SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - At a local shooting range, the 23-year-old president of the Salt Lake City chapter of Pink Pistols, a national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender gun club, helps a tattooed member improve his marksmanship.
An openly gay professional bodypiercer, Matt Schlentz said members of the LGBT community feel more at risk of being a victim of a hate crime or violent assault. The mass murder at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, last month, confirmed their concerns.
“Every gay person, every lesbian, every transgender, everybody in-between and every street person, we all know someone who has been the victim of a crime, a hate crime or some type of violent assault,” he said in an interview.
Gun violence has remained in the forefront of national conversation since the Orlando shootings. Last week alone, two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota were killed by police.
Before the Orlando shootings in June, the Pink Pistols, with more than 45 chapters across the United States, had about 1,500 members. The day after the killing spree, its numbers soared to more than 4,000 and have since risen above 8,000.
“Orlando, being the largest mass shooting in American history and pointed at gays, I think it was a huge eye opener for people,” Schlentz said. “The world is not a perfect place, and we need to take safety into our own hands.”
Pink Pistols, which was founded about 20 years ago, promotes the safe, legal use of firearms for self-defense of the LGBT community. There are no fees or forms to fill out, and membership is open to all.
“We teach queers to shoot,” the group says on its website. “Then we teach others that we have done so. Armed queers don’t get bashed.”
Schlentz meets with members at shooting ranges for practices and training. The group also helps members not familiar with weapons to select and buy guns and ammunition.
“Anything you need, that’s what we’re here for,” he said. “We are completely non-profit.”
Schlentz expects membership of Pink Pistols to keep growing and hopes an incident like Orlando will not happen again.
“With a community of LGBT people who are arming themselves,” he said, “I think people are going to think twice, at least a little bit more.”
(Reporting by Jim Urquhart; Writing by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)
WASHINGTON ― House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) says he wants to prevent gun deaths in the United States. It’s just that he apparently doesn’t know how to do that.
It’s nearly certain that no legislation will materialize on gun regulation before lawmakers leave Washington for a seven-week break, despite both parties having pushed for votes on the issue.
On Tuesday, Ryan was asked about Dallas Police Chief David Brown saying that open carry laws made law enforcement’s job more difficult during mass shootings. But instead of saying whether Brown’s statement concerned him, Ryan opted to voice his lofty and nebulous goal of “solutions.”
“What we should be focused on right now are solutions,” the speaker said. “I think what we should be focused on is listening to people in communities who have done a good job of merging law enforcement with the communities so that these kinds of problems don’t occur.”
Ryan said Brown had done a commendable job of integrating the police force with the Dallas community, and that there was “a lot for us to learn” from the police chief’s work. But he wasn’t interested in moving on guns anytime soon.
“Right now what we want to do is have a good conversation where we calm things down, and we talk about solutions about how we can better improve our communities and the relationship between law enforcement and community,” Ryan said.
When pressed once more on people carrying AR-15s in public, Ryan simply said, “We’re the federal government; that’s state government.”
Before leaving for the August break, GOP leaders had wanted to pass a package that would force a three-day wait period on people on the watchlist trying to purchase a firearm. But Republican leadership conceded on Monday that nothing was going to happen until at least September ― if ever. Democrats oppose the measure for being too weak, and many conservatives lambast it for violating due process rights.
Democrats, meanwhile, have pressed for measures that would bar people on a terrorist watchlist from purchasing guns and require background checks for people buying firearms at gun shows and on the internet.
House Democrats, who staged a 26-hour sit-in on the House floor after the shooting in Orlando left 49 people dead in a gay nightclub, intend to continue applying pressure this week. Party leaders plan to join the LGBT caucus on the steps of the Capitol on Tuesday evening for a vigil marking the one-month anniversary of the massacre in Orlando. On Thursday, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) is scheduled to lead the Congressional Black Caucus in a “speak out” on gun violence on the Capitol steps.
Democrats weren’t eager to share other tactics they may use to force a vote on their proposed measures.
“We have many arrows in our quiver,” Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) said. “When they are used, and how we will use them, will be up to us.”
When asked why they haven’t more aggressively pursued a discharge petition, which allows a majority of the House to bypass committee and bring a bill to the floor without cooperation from leadership, Democrats said they’ve tried everything.
