Tag Archives: crime

Dare Call it What it Is: Race Hatred Blessed By the President

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another day, another race based mass killing, another fake message of support from the President.

This time it was El Paso, Texas. A young white man from Dallas, an admitted White Supremacist went to a Walmart at a mall. Using an AK-47 he went on a killing spree. When police confronted him he offered no resistance.  The latest casualty count is 20 dead and 26 wounded, but the count is still fluctuating.  In his manifesto retrieved from the 8Chan site preferred by violent White Supremacists, he wrote:

“This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.” 

There was a lot more damning information in the manifesto, but this stuck out to me because he used the exact same language to describe Hispanics that President Trump has done since he came down the escalator at Trump Tower to declare his candidacy for President in 2015. The same man who at his rallies mocks the disabled, urges his followers to violence against any opponent, and threatens members of the press and the opposing party by name. He is the President who wants a fortress like military solution to the border crisis, whose administration promotes policies which separate families and imprison children in cages.

Sadly, as much as we would not like to admit it this is nothing new in American history, and I will not make any Nazi comparisons because the American precedents helped to inspire the Nazis. The extermination of the Native American tribes; the invasion and takeover of over 40% of Mexico; American slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, “Sundown Towns,” the KKK in its various iterations, the Know Nothings, violence against Irish, German, Italian, Easter European, Jewish, Arab, and Asian immigrants. Medical experiments on African Americans and the disabled, Eugenics, the list can go on and on. Hitler’s lawyer’s loved U.S. precedents, but didn’t think they went far enough.

I could go on but a won’t. Another racially motivated mass murder, more wringing of hands, and nothing will change.

I hate that it is that way, but it is the truth. These racist movements predate the President, he is not directly responsible for any of them. That being said, he has opened the floodgates for these open displays of violent race hatred through his tweets and his rallies.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Reflections on Life as an Authoritarian State Arises

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are visiting friends in the Washington DC area as we get ready to celebrate our wedding anniversary Monday. It is nice to be relaxing with each other, another friend who is down from Pennsylvania and combined flock of 12 Papillon dogs, three of which are ours. Everyone but me has now gone to their bedrooms while I sip a glass of McClelland’s Highland Single Malt Scotch Whiskey with my little boy Pierre at my side, all 4.8 pounds of him. That’s a good thing.

Since tomorrow’s weather forecast is for continued rain I will probably watch World Cup games, read and spend time with Judy, our friends and the Papillons. If the weather is good Sunday Monday hope to take Judy to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Monday night we will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary with our friends. Depending on the weather I hope to get some decent runs and walks in along the Potomac River.

Likewise, despite all that is going on try to take a break from the incessant pounding of crises manufactured by the President and the chaos that he uses to increase his personal power over his administration, the Congress, the media, and yes all of us. Sadly, none of this is going away anytime soon and it will likely become much worse before it gets better; such is the nature of fledgling dictatorships. Even today he demonized all immigrants as criminals and their supporters as being against the rule of law and his supporters applaud as the leaders of his political party cower before him. Eric Hoffer wrote:

Should Americans begin to hate foreigners wholeheartedly, it will be an indication that they have lost confidence in their own way of life.

The words and actions of the President and his supporters bear this out, they claim to be making America great again but they are destroying the very fabric of the ideals on which the nation was founded.

He did this as his administration and immigration agencies imprisons thousands of children, refuses to reunite them with their families, makes plans for camps on military bases to house nearly 150,000 immigrants, sets up checkpoints on American highways demanding that travelers have proof of citizenship, details military JAG officers with no experience in immigration law to serve as Acting US Attorneys to prosecute immigrants.

At a publicity stunt Friday the President compared all immigrants from south of the border to criminals by parading the survivors of people killed by illegals and spouting absolute lies about the number of crimes committed by immigrants, legal and illegal alike. He then took the time to sign his name on the pictures of the victims of those crimes.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a tremendous amount of compassion for the victims of any violent crime. I have stood over the bodies of men, women, and children killed by the bullets of criminals and tried to console their survivors. I did that so many times that I have lost count of the number.

Likewise I have been the victim of violent crime. I was held up at gunpoint with my wife and her family when we were dating and had a pistol pointed at my head as I sat in the back seat of a car unable to go after the gunman without risking the lives of Judy and her parents. I have also had my liefe threatened by White Supremacist for things that I have written, one that was so specific that I reported it to both the local police and the FBI. But in all cases the people who attacked or threatened me were native born Americans.

