BOOK REPLIES (2014): Various (1994–2014) Plays About Gun Violence [part 3 of 3]

10 June 2014

Summary (the TLDR Version)

Distinguish plausible threats from possible threats.

Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve read this section previously, you can skip it.

Two years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day; last year, I did so. Continuing from then, I now have the task to read fifteen pages per day,[1] and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop). I plan also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests.

These replies will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to do so when I read it. Rather, these replies amount to assessments of the ways I found the book helpful somehow. More precisely—and this describes what I mean by a reply, as opposed to a reaction (review) or a response—I try to focus in these pieces on what I could not have said (or would not have known what to say) except that the intersection of this text and my consciousness brought it about.

Consequently, I will sometimes say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff, &c. Some in the world expect everyone to possess omniscience and won’t bother to engage in a human dialogue toward divining how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides a I found this helpful in this book, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or do something else we see as potentially helpful as part of attempting to make our world a better place. If you won’t bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals of course part of the problem that needs a solution.

A Reply To: Various (1994–2014) Notes on Plays About Gun Violence [part 3 of 3]

Lately, I have had the opportunity to read 40+ plays, ranging from 4 pages to 137 pages, that people sent in response to a call about gun violence. The results seem like a Rorschach test, because it’s intriguing and curious to see what people think fits that category. These offer some notes after reading the range of offerings; you can find parts 1 & 2 here and here.

The most glaring lapse in the many plays submitted involves little to no cognizance of the racialised differences in gun violence. Roughly 61% of gun deaths involve suicide (80% of those White). As such, to say “no” to gun control means saying “yes” to people of colour being (literally) murdered, whether by other people of colour or at the guns of police. And, in this context, we should remember that when you make a per capita adjustment for gun deaths in the United States,[2] police remain 35 times more likely to murder someone with a gun than your average citizen. This statistic echoes the fact that vastly more citizens in nation-states around the world were slaughtered by their governments or their citizens compared to “foreign aggressors”.

Stupid people—or vile people, if you prefer—will want to pounce on this black-on-black crime stat out of their enthusiasm for ignorance. The gesture seems, to me, evidence of a desire to find any excuse to justify their race animus rather than any serious attempt to discuss the matter. Anyone with some decency about them at the very least understands that the circumstances of poverty help to drive up the occurrence of crime (and gun violence) amongst the poor, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

One needs to explain how all that heroin got into Black communities in the first place. And to come to an accounting with the deliberateness of that. And with the War on Drugs, that accounts globally for the vastest amount of gun death (principally in all of the Americas, except Canada). One has to come to terms with how communities were turned into ghettos—with discriminatory mortgage lending, for instance, that didn’t permit African Americans (in Detroit) for example to get out into the suburbs. But further beyond this, we could take cognizance of the fact that even the most destroyed urban ghettos still have people there making a living, finding a way to get by legally, to raise families, and so forth. We need to remember that white kids deal drugs more often than black kids.

Shit-fuckers like to repeat the numbers in percentages: that some majority percentage of black kids deal drugs or whatnot, but that only hides the absolute numbers:

But listen up my fellow white Americans: Our children are no better, no more moral, and no more decent than anyone else. Dysfunction is all around us, whether we choose to recognize it or not, and not only in terms of school shootings. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, and the Monitoring the Future report from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, it is our children, and not those of the urban ghetto who are most likely to use drugs. White high school students are seven times more likely than blacks to have used cocaine and heroin, eight times more likely to have smoked crack, and ten times more likely to have used LSD. What’s more, it is white youth between the ages of 12-17 who are more likely to sell drugs: one third more likely than their black counterparts; and it is white youth who are twice as likely to binge drink, and nearly twice as likely as blacks to drive drunk; and white males are twice as likely as black males to bring a weapon to school (from here).

Or even more bluntly (and this independent of socioeconomic status):

Black youth are arrested for drug crimes at a rate ten times higher than that of whites. But new research shows that young African Americans are actually less likely to use drugs and less likely to develop substance use disorders, compared to whites, Native Americans, Hispanics and people of mixed race. … Native American youth fared worst, with 15% having a substance use disorder, compared to 9.2% for people of mixed racial heritage, 9.0% for whites, 7.7% for Hispanics, 5% for African Americans and 3.5% for Asians and Pacific Islanders (from here).

Importantly:

For example, a large proportion of youth with drug problems recover without treatment. While rates of substance use disorders tend to be around 8% in the teen years, these rates dip to <href=”#Tab5.2B”>less than 2% for those over 26; the number of people who’ve gotten better far exceeds that which could have possibly attended treatment or even self-help groups.