Under a discharge petition, Democrats would need 218 signatures to force a vote. So far, they haven’t wooed enough GOP lawmakers to the cause despite a number of Republican members supporting measures similar to those Democrats are pushing.
“We can’t forge their names,” Crowley said.
Democrats put the onus on Republicans to file a discharge petition on a bipartisan bill co-authored by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) that would block people on a more tailored no-fly list from purchasing guns and give the attorney general discretion to allow gun sales to move forward.
“It’s kind of strange. ... Why would they need to do a discharge petition with their own colleagues when it’s their own bill?” said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Democratic Caucus.
“When you’re taking breaks for six weeks, and then coming back for three weeks, and then taking a break until the election, it’s really difficult to believe we’re going to get a whole lot done,” Becerra added.
Ryan seems focused on community policing, rather than addressing gun control regulations.
“What I think can be helpful is having a dialogue, which we are actually initiating here in the Congress just this week about what are the solutions that we see out there in communities between communities and the police,” Ryan told a Madison, Wisconsin-based NBC affiliate on Monday night.
House GOP leadership announced plans on Tuesday for a congressional working group to address the relationship between police officers nationwide and black Americans.
Of course, community policing wouldn’t have stopped the shootings in Dallas or Orlando. By Ryan’s own admission, Dallas is a paradigm for community policing. And while it’s an admirable to want to improve relations between law enforcement and the people it serves, accomplishing that goal will do little to stop mass shootings.
But faced with a Congress seemingly unwilling to do anything on guns, maybe that’s the closest he can get to a “solution.”
The last several days have shaken America to its core. We've seen violence by police against citizens, juxtaposed with violence by citizens against police. The sound of gunfire oozes from our streets, our televisions, and our radios. Every interaction we have bubbles with grief, anger, and frustration. Those interactions metastasize over the fact that it is impossible to escape the political nature of violence that involves the use of force by, and against, the state itself.
In the wake of the killing of both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers, a familiar refrain began, which we should have avoided: victim blaming. The blaming of victims takes many forms, including the dredging up of irrelevant details of a victim's personal life. The dredgers insist that these details provide justification for the victim's own death, as if there is any past behavior that can justify extrajudicial killings by representatives of the state. Perhaps more disturbing is the argument that, had the victim been more compliant to law enforcement, he would have survived. This argument not only holds men of color to a radically different standard than the ones to which their White peers are held, but also relieves police, agents of the state sworn to protect citizens, of their duty to protect, while leaving those officers unaccountable for unprovoked violence.
After the events in Dallas, I worry that a similar strain of victim blaming might emerge, only this time the dredgers might intend to justify the murder of police officers, most of whom were working to provide a safe space for the peaceful protestors advocating for Black lives. We have an institutionally racist criminal justice system, but that cannot justify indiscriminate violence against individuals in that system. We have a significant problem with police violence, particularly against members of the Black community, but there is no progress or glory found in pursuing bloodshed as vengeance. Neither the color of your skin nor the color of your uniform can justify your death.
What did not change Thursday night is the urgency of protecting, and advocating for, Black lives. The murder of the officers in Dallas is tragic, but their deaths cannot distract us from the chilling fact that our criminal justice system disproportionately punishes people of color in a way that perpetuates racial disparities. Nobody deserves to die, and saying "Black Lives Matter" does not mean that other lives are worth less. "Black Lives Matter" is the rallying cry for an actual movement with goals and political objectives; while not everyone who says "All Lives Matter" intends to derail that conversation, that's what the appropriated counter-phrasing is designed to do.
What did not change Thursday night is that, in not a single case this week, did the presence of a firearm protect anyone. Guns lurked in both the foreground and shadows in each of these public eruptions of violence. A protestor was wrongly identified as a murder suspect because he carried a gun publicly at the Dallas protest. Police died because of the facile access to tactical firearms. Neither Alton Sterling nor Philando Castile were protected by the guns they may or may not have been carrying.
What did not change Thursday night is the fact that race is an important topic of conversation in this country. Using racially explicit language is not an incitement to violence or division. Using racially explicit language -- words like "Black" and "White," in all of their capitalized glory -- is critical to understanding both the history and the present of racial difference in this country. Difference is not division, just as ignorance is not an antidote. The devastating consequence of American racial bias is that, while the people who committed the horrific acts against police undoubtedly will be tried and convicted for their actions, the police who killed Alton Sterling and Philando Castile almost certainly will not be held accountable.