In the President’s view if you are killed by a dark skinned immigrant your families are called “Angel Families” but if you are killed by an American you and your family do not exist because you serve no political purpose. That my friends is a fact and the statistics show that far more violent crimes are committed by Americans than all immigrants and most actual cases of domestic terrorism in the United States are committed by White Supremacists, and mass murders including those at schools, businesses, entertainment venues, churches or other places of worship are committed by White people, not immigrants. But those go largely unheralded by the President, except for incidental tweets that express thoughts and prayers and praise of law enforcement.

But that is how incipient dictatorships behave. Certain groups are targets, demonized and compared to the worst examples. In the parlance of Trump they are all murderers, rapists, terrorists, gang members, and drug dealers. This behavior runs rampant in dictatorships and authoritarian states. The President has persistently and insidiously invoked that immigrants are evil. Hoffer wrote:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

That has been happening since the day that President Trump announced his candidacy for President and it is no secret. Mexicans were the first devil of his campaign, and he called them criminals, murderers and rapists on the day that he announced his candidacy. The videos of his speeches, his manifold number of Tweets, and the actions of his administration are all too widely available not to be found by anyone seeking the truth about him, but for his most fervent supporters all of those facts are fake, even if he said them in front of millions of people.

Now, events in the United States and at our borders have shown that the President was absolutely correct about his followers when he said that they would continue “to follow him even if he shot somebody on 5th Avenue.”

My friends, it is not going to get any better and we better be ready for what comes next or we will be swept away in the flood of lies and evil to come. Despite his buffoonery, one cannot underestimate the potential evil of the President and his followers. Likewise do not assume that a Blue Wave will happen in November because there may be events that occur which will allow the President to use executive orders enacted by his predecessors during the height of the Cold War and the potential of nuclear war to postpone elections or rule by decree. I refer to this as a Reichstag Fire moment.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his book On Tyranny:

“Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.”

We live in a very perilous time where the vision of our founders could be overturned in the blink of an eye and our Republic, as flawed as it is, but always has embraced the ideal of building a more perfect union will perish from the face of the earth. The nation and people may remain, but the ideal will be gone and with it the Republic.

So until tomorrow or the next post, have a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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No Answers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Almost two days after millionaire Stephen Paddock killed 59 people and wounded over 500 more there are still no answers as to why the Paddock attacked a country music festival in Las Vegas. In fact, it appears that he engaged in much planning and preparation for his assault while carefully maintaining an appearance of nondescript innocence in the months and weeks leading up to the massacre.

Honestly, I still don’t know what to say other than that Paddock was exceptionally gifted at concealing himself and his motives from anyone. Perhaps we will find out something when his live-in girlfriend returns from Japan where she was before and during his assault in Las Vegas.

The fact that his attack seems to have no underlying ideological, political, cultural, or religious, or even personal motivations such as being makes it much harder to understand. Any reason, abhorrent as it might be to us is at least something that regardless of our personal belief system is something that we might use to explain what happened and to distance ourselves from Paddock’s crimes. Instead, at least at the moment we are left with no explanation, and therefore no answers for the evil that was perpetrated by Stephen Paddock. Rick Yancey wrote, “The monstrous act by definition demands a monster” but as Primo Levi noted: “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

Stephen Paddock appears to be that common man, that person who goes unnoticed, appearing to be completely normal who commits the most monstrous of atrocities. That to me is what makes him, and others like him so terrifying.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Why Can’t We All Get Along: Reflections on Violence and Race


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Back in the 1990s, a black man by the name of Rodney King who had been brutally beaten by police appealed for calm after his attackers were acquitted. As riots broke out in Los Angeles, King called out “why can’t we all get along?” It is still a valid question. 

I have been thinking a lot about the events that have shaken our country over the past week and my thoughts today will meander between reactions to those events and memories of people and events that shaped my life that impact how I see what is happening today. I think that it important to realize that our past experience and the attitudes that we were brought up with shape how we view current events.

First there were men doing nothing violent, no resisting police requests, being gunned down by police, an event that has become all too common. Then there were the five police officers in Dallas protecting a Black Lives Matter March being ambushed and assassinated by an African American former soldier who stated his contempt for the BLM movement even as he claimed he wanted to kill whites, especially police officers. Then there have been the protests against the killings which have become a fixture in some cities that have been plagued by the brutality of some rogue police officers, as well as the very real and uncomfortable fact that police often handle situations involving white men, even armed white men acting in threatening manners, with far more restraint than they do black men. There is such a thing as White privilege, whether most of us want to admit it or not, and it has existed for the entire history of our country, and even the great victories of the Civil Rights movement never completely riddled us of it. 