Contextualize that with the fact that Black youth get sentenced to prison (might still be there by age 26) compared to White youth who get diverted to treatment. So despite the fact that “it is white youth between the ages of 12-17 who are more likely to sell drugs: one third more likely than their black counterparts,” despite the fact that “White high school students are seven times more likely than blacks to have used cocaine and heroin, eight times more likely to have smoked crack, and ten times more likely to have used LSD” we see amongst incarcerated (adult) drug convictions, “69,500 (29.3%) were non-Hispanic white, 105,600 (44.6%) were non-Hispanic black and 47,800 (20.2%) were Hispanic” (from <href=”#sthash.b4D5n2eP.dpbs”>here). Hence, “A study of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s arrest data for the 1990s reveals that the rise in detention was unrelated to crime rates. That is, detention as a tactic of controlling young offenders has little to nothing to do with the rate of crime or the “threat” that youth pose to the public.”[3]

Notice that “that is”—“the rise in detention was unrelated to crime rates” and yet the conclusion “detention as a tactic of controlling offenders has little to nothing to do with the rate of crime”. Rather, one would think to emphasize the gratuitousness of the arrests; arrests simply targeted black youth, criminal or not.

All of this, and more, makes no meaningful appearance in the play submission. Several, of course, decided to write things related to the Newtown massacre, but none presented while doing so the parallel massacre going on wherever police (or black youth) murder and wound black youths. In 2012, police alone murdered 313 African-Americans—one every 28 hours. And I promise you, black mothers bled for the babies and adults of Newtown, while white mothers go on talking about police doing their job or some sort of “they deserved it”. Well, those babies in Newton shouldn’t have been colouring in those colouring books either—they were asking for it!

Since Sandyhook, a major emphasis has been on keeping guns out of the hands of “crazies”.[4]

The police killings of young black men continue unabated in the United States. On the evening of March 9, 2013 two undercover cops fired 11 rounds of hollow point bullets, killing Kimani Gray, a 16 year old boy in Flatbush, a community in Brooklyn. Kimani was part of a group of youngsters on their way home after a sweet sixteen birthday party.

Witnesses deny the police claim that he had a gun, much less pointed one at them. The cops said they approached Kimani because they saw him “adjust his waistband” in “a suspicious manner.” They also claimed that they identified themselves as police and showed their badges. Witnesses at the scene say that the out-of-uniform police showed no badges, did not identify themselves and arrived in a car that was not a police car. The 2 cops say that they told Kimani not to move and he walked away from the group. The two NYC cops shot Kimani 7 times. The autopsy showed that he was shot 7 times, 4 in the front of his body and 3 times in the back apparently as he was walking away. As Kimani was dying on the street and tried to rise, one of the cops standing over him told him to stay down or that he’d shoot him again (from here).

Looks like we have a couple of grown up Columbiners here, if we’re going to talk about keeping guns out of the hands of “crazies”. And how many soldiers with PTSD get to go back? When 13-year-old Darius Simmons got murdered by his 75-year-old neighbour for moving a garbage can (see here), what kind of “crazy” did that represent. As one commenter remarks, “The legacy of white violence continues to reign terror in the Black community. This coward did not even face the parents, he went to the child (who does that). If you have a problem with the child, you go the parent. My prayers go out to the family of this young man.”

I want to mention in passing, that for all of the supposed “common sense” surrounding violent video games and all of that, studies remain perpetually ambivalent on this point. Tons of people play the games, only a few flip out. But what Columbine, Fort Hood, and perhaps even Sandyhook have in common involves not video games but a fetishizing of the military. Certainly the structure of police departments borrows from the military style (in countless ways) and this, again, points back to an adulation of the military—or, more precisely, an adulation of the myth or discourse of militarism. Most soldiers, despite their lethal training, don’t usually use that lethality for the sake of mayhem.

It might prove more pertinent to examine (violent) video games not as a cause but more as an effect—an effect where the sense of being a “punk” motivates a desire to “show everybody”. The paramilitaristic attitudes of many shooters (to say nothing of the literal militaristicism of police and soldiers) may point to something.

And especially so since that paramilitaristic element seems lacking almost entirely in non-white gun violence. There, when the ethos doesn’t revolve around a desire for self-defense at least as rational as the woman alone at home, we have something more akin to gangsters or the Wild West.

One of the things that seems very true: police seem far more like punks than the people they call punks. Watching videos of police harassment, it becomes frequently impossible to ignore the bully vibe they put off. And by contrast, even when the gangster gives you an “or else”, it seems backed up far less often by any sense of an inferiority complex. Thus, police violence often gives the impression of hiding behind the shield, and then running to Mommy (SID) to have their childish temper tantrum receive the seal of approval.