None of those things changed in Dallas. The only two things that changed after the tragedy in Dallas are that more people died senselessly, and that an already tense political climate became even more combustible. The answer is not to back down from demands that Black lives be valued; rather we must reassert that we can declare the full humanity of Black Americans while simultaneously valuing the lives of others.
This post was originally published by Waging Nonviolence.
The video filled my Facebook feed Thursday, but I didn't watch it. And then stills from Diamond Sterling's live stream were published at the top of The New York Times tossed on our front walk yesterday morning. I sat outside and read all I could and sobbed. I watched my neighborhood wake up and tried to greet people as though it were just another morning.
I wondered how I could meet a black person's eyes without crying and apologizing. I cringed internally at that mental picture -- how white and blubbery that would be, how pathetic and unwelcome that would be. But maybe that is part of what is necessary. I don't know.
My husband Patrick and I had gone to our church's vigil the night before and sang "This Little Light of Mine" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing." It was lovely. It gathered many people in. The picture on the front page of our local paper showed a group holding our big yellow "Black Lives Matter" banner, chatting and smiling. Confronted with the image of Philando Castile bloodied in the passenger seat of his car, his eyes open but vacant, I found myself wishing our vigil had been more solemn and resolute.
And then we heard about Dallas, about the five police officers shot and killed during a peaceful protest of the police killings of Castile and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. If we lived in Dallas, that's where we would have been, I thought, as I listened to a witness describe how Shetamia Taylor pushed her 15-year-old son to the ground and lay on top of him to shield him from sniper fire. She was shot in the leg, one of two civilians wounded. Taylor was at the march with her four sons, ages 12-17, to peacefully express their outrage. I read about how police officers continued to do their jobs under fire, protecting people using their training to safeguard the innocent even as their colleagues were killed in cold blood.
As I tried to absorb this new wave of horror and carnage, I kept thinking about Diamond's video. "I don't need to see it," I thought. I was pulled over by a police officer a few weeks ago. I was going too fast -- 85, the officer told me. Patrick rooted around in multiple tote bags before producing my wallet. My hands were shaking just a little when I pulled out my ID. Our kids were asleep in the back seat. The officer, an older white man, came back a few minutes later, gave me a warning: "Slow down, ma'am."
"I will, officer, I am sorry. Thank you, sir."
I gritted my teeth and watched the video. "People live this," I told myself. When I was pulled over, I was worried about getting a ticket: full stop. Nothing else. For Philando Castile, a busted taillight was a death sentence. Reynolds had the self possession to press record in the midst of this harrowing experience. I needed to see it. Diamond uses the word "sir" at least a dozen times in her 10 minute video. It is a talisman or evidence of good home training, a reminder to the officer screaming "Fuck" in the background of shared humanity, a handle to pull herself back into "normality," a signal to her daughter that it's going to be OK (even though it will never be OK again). Diamond Sterling's little girl sits in the backseat as gun blasts fill the car, and then separated from her mother during this indelible episode. Heartbreak. Hot anger. She is just a little older than my son Seamus. She is only in the video for a few seconds, her eyes serious and her ear translucent against the Minnesota sky. I hear her voice, her plaintive and then soothing invocation of the word "Mommy."
At intervals throughout the video you can hear someone screaming "Fuck" in the distance. The voice seems to belong to the officer who killed Philando Castile. His freakout is at such odds with Diamond Reynolds' preternatural calm. As I watched the video, I thought: Whoever thinks guns are cool needs to hear the sounds a human being makes when they kill another human being. It is the kind of aftermath of killing that is never celebrated in the movies or police procedurals. It sounded real.
Fear is toxic, and armed fear is lethal. So, how do we get out of it? Where does it end? Without the guns, it is just fear and hatred and racism. Without the guns, we have a chance to listen, to change. As long as there are guns there is killing. Again and again and again. How many people have been killed in the United States since that night in the middle of June when Latin techno was interrupted by gunfire and screams -- when 49 people were killed and another 50 injured at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando? I found the Gun Violence Archive and I started counting. Working backwards, I reached 300 by the first of this month. Orlando happened on June 12. I could not keep counting. We are not at war. Not here, right? We are told all the time that we are fighting terrorists "over there" so we don't have to fight them "here."