I was a kid during the great protests of the Civil Rights movement. I remember watching the evening news and seeing police brutally beat peaceful and unarmed protestors senselessly in living black and white since we didn’t get a color television until about 1972. But those images have remained burned into my memory. I went to a desegregated high school which was that way due to court-ordered desegregation which involved bussing kids across town. A lot of parents objected to it, but interestingly enough, most of the kids who attended junior high school together didn’t try to avoid it, we wanted to continue school with the kids that we knew, and to meet new friends. It was an adventure, but initially there were fear of the unknown for all of us. No one knew how this experiment would work. But for our school, Edison High School in Stockton California, it was a defining moment in time; a magical time, where a mixed race student body made up of about a quarter each of Asians, African Americans,Whites,and Mexicans bonded in a remarkable manner, and today some forty years later, many of us remain close, we are the Soul Vikes to this day. That bonding for me has extended to the men and women who went there before and after me. 

Since then I have lived in many parts of the country, and sadly the experience that I had in high school seems like the exception rather than the rule. Many of the cities and towns that we have lived in have stark racial divides. Thankfully, we have been fortunate during my career in the Navy, we have lived in middle class, mixed race neighborhoods, even today, and we not only feel safe, but we know our neighbors, and we look out for each other. 

In my thirty-five years in the military I have served alongside men and women of every race, ethnicity, religion, and social class that found in our country. These are my brothers and sisters. 

That being said, Judy and I have been the victims of violent crime. In 1979 while out with her parents were were held up at gunpoint by two black men. I had a pistol pointed at my head and Judy had her glasses ripped off her face and ground into the parking lot when the robbers fled. But that one incident has not made us fearful of African Americans, even young African American men, and we find that walls can be broken down by simple kindness and respect. 

When I was in the reserves I worked for a social service agency in the slums and barrios of San Antonio, a homeless shelter in Arlington, Texas, and in the trauma and surgery department of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, where some of the police officers shot last week were taken. I have seen the effects of poverty and seen the effects of violence, and I have stood by the grieving families and friends of African American men, women, and children who died senseless deaths at the hand of violent people. I have also seen the community activists, teachers, medical personnel, pastors, and dare I say police, who work against huge odds in those neighborhoods  who do all they can to promote a culture of life, respect, and dare I say, hope. So when I see and hear people of great privilege like former New York Mayor Rudi Guilinani did this weekend, I can only shake my head in disgust. Likewise I am disgusted by media coverage, and the often incredibly ignorant and hate-filled posts that I see on social media and blogs, from people who support violence against the protestors, or the police. Frankly, neither is acceptable.

While I can understand anger of people tired of seeing rogue police officers go unpunished for crimes against people of color in their custody, and I fully support protests, I cannot place all of the blame on police. We live in a heavily armed and increasingly violent society, where the gun rules. As such police officers live in a world where they are in fear of their lives, even in routine traffic stops, and the number of people “packing heat”, legally or not, creates an environment where some officers will either overreact or abuse their authority. But there is another thing to add, with the exception of what occured in Dallas and a few other incidents, most police officers are killed by white men, but those stories seldom make the news. 

The thing is that none of this will be solved unless we all start working together as Americans, we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into the belief that nothing can be done. Our problems will not be solved by picking sides or blaming people as there is plenty of that to go around. 

Anyway, at some point I will return to this subject, but I am tired of seeing people die. I have stood over the bodies of far too many men and women killed by gun violence, grieving with their families, as well as those wounded or maimed by bullets. Sadly, most of those were in this country, not in Iraq where I also witnessed violent death. I am tired of seeing our flag at half-mast due to the mass killings of our fellow citizens: Black people in church killed by a White-Supremacist, police killed by a ruthless former soldier, children in an elementary school killed by a seriously disturbed young man whose mother allowed him access and training to use assault weapons, a man killing people in a movie theater, and so many other incidents that I have about lost count of them. 

These events occur so frequently that they seem to almost blend together, but dare say the word that if these killers did not have access to semi-automatic assault style weapons which are designed for one thing and one thing only, for use in combat, to kill as many people as possible in the most effective manner, that we would have fewer mass killings is tantamount to violating the Constitution. I am not against the right of people to own weapons at all, for self-defense, for hunting and recreation, for sport. But why we don’t curtail the sale of the killing machines designed for war complete with high volume magazines which allow a fusillade of bullets to be fired in any action is beyond me. In fact were it not for the massive numbers of these weapons on the street, legally owned and illegally procured, there would be little need for the militarization of our police forces. I have been trained and qualified on how to use these weapons, and yes, they are fun to shoot, but they have only one purpose, killing lots of people. But I digress, and I’m sure that some people that read this will call me all sorts of names. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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What too Many in Their Hearts Desire: A Massacre and Those Who Will Not Condemn it


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

When I got up yesterday morning to head over to my chapel at the staff college, despite the fact that with classes out of session that I would have no-one to worship with, I saw the news of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. I was stunned, and of course I prayed for the victims. As the morning continued I read with horror the dramatic increase in the number of people killed and wounded. I have Gay friends in Orlando and thankfully they had checked in safe on Facebook, which relieved some of my concern, but not my shock and anger over what had happened. 

