Essay

 

I was saddened when I heard that a young unarmed black man was shot and killed by a City of Ferguson police officer. My initial thought was, oh no, not again. Very shortly afterward I thought, while the incident would certainly elicit angry protests, that this being St. Louis, the lid would not pop off into violence.

St. Louis is known for its calm demeanor. During the riots of the 60′s St. Louis was one of the few major cities in the US not to experience rioting. When we win the World Series or (infrequently at best) Super Bowl, the St. Louis fans do not spill out onto the streets to overturn cars and set dumpsters on fire. So the last thing I expected was an overnight riot and looting.

When I learned of the rioting mid-morning the next day I was stunned. I really didn’t expect something like that to happen here, in suburban St. Louis. I guess that just shows how out of touch I really am.

I am not so out of touch that I don’t know there are deeply wrought racial divides in this community, or that the frustration level of the powerless and disenfranchised is probably running near record levels. I simply did not expect violence. The shooting of Michael Brown, and the official police response to it, seems to have been the final straw to bring everything down.

The rioting left me saddened, both for the store owners whose businesses were violated, and for the community around them, for there will be long term negative ramifications, both economic and social. And being aware of some of the racial sentiments of this town, I knew certain elements would use the riot and looting to paint an entire segment of our society with a broad stereotyping brush. Reading some of the comments on local news stories proved me right. Please, people, don’t go there.

Yes, there were people who destroyed and stole property. Yes, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But there were also people who came out the very next day, black people mind you, who helped clean up, who offered apologies, who pleaded for calm. Unfortunately many of these efforts were met with suspicion, if not downright hostility. Perhaps that is understandable considering the hurt the business people had just gone through.

But what white America must come to see, must come to understand, is the hurt the black community goes through all the time. Remember my first reaction – oh no, not again. How many Trayvon Martins, Eric Garners, and Michael Browns does it take to make us realize something is drastically wrong?

I have yet to verify it, but one thing I read said Michael Brown was initially stopped for jaywalking. Jaywalking? I jaywalk almost every day, sometimes in front of police cars. I have never been stopped for it. Not once in over 50 years. Why is that, do you think?

Jaywalking is not a capital offense. Yet this young man ended up dead. I certainly understand that outrage.

Yes, the rioters and looters should be prosecuted. But so too should police officers who cross the line in the use of reasonable force. So too should police officers who threaten the very core of our democracy by attempting to suppress and intimidate the press.

We all need to step back, black and white, and stop looking at each other as the other. We are all in this together folks. We all desperately need to learn to listen to each other and take each others concerns with the seriousness and respect they deserve.

 

I was listening to the Diane Rehm show last week when the topic turned to gun control. As is the case in almost every discussion on the subject, sure enough someone called in to make the absurd declaration that some other weapon is used to commit more murders in the US than guns. Here is the snippet directly from the transcript:

GEORGE
10:53:45
Yes, ma’am, that would be correct. There are quite a number of laws that make it illegal to kill someone or to threaten someone or to rob someone. So regardless of the mechanism that I use for this, I could very easily — as the FBI showed in the — in their most recent data, use a hammer or a rock, which is much more likely to be a murder weapon than a gun.

REHM
10:54:11
All right. And, Ladd.

No, not all right. When people make very public and very wrong statements like this the media need to stand up and challenge them. Since this argument comes up almost every time gun control is discussed there is no excuse for the correspondent not to have done their research ahead of time in order to be prepared to correct the record.

According to the FBI statistics, there is NOTHING much more likely to be a murder weapon in the US than a gun. Not now, and not all the way back through the 1980s. You can look it up yourself if you don’t believe me. Snopes debunks George’s statement here.

Actual FBI statistics back up Snopes. The 2011 data (the latest I could find) is here. It shows there were 8,583 homicides committed with guns in the US vs just 496 accomplished by blunt objects, such as George’s hammers and rocks. And I can’t seem to recall a single mass clubbing in 2011 vs at least three mass shootings that same year. I’ll take my chances against a rock or hammer any day.

Similar stats hold true when you examine the historical data.

In 1980 guns accounted for more than 11,700 homicides, blunt objects 889. The 1990 stats are 12,000+ vs 1,109. The turn of the century saw the stats at just 8,172 gun homicides to 680 committed by blunt objects. I guess people were more worried about the Y2K bug than knocking off their neighbors. The 2010 stats are 8,190 vs 600. In all cases the second most common weapons of choice after guns are knives and cutting instruments, which pale in comparison.

So, shame on any member of the press who lets these kinds of statements go unchallenged. Important public debates need to be argued on their merits, not on made up truisms that come to be accepted simply because they are repeated so often. Please, do a better job in the future.

~jon

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