In this country we have a lot of ways to push this uncomfortable, brutal truth away: We point out the tragedy of black-on-black violence, we discredit and smear the victims, we nimby it out of existence by moving further and further into segregated enclaves, and we use the language of war. It didn't take long after Dallas for the language of war to obviate racism, dull nuance and ennoble every clumsy effort. The other effect of casting these events as a war -- between Black Lives Matter and "real America," between blacks and whites, between Obama and police officers -- is that it allows for lots of reckless escalation and massive collateral damage.
But, my head went there too. Someone who lived through the Dallas demonstration and sniping called the experience a "little war." How can that be? Ask the people of Dallas who were out to say "Black Lives Matter" and "Stop the killing" if it felt like a war. Ask black people just about anywhere in this country if they feel like they are under siege. Micah Johnson, the man taking aim at the police officers on that hot night, was an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. He was killed by an armed robot. He was at war.
The same day Philando Castile was killed reaching for his wallet (as directed by a police officer), another 36 people (by my count) were also killed by guns across this nation. After Orlando, Congressional representatives staged a sit in at the Capitol. They were gripped by the need to do something about guns. Today, to honor the five police officers killed in Dallas, to honor Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, let's disarm the combatants and start the peace process. It's time -- past time -- to give up the guns.
This week, Republican delegates are meeting in committee to lay out the 2016 version of their party’s platform document ― a non-binding declaration of #squadgoals that will generate a few days of stories like this one before being largely forgotten. This year’s platform committee has taken dead aim at one of the few successful industries left in America, besides drone warfare and hot takes about Kevin Durant’s free agency decisions. I refer, of course, to pornography.
Republican delegates unanimously adopted an amendment to their draft platform Monday morning that called pornography “a public health crisis” and a “public menace” that is destroying lives.
“Pornography, with his harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and well being,” the amendment stated.
According to Goodwin, the stronger language, identifying porn as a “public health crisis,” was pushed by a North Carolina delegate named Mary Forrester at the behest of the conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America. This quite a step beyond what the 2012 GOP platform document had to say about pornography, which I can quote in its entirety:
We urge active prosecution against child pornography, which is closely linked to the horrors of human trafficking. Current laws on all forms of pornography and obscenity need to be vigorously enforced.
Whether or not pornography can be considered an “insidious epidemic,” as Forrester argues, I’d wager that it hasn’t really been the most pressing concern for most Americans lately ― nor has it made many headlines. Of course, one public health crisis that has made headlines, and that does have a lot of Americans feeling sick and scared and helpless, is gun violence ― especially in the form of mass shootings, which have surged even as overall gun violence has declined.
How do we reconcile the rise in mass shootings with the larger, more encouraging downturn in gun violence? And would it be possible, perhaps, to address mass shootings from a health policy perspective? Might that possibly be an avenue worth exploring if it means we could prevent even one more life from being brutally abbreviated?
That would seem like an area ripe for public health research. Unfortunately, government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are legally barred from doing it, thanks to this thing called the Dickey Amendment.
Back in 1993, research funded by the CDC found its way into the public consciousness in the form of a New England Journal of Medicine article titled “Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home.” As the American Psychological Association’s Christine Jamieson notes, “The study found that keeping a gun in the home was strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide.” It also “concluded that rather than confer protection, guns kept in the home are associated with an increase in the risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance.”
You’ll never guess what happened next! Unless you’ve already guessed that the National Rifle Association aggressively lobbied to shut down this kind of research, in which case, congratulations.
The 1993 NEJM article received considerable media attention, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) responded by campaigning for the elimination of the center that had funded the study, the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention. The center itself survived, but Congress included language in the 1996 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Bill (PDF, 2.4MB) for Fiscal Year 1997 that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Referred to as the Dickey amendment after its author, former U.S. House Representative Jay Dickey (R-AR), this language did not explicitly ban research on gun violence. However, Congress also took $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget ― the amount the CDC had invested in firearm injury research the previous year ― and earmarked the funds for prevention of traumatic brain injury. Dr. Kellerman stated in a December 2012 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency’s funding to find out. Extramural support for firearm injury prevention research quickly dried up.”
