselves with the city against terrorism. (You can read the Associated Press’ award-winning coverage of the NYPD’s inept/counterproductive spying operations here.)

The NYPD has “trained” its officers with a virulent Islamophobic movie called “Third Jihad,” which claims that “much of the Muslim leadership in America” has a “strategy to infiltrate and dominate” the U.S.. Kelly appeared in this movie in an interview. When questioned about this, NYPD spokesperson Paul Browne lied about Kelly’s appearance, because everyone in the NYPD, from the highest levels to the beat cops, lies constantly, to juries and judges and the press.

Kelly’s NYPD costs the city a lot of money. Not just in the “buying drones and military-grade noise cannons while people starve in the streets” sense (though that is one way) but in the constantly getting sued for brutality and wrongful imprisonment and so on way.

The 2004 Republican National Convention took place in New York, and in preparation for the convention Kelly and Bloomberg spent a lot of time spying on activists in order to figure out how best to illegally arrest hundreds of protesters. A judge ruled the NYPD tactics unconstitutional, opening the door to more lawsuits.

The NYPD is a world-leader in marijuana arrests. The vast majority of those arrested have been black men, a group the city has explicitly persecuted under Kelly and Bloomberg in a depressing variety of ways. Between 2002 and 2012 the NYPD made 440,000 arrests for low-level marijuana possession. Until Kelly finally told officers to stop doing so in 2011, a common police tactic was to trick or coerce people being frisked into taking drugs out of their pockets themselves, putting the marijuana in “public view” and making it an arrestable offense. (This is also illegal.)

Of course, another common NYPD tactic is to simply plant drugs on suspects.

And we haven’t even gotten to the massive ticket-fixing thing, which led to charges against 16 officers. And the mass demonstration of NYPD officers outside the courthouse following those arrests, in which the cops said they were “just following orders” and mockingly chanted “E.B.T.” at people lined up to receive benefits across the street. (And the officer indicted for trying to pay to have a witness against him killed.) At least the ticket-fixing was one of the very, very few incidents of NYPD criminality that was actually uncovered by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, which has otherwise failed to police the police.

There are also the tapes produced by Adrian Schoolcraft, an officer who recorded NYPD activity in Bed-Stuy and revealed the widespread manipulation of arrest data designed to game “CompStat,” the much-vaunted Bloombergian data-driven police management program. Schoolcraft found that an NYPD cop “is expected to maintain high ‘activity’—including stop-and-frisks—but, paradoxically, to record fewer actual crimes.” Schoolcraft also confirmed the existence of “quotas” for arrests, summons and frisks — something else the NYPD lied about for years. Cops were told to arrest people for petty crimes (or for nothing at all) and downplay more serious ones, in order to show that the police were busy but that serious crime wasn’t a problem. Schoolcraft’s superiors sent the whistleblower to a psych ward for six days. Kelly then kept the NYPD’s own internal investigation into his allegations secret for two years.

And let’s not forget the gun-running, the rapes, the various incidents of casual racism, and arrests of black public officials at the West Indian Day Parade. And, of course, lying about arresting journalists at Occupy Wall Street, and destroying the library, and everything else.

It’s hard to be more damning than that in my mind, and keep in mind that’s just a portion of the article.

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Guiding violence

TW: drone strikes, abilist criminalization

It’s hard not to reach certain conclusions given recent polling among Americans on what uses of military drones we approve of. In a remarkable display of hypocrisy, some 75 percent of us are fine with them targeting anyone the US government deems a threat who’s outside of the country. When the target, however, is specified to be a US citizen (as was Anwar al-Awlaki), that number precipitously falls to 24 percent. We’re quite comfortable dishing it out, but the idea that there should be a uniform rule on the acceptability of drone strikes independent of the targets’ citizenship statuses scares us quite considerably. We’re fine with violence, just as long as it’s not directed at us.