I don’t mean all police, of course. The structural objections to police remain outside of these remarks. This speaks, rather, to the “kind of person” who shoots a 13-year-old, unarmed boy 11 times, &c. Who should we call a “punk” in that setting? At the same time, the “punk” who becomes a police officer (or soldier), i.e., the person who feels for whatever reason belittled and aims to make up for it under the colour of authority, the one who perhaps abetted that desire in the first place through violent video games, as well as the “typical” kind of shooter, and even the 75-year-old geezer who murdered a 13-year-old boy in cold blood may all have just that in common.

And let’s remember—plenty of this specific kind of chump complex violence gets directed at Black males. I don’t want to elide or lose that point.

And the broader issue that goes with it: what remains at stake in a case like George Zimmerman or Michael Dunn harkens back to the heady days of “gay panic” as a “defense” for LGBT violence; a notion theoretically on the wane at last. Clearly, we need a similar movement to ban “white panic”; a notion still highly in vogue and so implicitly invoked you have to point it out (e.g., here or here).

But what I want to emphasize: whether juries can persuade themselves that the white panic defense seems “reasonable” matters less than the notion that calling any kind of fear “reasonable” already goes off the rails. I detect a vast difference between a woman alone in her home with someone who has broken in compared to a circumstance where someone armed and carrying a notion of being higher on the social hierarchy decides that Trayvon Martin, Kiwane Carrington, Or Darius Simmons provides “reasonable” grounds for fear.

It seems naïve to the point of wilful that police officers (the ones who murdered Kiwane Carrington or Darius Simmons), who have guns, would experience such a degree of threat from a little boy (ages 15 and 13 respectively) that they need to pull a gun. Even if a 13 year old assaulted me, it’d be a while before I got to the point of believing the kid would kill me. That simply bears little relationship to any reality for how “tasseling” goes.

I’d similarly venture that George Zimmerman started some shit he couldn’t find his way out of. He thought he had someone he could boss around like a “bitch”—just like he likes to hit his women—and found out he’d miscalculated. But he still started shit with someone because he thought he could get away with it. So that seems what all three of these cases have, except that the police case remains more alarming because police should have more restraint, and more familiarity, in the face of danger. Imagine if military personnel conducted themselves in the zone of paranoia police inhabit.[5]

I point out all of this because any sort of (idiotic racist) discourse about “justifiable” shooting (in the case of Trayvon Martin, Kiwane Carrington, or Darius Simmons, &c) leverages the public fear in the first place that makes guns seem like a good idea. We know perfectly well that the mind-set that pulled the trigger on Trayvon, Darius, and Kiwane deserves the name “crazy,” but we can’t find a way to negotiate our own degree of (mythological) fear to outright condemn those actions. It seems, if we say “no” to those deaths, then we might “make ourselves vulnerable”—because then we’d have to advocate for gun-control. So, instead because of fear, we allow the “crazies” (like police, military, and paramilitary types like George Zimmerman) to go on slaughtering people, especially black people, and to allow that ethos to “encourage” college shooters, &c.

A distinction: anxiety presents an objectless fear, as opposed to apprehension, which offers a fear with an object. Hence the difference when I stand on the side of the road, anxious that I might get run down by a bus, as opposed to the fear I experience while standing in the road as the bus barrels down on me. Apprehension, in this sense, represents a rational (reasonable) state of mind; anxiety does not.

Anxiety remains difficult to answer. Say to the person standing on the side of the road, anxious about getting run down, “It’s not likely to happen,” the response, “But it might!” can never get fully refuted. At that point, it becomes entirely pertinent to discuss plausibilities rather than possibilities. One cannot deny, when I get in my car to drive somewhere, that I might possibly get killed in an accident, but my many, many years of getting in cars and going places without dying persuades me that this fails to persuade me as a plausible argument.

So, when those two assholes with guns claim to have seen Darius Simmons make a suspicious move toward his waistband—we will ignore for the time being that this most likely represents simply a lie on their part—we can still say that this possibility (one can’t deny the possibility) remains absurdly implausible. I say absurdly because, while someone like George Zimmerman might get counted simply an idiot who has little to no training in any sort of situation like this, police should know better, and deserve automatic firing with no pension if they don’t.

Similarly, while whatever George Zimmerman imagined about Trayvon Martin’s presence in the neighbourhood remains possible (of course), statistics don’t bear out the plausibility of those claims. Most crimes remain intra-racial, not inter-racial—so if you see a black kid in your neighbourhood, he statistically has no criminal intent in mind and also has less statistical likelihood of being one of your neighbourhood’s (drug-dealing, drug-using) criminal element (the white kids). And that, in fact, remains true just about wherever you go—so what seems like a “reasonable” plausibility to you remains more an empty, unfounded, possibility.

Again, anxiety remains hard to address, because it keeps going back to, “But it might be true.” And in cases where life or death seem to hang in the balance, it seems better to err on the side of caution.