Flash forward to today, and the former Arkansas representative has, as our own Sam Stein reported, some “regrets”:
Dickey proclaimed victory ― an end, he said at the time, to the CDC’s attempts “to raise emotional sympathy” around gun violence. But the agency spent the subsequent years petrified of doing any research on gun violence, making the costs of the amendment clear even to Dickey himself.
He said the law was over-interpreted. Now, he looks at simple advances in highway safety ― safety barriers, for example ― and wonders what could have been done for guns.
“If we had somehow gotten the research going, we could have somehow found a solution to the gun violence without there being any restrictions on the Second Amendment,” Dickey said. “We could have used that all these years to develop the equivalent of that little small fence.”
In 2013, President Barack Obama attempted to get the CDC back to researching gun violence by executive order. However, the chilling effect of the Dickey Amendment, combined with Congress’ unwillingness to provide dedicated funding, has kept the CDC on the sidelines. Reopening the CDC’s ability to lead research efforts remains a dead letter in the current legislative climate.
And if you thought that maybe the GOP platform committee is just starting with pornography and plans to work its way up to mass shootings ― well, it sure doesn’t seem to be trending in that direction:
Elsewhere in the GOP’s platform document, the committee has approved language in support of “gay conversion therapy,” a quasi-religious bit of pseudo-science premised on the idea that homosexuality can be “cured” by “praying away the gay.” Given that prayer is the same means by which many Republicans typically try to solve the problem of mass slaughter, we can at least give them points for consistency.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.
The last four weeks have been awash with bullets, blood, and tears in America. From the killing of 49 mostly LGBT Latinos/as at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, to the slaughter of apparently innocent young Black men at the hands of police, to the assassination of five police officers by a deranged sniper at an otherwise peaceful protest in Dallas -- the last month has left us collectively in shock, in despair, and yearning to make sense of it all.
There are some common threads that stitch together all of the recent distressing events into valuable lessons that, if heeded, will pave our path forward.
We need much more sensible regulation of gun possession and use, including the return of the assault weapons ban. We need clearer and more reasonable standards for the application of lethal force by police -- standards that permit the use of deadly force only when absolutely necessary to protect the life of the officer or others nearby. We need more technologically advanced police tools that incapacitate but do not annihilate. And we need consistent and enforceable nationwide training for police serving communities of color.
Our diversity as a nation is our biggest strength, but also at times our biggest challenge. We must learn, as Americans, to understand and appreciate one another better. To bridge our differences with what we share. To eradicate hate with hope and compassion. And, most especially, to recognize that at times we perceive difference and distance where, in reality, there only is unity and shared experience.
In the wake of the suspicious and troubling police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, tweeted: "Just as @NAACP stood w/ us after Orlando, we stand w/ them in demanding accountability for the murders of #AltonSterling & #PhilandoCastile."
This was a strong statement of solidarity with the NAACP coming from the leader of the most visible organization in the nation promoting equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. It was an especially welcome expression of fellowship in light of the American LGBT rights movement's longtime struggle to recognize and embrace the racial, ethnic, and other forms of diversity that helped fuel it since its inception.
As laudable as it was, Mr. Griffin's message still communicated a distance -- a separation -- that does not in reality exist between African Americans and LGBT Americans. We are standing with them "just as" they stood with us? They are Black. We are... what? Not Black? Huh?
Of course, the truth is that there is no such separation. There are countless Black people, including fierce straight allies, in the LGBT movement, and there are many LGBT people in the racial justice movement -- including at the helm of Black Lives Matter and related initiatives. LGBT African Americans abound. The LGBT community reflects the rainbow. The rainbow flag, in fact, is a fitting symbol of our motley movement.
Perhaps recognizing the apparently inadvertent "Black v. LGBT" distancing in his earlier tweet, Mr. Griffin later tweeted, perfectly: "The LGBTQ community is as diverse as the fabric of our nation. And violence aimed at any of us is violence aimed at all of us." Yes.
"Not Isolated Incidents"
The smartphone videos capturing some of the final moments of the lives of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have generated nationwide outrage. The videos themselves, as well as the accounts of witnesses, strongly suggest that the police killings of both men were unjustified. Investigations are underway and the public awaits the full details of both killings, but from the abundant evidence now on public view it appears that neither man posed a threat to the lives of the respective police officers, neither man brandished a weapon, and neither man deserved to die. Worse yet, as President Obama himself recognized on July 7th, "these fatal shootings are not isolated incidents" but "symptomatic of the broader challenges within our criminal justice system, the racial disparities that appear across the system year after year, and the resulting lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many of the communities they serve."