In a number of ways, the attitude seems to derive from a similar principle of the on-going debate about the right to access and use firearms, namely that those rights might conceivably be rescinded or more tightly regulated for those deemed a threat. In other recent polls, nothing comes close in terms of support to actually enforcing existing laws, except for creating discriminatory laws about who can and who can’t own weapons. The appeal of that harshly contrasts with the lowest support for an across the board ban on “safer” weapons in US history. Equality under the law is a rapidly declining concept apparently.

(Pakistani children at rubble from their destroyed homes in Buner, Pakistan, following a drone strike. From here.)

The message here seems to be that a growing number of Americans believe that our nation can shape the direction of violence. The proposed policies would be comical if not so threatening. Our country is seriously discussing preventing groups that are actually more likely to be victimized from having the weapons that the country accepts deregulated purchases of because of the need for self protection. Our country somehow believes that citizenship is a brightline between an us and a them, and that non-combatant deaths are either non-existent or unimportant.

It makes you wonder what would have to happen for us to ponder whether we’re the deluded ones, whether we’re the aggressors, or whether we’re the ones who need to examine what we’re doing in the world.

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Why I don’t talk much about guns

TW: gun violence, racist criminalization, sexism

Obviously the United States has some sort of a problem with the availability of firearms. I don’t really even have to make an argument – I can just list geographic locations, from a movie theater in Aurora, to an elementary school in Sandy Hook, and to a gurdwara in Oak Creek. I don’t have to even reach back to older memories of a high school in Columbine or a certain street corner in Tuscon, because so many incidents of extreme gun violence have happened in the past few months alone. The difficulty we face is frankly undeniable.

That being said, I don’t like debating about guns. No, not because I don’t have opinions on it, but because there’s so little consistency in how even the same policies are or might be applied. We can’t have a substantive national conversation on the issue for a variety of reasons, but that’s the one that frankly sets me off the most. I’ve already talking about how many of us seem to search for some “other people” that can be restricted in new ways to prevent the next tragedy, but beyond that, the laws and principles that we all supposedly live by now are so easily reinterpreted and found to mysteriously apply differently based on a few principles.

In Florida, for example, many people know about how the radical Stand Your Ground laws have essentially forced mass protest to occur to hold one White Latino adult responsible for the death of a young man who was Black. Of course, the same laws were found by the same state police and same state courts to not apply in the context of Marissa Alexander’s self defense against her abusive husband. When the person wielding the gun was a Black woman, rather than a White man, somehow the laws don’t produce the same police and judicial procedures. In Zimmerman’s case, he almost didn’t even stand trial. In Alexander’s case, she’s been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Marissa Alexander
(Alexander as she was being sentenced. From here.)

This is sometimes more subtly expressed though. As this recent batch of mass shootings was just beginning to heat up, the National Rifle Association (NRA) released in anticipation a list of people and organizations it “opposes” to its members (who, by definition, are owners of weapons that can easily kill). The list contained in some cases the work addresses and phone numbers of some of the people it listed. Can you spot the obvious security risk in an organization suggesting that these people are threats and then providing its members with information on how to reach them?

The discrepancy might not be as obvious, but the NRA has been the primary force in opposing a national database of gun purchases, as a means of monitoring the sale of weapons to catch illegal activities. Its reason for this should be clear to anyone remotely familiar with the NRA – the fear of information on gun owners being used to target them. The information the NRA puts out about other individuals, however, is seemingly of no concern.

In short, some of the people in this discussion are fighting dirty, and the real issue seems to be less about access to weaponry rather than whose access to firearms. This isn’t a conversation about rights, but privileges.

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The year gun control became a thing

TW: Oak Creek shooting, Aurora shooting, Newton shooting, islamophobic violence, racist profiling, abilist profiling

In December, even the National Rifle Association needed to offer its wacky solution of arming teachers and other school-based volunteers to deal with some of the ramifications of the availability of certain firearms and the surrounding culture of violence in the US. That is how profoundly firearms-related violence has impacted American politics, after not only a constant background of mass shootings but several high profile cases this year culminating in the recent 27 deaths in Newton, Connecticut. Gun control has become feasible, at least in certain forms.