False. Once again, this “argument” rests on non-plausibilities. In terms of police deaths per year, greens keepers actually have more dangerous jobs, i.e., more greens keepers die per year than police officers, and most of those officers die (on the job) from accidents. SO when police escalate situations and murder little boys, keep that in mind.

I point to this as an extreme: that even in a circumstance where life and death do seem to hang in the balance, i.e., in the movement when a police offer confronts a person deemed a “suspect” (perhaps because he adjusted his waistband suspiciously), in point of fact, the perceived danger remains an implausible claim. Certainly one might add, two off-duty police officers shouldn’t try to start shit with groups of teenagers in neighbourhoods where they don’t belong. That degree of stupidity starts to smell like deliberate malice aforethought; it smells like hunting.

So, there you stand, on the side of the street—you can amplify the illustration by imagining your loved one stands there instead—and how does one “answer” the anxiety about crossing, “I might get hit by a car.”

By doing it. Precisely because you have driven a car a bazillion times without dying, you totally disregard the fact that auto travel does, in fact, represent the most lethal form of transportation. But that fact has no plausibility to you, &c.

So, clearly, the best way to overcome the anxiousness about crossing the street means to do so, probably with the help of someone. And, in fact, this kind of therapy (known as exposure) represents one of the most effective means for overcoming anxiety and phobia. And no doubt in part because, if you have the idea that a spider will cause the apocalypse, as you encounter spider after spider and the world refuses to end, the anxiety loses its steam. Those who live anxiously in the closet discover something similar as they ease their way out—rather than the world blowing up, rather than being verbally harassed and murdered after the first tiny step out of the closet, one gradually comes to see that the anxiety overstates the case tremendously.

None of this dismisses real cases of violence, of course. And, again, if we want to keep actuality (plausibilities) before us rather than dwelling in possibility-land, the greater proportion of anti-LGBT violence gets directed most of all against trans people of colour; so if you don’t have those markers, or if you don’t get socially perceived as such, then the plausibility of your anxiety about anti-LGBT violence declines. And the most powerful proof of that comes through exposure—being out and about and discovering where the actual fears seem warranted as opposed to where not (i.e., everywhere).

So, unfortunately (white folk), as long as you idiotically think that black person near you wants to rape and murder you, then stay the fuck in your house. The efficacy of exposure suggest, obviously enough, that what you need to do to get over that anxiety involves nothing less than hanging out with Black folk. And that means, in all likelihood, going out of your way to do so—since the danger of whites to blacks stands as (historically) more plausible than the danger of blacks to whites.

You can call it fear, but when we allow ourselves to elide apprehension and anxiety as if interchangeable or synonymous, then we create the ground for more gun violence. We can leave it an academic question whether George Zimmerman or those off-duty police officers or Police Chief Finney and Officer Norbits were really actually scared little punks in the face of a genuine non-danger or if they saw an opportunity for some “payback” to compensate for a monstrous chump complex they carry around, but either way their anxiety or sociopathy cannot and should not serve as any sort of argument for an (inexcusable) use of guns.

What never gets discussed in the context of gun violence involves simply the threat that guns offer—the mere presence of a gun in a room changes things. We have an absurd amount of gun violence in our culture, whether in the forms of tragic homicide, comic suicides, or the bad-luck of accident, whether by self-appointed citizens or duly appointed officers of a law that should know better. All of this is a mess that no other OECD country can boast of, or would want to. But unaddressed in all of that remains: why we have 27 million guns in the US at all. That’s 88.8% of the population, except of course that not even the majority own a gun.

On a much less dramatic scale than George Zimmerman, who after all felt so far-gone that he actually armed himself and went prowling, what “chump complex” lurks behind (1) owning scores of guns—the bourgeois conceit of property ownership notwithstanding—or (2) the secret satisfaction or superiority that comes from pooh-poohing someone like George Zimmerman while certainly remaining willing to murder someone who breaks into your family’s house.

Somewhere between a plausibility of (legitimate) self-defense and an empty anxiousness that spastically sprays bullets like a crazy person, in the cross-hairs of that waffling stand Black people in this country, and that makes your waffling morally reprehensible.

Endnotes

[1] More precisely, I will continue to read my usual ten pages but I will also read five pages per day of Burton’s (1620) Anatomy of Melancholy, a gigantic book that at five pages per day I will finish reading near the end of December 2014. I have wanted to read this book for a while, but various features of it make getting through it a challenge.

[2] In making this calculation, I did not subtract the number of fatal police shootings from the number of total non-suicide, non-accidental gun deaths in the United States, since I could not determine if the total number of such gun deaths already included those fatal police shootings or not.

[3] Citing Sickmund, M. (2007). Juveniles in Corrections. Washington DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

[4] I’ll leave aside the offensive and problematic rise of the use of this term—substitute “retard” if you don’t see why the word represents a problem.

[5] Of course, often they do, and the history of massacres bears testimony to this.

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