The statistics are sobering. A 2015 Guardian study found that the "rate of police-involved deaths" for young African-American males "was five times higher than for white men of the same age." The same report noted that approximately a quarter of the Black people killed by police were not armed (in contrast to only 17 percent of whites). And these are just the extreme cases. Late last year, the University of Chicago's Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture released a study documenting that well over half of African-American young people reported being the target of police harassment or abuse or knowing someone who had been the victim of such racist policing.
The evidence is indisputable that the relationship between the American law enforcement community and African Americans is fundamentally more troubled, and of an entirely different nature, than the relationships between police and the other communities they serve. Whereas many Americans view police as sources of safety, security, and comfort, many African Americans regard police as representing precisely the opposite. Sadly, as shown by the plethora of evidence over so many years, the distrust is not without basis.
Another Symptom of the Same Malaise
African Americans have borne most of the brunt of police brutality. But abusive policing is not alien to the LGBT community generally. LGBT Americans of all races have long been harassed and brutalized by bigoted police. It was police raids like those at L.A.'s Cooper's Donuts in 1959 and the Stonewall Inn in 1969, in fact, that helped accelerate the movement for LGBT rights. At a time when it was against the law to serve alcoholic drinks to gay people, and for gay people to dance -- never mind have sex -- with each other, gay social establishments across the country were easy and frequent targets for police harassment. Not coincidentally, these catalytic events in the LGBT movement occurred in the midst of similarly influential events in the African-American civil rights movement.
Before the Supreme Court invalidated sodomy laws as unconstitutional in its 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, states were able to criminalize homosexual sex and, as a consequence, gay identity. Many did, leading to the categorical mistreatment of LGBT Americans by police as a "criminal" element, even in those jurisdictions without an enforceable sodomy law on the books.
Police harassment and abuse of LGBT people, but especially Black and Latino/a LGBTs, persists as a prevalent problem. In a March 2015 report, UCLA's Williams Institute concluded that "[d]iscrimination and harassment by law enforcement based on sexual orientation and gender identity is an ongoing and pervasive problem in LGBT communities" and that "such harassment and discrimination is greatest for LGBT people of color, transgender persons and youth."
Even after Lawrence struck them down as categorically unconstitutional, the continuing presence of sodomy laws in many state criminal codes has encouraged homophobic and transphobic police officers to harass and abuse LGBT people across the nation today -- going so far as arresting and subjecting gay and transgender people to expensive, degrading, and pointless legal proceedings.
As Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie and Kay Whitlock document in their book, Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States (Beacon Press, 2012), LGBT Americans have been the victims of abusive policing in many areas of our lives. From "lewd conduct" arrests following police entrapments, to the harassment of gender-nonconforming LGB or transgender people for using the "incorrect" bathroom or wearing "gender-inappropriate" clothing. From abusive policing of transgender women for "walking while trans," to the rape of LGBT sex workers by police officers themselves, and, ultimately, to the killing of trans people at the hands of police - even, in the case of a disabled transgender man, as recently as February 2016.
"Dignity and Respect" for All
So, we are reminded that racist police brutality indeed is an LGBT movement issue, both because many members of our community are Black and brown and because the LGBT community as a whole, too, knows the trauma of abusive policing. In an Op-Ed last year entitled "It's Time for All LGBT People to Care About Police Brutality," Black LGBT activist Samantha Master wrote: "The pursuit of justice is not complete until every human being -- regardless of who they are -- is treated with dignity and respect." She's right. In a separate piece, Esperanza Garcia and Ty Brooks wrote: "It's time for all of us to honor the LGBT community's own rich legacy of protest and resistance against police brutality." I agree.
The young Black men who have died at the hands of police most recently appear not to have been members of the LGBT community. But their deaths hit home to many of us who also have been the targets of prejudiced policing. Racist policing threatens all Americans who have been at the brunt of brutality and bigotry in law enforcement. It is another manifestation of the same disorder -- another symptom of the same malaise.