I’ve written before about the way violent deaths are understood, namely how class, race, gender, and other social categories with serious power discrepancies are something of predictors of how seriously a death will be taken. The rapid string of anti-Muslim attacks earlier this year, based on islamophobic ideas that are still lurking out there, didn’t elicit demands for a serious conversation about violence in the US.

Likewise, in the wake of evidently more convincing shootings, much of the discussion has relied on the idea of bad guys with guns being stopped by good guys with guns. How do we know who the bad guys are, especially if they might be carrying a concealed weapon? Mayor Bloomberg’s office seems to have viewed race as a good answer to that question. Others have seemed to point to the mentally unwell as the obvious bad guys. Gun control has finally become a feasible policy in the US, but only with restrictions applying for those people, who are believed to be the cause of gun violence, contrary to all other evidence.

(Although young Black men and young White men are almost equivalent percentages of New York City’s population, more than a quarter of all stop-and-frisks involve the former while less than 4 percent involve the latter. From here.)

Perhaps it’s insufficient to say we need to examine the way certain firearms and the broader culture in the US are contributing to violence. We need to also notice the ways that violence doesn’t originate from some other, whether racial or psychological. And likewise, that otherness makes people vulnerable to violence. Instead of that, however, we seem poised to seriously discuss gun control for the first time in at least a decade, but while scapegoating certain groups as the primary if not sole originators of violence.

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The state remains king

TW: gun violence

As the United States is gripping for another round of debates on whether the state can actually enforce gun laws, it’s worth looking to the rest of the world to check the American skepticism about the state’s potency is necessarily a universal problem. Luckily, the events of the past week are a pretty resounding counterpoint to the idea of laws being option and states being delicate creatures.

In Japan, the recent election handed the Liberal Democratic Party near total control of the government, ostensibly in response to the party’s tough talk concerning Japan’s mineral rights to the Senkaku Islands (known as the Diaoyu Islands in Chinese), as well as similar border disputes with South Korea. The Japanese state is clearly a major player, as a national conversation begins on whether and how to expand nuclear power capabilities (or “nuclear power” capabilities?) and augment the power and size of the military-esque defensive forces Japan is constitutionally permitted to have. Even having lost an empire, an actual military, and the right to preemptively declare war, Japan is a force in the region.

(The Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands are not only strategically located, but thought to have oil or gas reserves trapped beneath them and conveniently lack an indigenous population. Originally from here.)

In the recent Ghanaian election, which I’ve discussed before, the primary policy-focused difference between the mainstream presidential candidates concerned how to direct the state’s resources, not whether the state should direct them. Incumbent President John Mahama argued for recent windfalls from oil exports to be put to use in infrastructural development, while challenger Nana Akufo-Addo called for the primary focus of state-led investment to be in education. There are clear trade-offs involved. Education spending will more likely to be available to urban-dwelling Ghanaians, to say nothing of the class politics of forcing children to potentially choose between their livelihoods and their education. On the other hand, infrastructure typically translates into lucrative contracts for the well connected, but a product that’s often useful to a wider group of the population. In total, 97 percent of the population voted for either of these candidates, as part of the election became a referendum on the particulars of state involvement in the economy, not the concept itself.

Earlier today, the UN War Crimes Court acquitted militant leader Mathieu Ngudjolo, who participated in violent anti-state activities in the northeastern areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) almost a decade ago. So, while the DRC has been considered incredibly impotent in putting down the almost constant state of revolution in that portion of its territory, it successfully detained one of the premier leaders of an earlier uprising and maintained at least partial control over the region. In contrast, the sub-state actors, like Ngudjolo, who are sometimes referred to as warlords, have never been able to establish even de facto independence for very long even in the unstable corner of one of the most defunct states. To top it off, the non-state entity of the United Nations can’t even persuade its own judges that a warlord is guilty of war crimes. Even one of the least stable states in the world has come out ahead of everyone else in this situation.

Even the DRC can outfox armed gun men, but the US has paralyzed itself into believing its own laws can’t be enforced.

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