Then came news of the murderer. His name, Omar Mateen. He was a Muslim, born in the United States to Afghan parents. As the day went on we learned more about him. He had been on the FBI radar for comments sympathetic to terrorists, including the Boston Marathon bombers. He was employed by one of the largest private security firms in the world. He had recently completed an associate of arts in Criminal Justice and a college in Florida. His first wife said that he was unstable and frequently beat her. His father claimed that he was enraged when he saw two men kissing in public a few weeks ago. In the past two weeks, despite having been on the Federal radar, he was able to legally purchase an assault rifle and a Glock semi-automatic pistol in Florida. During the massacre he called 911 and swore his allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, or ISIL. He rented a car and travelled 120 miles from his home to attack this specific target. 

Was he a terrorist? Yes. Was he motivated by a deep hatred of homosexuals? Yes. Did he have religious reasons to do this? Also yes, fundamentalist Islam has no problem with killing homosexuals, and the more militant types seem to take a perverse pleasure in killing homosexuals, especially Gay men. This happens all the time, and not just in areas controlled by the Islamic State or the Taliban. Was Mateen an actual member of the Islamic State? It depends on what your definition of membership is, as the FBI sorts through his cyber trail we will find out more about his connections with militant Islam. Evidently his father is a supporter of the Taliban and has spoken on American Afgani television programs about that support, though he may be delusional as well, since he has also claimed to be the President of Afganistan. 

Sadly, the fact that is was a hate crime committed against LGBTQ people in Orlando will be obscured by the Islamic connection. Donald Trump has been doing this all day, for him the victims don’t matter, all that matters is his campaign and his determination to make all Muslims pay for the actions of some. Expect to see more of this, especially from the supposedly “Christian” political leaders, pundits, and preachers who make their living demonizing the LGBTQ community in the United States; who ramrod legislation to deny Gays to same rights enjoyed by others across this nation; and who promote “kill the gays” laws in other countries, especially in Equatorial Africa, where numerous American evangelists have gone to help try to pass such laws. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick tweeted this shortly after the shooting:


Frankly, at least from my point of view it seems that there is little difference between anti-gay preachers and bigots of any religion who cry for the death, punishment, and persecution of Gays. All find some reason in their scriptures to justify their hatred and violent attitudes, not just towards Gays, but toward anyone that disagrees with them. All in my view are culpable of the murder of these men and women. In the classic film Judgement at Nuremberg, Spencer Tracy’s character, Judge Dan Haywood said these all too pertinent words:

“The principal of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common. Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime, is guilty.” 

One cannot expect to have a society where Gay people are demonized and discriminated against, where anti-gay vitriol runs rampant, especially in religious circles, and then to pretend that ties shooting is an isolated incident committed by an Islamic terrorist who was motivated by terrorism versus hating the people he killed because they were Gay. That is a convenient excuse. When I mentioned this on Facebook yesterday morning I waited to see reactions of friends. Interestingly enough of all the people that commented, or expressed any feelings of toward the victims, none were conservative Christians. None. When I mentioned this later a few came on line to agree how terrible this was. I looked at other friends timelines, and thankfully there were some who condemned what happened, but overall, very few said anything either to condemn the attack or to offer any sympathy or support to the victims. One of my friends, another Navy Chaplain immediately commented on that and said, “The gunman did what too many in their hearts desire, unfortunately. They are silent because they know that truth…” 

Sadly, he is all too correct. Whatever happened to the words of Jesus who said to love our neighbors as we do ourselves? Whatever happened to the words of Jesus about the Good Samaritan, the man who was despised by the religious elite who alone had mercy on a man who had been attacked and badly injured who religious leaders passed by on the road. (See Luke 10:25-37) 

With that in mind have a good day. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crime, LGBT issues, national security, News and current events, terrorism

A Healing Community Grieves-Portsmouth Naval Medical Center Experiences Yet another Tragic Death

This week has culminated two months of tragedy at our medical center.  This was another death, and this one was totally senseless.  It followed the unexpected death of Senior Chief Pam Branum while she was deployed on the USNS Comfort doing a humanitarian mission in the Caribbean Sea.  The Comfort was in Panama when she died.  Her death shook our community.  She was loved and respected and her death was unsettling.  Back in April we had lost Ensign Chris Gallagher in a motorcycle crash in Oceanview.  Chris was a fourth year medical student and would have graduated about three weeks after he died.  He was a incredibly sharp and dedicated medical student and would have made a fine physician.  As with Senior Chief he was well liked and respected.  I knew both of them.  I had seen Chris the day before his death in ICU rounds.

