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Clowns to the Left of Me Jokers to the Right… Irresponsible and

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short post today about some of the most remarkable comments about the massacre in Las Vegas. Truthfully, I am still trying to get my head around what happened; and since there is as yet no evidence of why Stephen Paddock committed this heinous act I am still perplexed by it. I cannot imagine anyone whether they were in their right mind or not deciding to meticulously plan and execute such a cold blooded massacre. I can say that it was an act of unequivocal evil and had it been perpetrated by a Muslim, an undocumented alien, or an African American there would be more outrage and you can bet that people who in the immediate aftermath of the massacre said it shouldn’t be politicized would have politicized the hell out of it.

But instead of outrage I see Alex Jones blaming it on “the deep state,” Pat Robertson blaming it on “a lack of respect for President Trump and the flag,” Bill O’Reilly saying it was “the price of freedom,” Senator John Thune seemingly blaming the victims saying that “they should have made themselves smaller,” and a CBS News legal counsel said that she had no sympathy because “I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country music fans are often republican gun toters.” At least CBS fired her within hours of her abominable comments. However, I honestly doubt that any supporter of Robertson, Jones, Thune, or O’Reilly, would demand that they be fired. Of course there were a host of others that said that the shooting was part of God’s judgment or blamed people for any of a number of half-baked theological reasons.

The terrible thing about the commentators was that none of them seemed to give a damn about the victims, or those who lost loved ones or friends in this. For these soulless hacks it is all about finding blame and exculpating themselves from any responsibility when they all through their constant political invective and promotion of conspiracy theories help prepare the way for people to justify the massacre of so many people. In fact other right wing outlets like the Gateway Pundit seemed almost gleeful when they made a false identification of the shooter as “Registered Democrat and anti-Trump partisan.” They had to delete their posts and articles because they blamed the wrong person. But for a while they certainly defamed and libeled an innocent man all in the hope of making a cheap political point.

So anyway, I am frustrated and angry about those who make such comments, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that we shouldn’t debate the politics of the availability of the weapons and devices that made Stephen Paddock’s assault so deadly. As a career military officer I cannot imagine why we allow weapons like those used by Paddock, modified military weapons that have only one purpose: efficiently killing people in mass numbers, to be legal. I’ll probably write more about the subject another time, but the irresponsibility of ideologues only makes events like this even more tragic.

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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How Many More? The Umpqua Community College Massacre

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight just a short thought about the latest mass shooting in the United States, this one at Umpqua Community College, in Roseburg, Oregon.

I won’t say much, except that I have a hard time imagining that a society such as ours would continue to tolerate events like this on such a regular basis. Maybe I feel this way because I have been held up at gunpoint in my hometown in 1979. Maybe it is because I have been to war and been shot at by enemy forces. Maybe it is because I remember when the elementary school that I attended when I was a child, Grover Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton California became the scene of a massacre in 1989, some 17 years after I had gone there. Maybe it is because I know too many people who have be affected by gun violence.

Whatever the reason I find it troubling. For the first time in a long time I turned on the television news, and listened to President Obama speak about this. I had to agree with everything that he said; the fact is that such massacres have become routine to us, almost as routine as is the violence of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or the “Troubles” of Northern Ireland. The fact is that after every one of these events; Stockton, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Tucson, Aurora, the Washington Naval Yard, San Ysidro, Fort Hood, Charleston and so many others; many of which never hit anything but local media really do not move us to do anything. We have accepted them as part of life, and despite our protestations, our “prayers” and our outward sympathy for the victims we seem unwilling to do anything about them.

Guns are certainly a part of the problem; but there is something far deeper that we should be concerned about in all of this, it is who we are as a people. These events are not new, they have been occurring for well over a century in our country; lynching, bombing, gangland shootings, some committed by individuals, some by criminal organizations. But in addition to the true murderous sociopaths, many more seriously disturbed and even mentally ill individuals, who should have no access to weapons, commit many of these shootings.

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As yet we do not know much about the shooter, his motivations or his victims. We do know that his name is Chris Harper Mercer, a twenty-six year old student at the college. According to a dating profile said that he was a “conservative Republican” who “doesn’t like organized religion.” But most of us only care about those details to either titillate our need for information, or to back whatever our political position is regarding laws about gun ownership. The fact is that we don’t know why Mercer did this; evidently during the attack he was asking people to state their religion as he shot them. We will find out more as the investigation unfolds, but again to most of us the details won’t matter as our minds are made up, and we accept this as a way of life.

Some say we should take drastic measures to control guns; others that we should have more training and screening of potential guy buyers; others say ban certain types of weapons; still others say to eliminate all restrictions on gun ownership; while others say to increase the mental health screenings to keep mentally ill or potentially disturbed people from purchasing guns. Sadly, those who most loudly proclaim eliminating restrictions on any kind of gun ownership, even for the most lethal weapons are the same people who support politicians who constantly vote down funding for mental health care and restrictions on law enforcement in dealing with guns.

The fact is that no matter which side is argued people continue to die in gun violence everyday, and not just mass shootings like the one we saw today. I think the President is right, Americans and our legislators at local, state and federal levels need to find solutions that protect constitutional liberties for responsible gun owners with the safety of the public. Honestly, I don’t know how that happens; far too many lobbyists, special interest groups with conflicting interests, and the gun industry are involved.

But I have to say, with unfettered honesty, I really don’t think that we care, we have become used to the routine of this; we are no longer shocked, we are no longer offended, and we lack the political will, the compassion, or the courage to do anything substantive about the problem. But most of all I think that we, as a people have lost any sense of empathy for those who are killed and those who are affected by such senseless violence. In the words of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials Psychologist, Gustave Gilbert, is the absence of empathy.

President Obama was right; we have accepted these killings as a routine part of life. We say “how terrible, someone should do something” and then turn our backs until the next time. We should politicize the issue and through our political process try to find ways to deal with this with the appropriate checks and balances; because it affects every one of us. Every year over 10,000 people in this country die of gun violence committed by others. That number does not include the 20,000- 30,000 people who use guns to kill themselves every year.

How many more people need to die for us to recover any sense of empathy? How many more people need to die?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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