This week we lost Hospitalman Third Class Christopher Bailey.  Today in a chapel crowed well beyond it’s maximum capacity we remembered Chris.  It was a moving and emotional service in which his shipmates, friends and even his mother spoke,  I was especially touched by her words about Chris and our healing community.  Chris was a passionate young sailor and dedicated Christian.  He and a friend were looking at his car and discussing their faith when three men came to rob them.  As the men left following the robbery one fired a shot into Chris’s car.  He was hit in the back of the head and died yesterday at Norfolk General.  He donated his organs and seven were used in transplants.  In death he gave live to seven people.  Chris was a Psychiatric Technician.  He worked on our inpatient Psychiatry wards and occasionally in the clinic.  He was loved by those who worked with him.  I work on our SPRINT team which is an interdisciplinary team which goes out to assist in traumatic situations.  As part of that team I work with a lot of really great Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Psychiatric Nurses and Technicians, military and civilian.  Unlike Chris Gallagher and Pam Branum I had only met Chris in passing on duty one evening. So I didn’t know him like the other two, thus this was different than the others for me.

The death of Pan Branum and Chris Gallagher saddened me because I knew them and liked them.  Chris Bailey’s death angered me because it was so senseless.  Chris was killed for 5 dollars and truthfully, and this may seem un-Christian and anti-life I hope the bloody sonofabitch who did this is hunted down and killed.  That asshole snuffed out the life of a good kid and it really pisses me off.  I’m sure this reaction goes back to my youth because back in 1979 I was held up a gunpoint by two men with Judy, who was and her parents in the parking lot of Arroyo’s Café in Stockton California, the original home of the drive-by-shooting.  This was back in the days that Arroyo’s was on South center Street.  Having a gun to your head when you have no place to run sitting in the back seat of a car puts your life in perspective real quick.  When I heard about Chris and what happened to him I imagined what would have happened to me had the robber pulled the trigger on me.  Anyway I am upset about this because I am sick and tired of seeing young people die senseless and needless deaths. Additionally it angers me because it has hurt my friends on my team.  They are hurting; they are grieving and still trying to care for a nearly full inpatient psychiatric unit.  I hate to see my friends hurting.  I try to be there for them but that will not take away the hurt, pain and loss that they have experienced.  They walk tonight in the valley of the shadow of death.

Theologically and personally I wrestle with this.  I have a hard time finding any redeeming purpose or meaning in such a death.  Chris was killed by a criminal gang of thugs for no reason.  I have a hard time saying “well it’s God’s will” or “God works everything for the good.”  God may have a plan and somehow some way there may be something good that comes from this, but I cannot see it right now.  I’m sure that I am not alone in the way that I feel.  I can only imagine the sense of loss, grief and anger of the people that I work with who knew and loved Chris.  My stuff I can put a finger on, being held up at gunpoint thirty years ago, dealing with huge amounts traumatic death in ERs and ICUs as a chaplain and most of all the PTSD that I came home with as a gift from Iraq.

I stayed in the background of this event helping a bit with seating people, hanging out in back to make sure people were okay and after the service looking after my friends Andy and Casey from the SPRINT team.  Casey and I had done a mission at Camp LeJeune a few months back during a particularly gruesome suicide which came into the hospital ER.  Casey transfers soon but in the mean time we have to get together for a beer some evening or take in a ball game.

The only thing that I can say that may be halfway pastoral at this point is to echo German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonheoffer who said:

“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love. And it would be wrong to try to find a substitute. We must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time, it is a great consolation, for the gap — as long as it remains unfilled — preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap: God does not fill it, but on the contrary, keeps it empty, and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.”

I know that all of Chris’s friends, as well as those of Chris Gallagher and Pan Branum will understand this.  There is nothing that can replace them and it is foolish to try to substitute another person, relationship or activity for them.  There is a hole in our hearts and in the collective soul of Portsmouth Naval Medical Center.  This place of healing is hurting and I pray that somehow these things will stop happening.

May God give rest to the soul of Christopher Bailey and all those who sleep in Christ; may his soul, the souls of Chris Gallagher and Pam Branum and all the departed rest in peace and all who grieve for them know the peace of God.

Pray for me a sinner, Steve+

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