Racist police brutality threatens all Americans, regardless of race and sexual orientation and gender identity, who depend on a fair and evenhanded police force to keep, promote and model peace. It throws into question the legitimacy of our legal system. It desecrates our social compact. It endangers our very civilization as a people. And we must put an end to it. Together, and now.
A group of burglars used a stolen truck to ram the side of a gun store and loot an arsenal of weapons, according to police in Texas.
The suspects left a gaping hole in the side of Shooter’s Edge Gun Store in Waxahachie on Sunday. A message on the store’s website read as follows:
We are CLOSED until further notice.
At approximately 2:45 AM on July 10th our shop was burglarized and we sustained extensive damage to our building. Due to this we will be closed until further notice.
The shop also posted a pair of images to Facebook showing the damage to the building:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed that “12 handguns, 3 AR style high powered rifles, 1AK style high powered rifle and 1 shotgun were reported stolen,” according to ABC affiliate WFAA.
Chuck Edge, who owns the store, told the station he was concerned about the incident.
“This was not your law abiding citizen who got a background check so now those weapons are out there,” he said.
Police located the vehicle, but not the stolen firearms, The Dallas Morning News reports.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call Waxahachie police at 469-309-4400.
I was walking down a street in England when my phone rang; a voice from across the world was on the other end.
It was a voice I knew well, usually cheery and light. This time, it sounded heavy with emotion. I asked how he was. "Sad," he said. "Why?" I answered, alarmed. "Don't you know what's happened here?" he replied.
I didn't. He told me. A young black man shot to death in St. Paul, stopped on a minor traffic matter and reaching for his driver's license when a police officer fired his gun. Five Dallas police officers shot down in cold blood in revenge, picked off by a sniper who said he wanted to kill white cops.
I could scarcely take in the horrific events he described, one piled on after another -- so far it was from the peaceful street where I stood. As the sun glinted on cobblestoned pavement, he told me of the tragedy upon tragedy.
I hung up and looked around. All that surrounded me was peace: young people whizzing by on bicycles, backpacks on their backs; a white-haired couple with canes, keeping in slow step with one another; a middle-aged man walking a small dog who trotted smartly along the edge of a green park. It seemed so far from the turmoil engulfing my country at that same moment.
Shootings like these fill me with rage and despair. My younger sister, her husband and their unborn baby were shot to death, murdered in their own home by a teenaged intruder with a gun. Thirty-eight caliber bullets fired from a stolen .357 Magnum revolver cut short their lives. After their deaths, I argued and pled and marched, wrote and campaigned and voted, for reasonable gun measures that would help stem the carnage.
And then there was shooting after shooting after shooting. Oak Creek. Newtown. Ferguson. Orlando. Minneapolis. Dallas.
The targets were Sikhs, children, a young black man, LGBT people, another black man, white police officers. What did they have in common, except that their blood ran red when they died? And that they left a gaping hole of grief in the hearts of those who loved them?
What agonizes me as much as anything is that the names of all the victims may have already been forgotten, if they were noticed or remembered in the first place, by anyone other than those closest to them. Will we remember only the killers, and the fear or hatred or madness that drove them to kill?
That is the question answered, for me, by a monument in the place where I grew up: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. When Timothy McVeigh set off the massive explosion that ripped the front off the Murrah Federal Building in my hometown, it was an act of revenge against the federal government, which McVeigh despised. The "collateral damage," as he described it, was 168 lives, including 19 small children playing in the day care center on the second floor.
The memorial starts with photos of that day -- one like September 11, 2001 in New York: glorious and sunny, bright blue sky giving no hint of the darkness that was to come. A recording that captured the sound of the explosion plays. The rooms that follow show the aftermath of the blast: rubble, personal items dug from the debris, the frantic efforts of rescue workers. You read about McVeigh's manifesto of hate, his desire to strike a blow against the federal government for its supposed wrongs.
Toward the end, you enter a room with small displays honoring each of the victims who died. Each has a name, a photo, and a few items belonging to the honored dead. Baby shoes. A medal. A favorite stuffed animal. A graduation photo. Precious things, given by those who survived and loved and remembered them.
On the day I visited, in the center of that room was a box of tissues, set there for visitors who needed it to wipe away tears.
I saw it clearly: At the end, all the hatred and violence and twisted motives of their mass murderer fell away. His lofty goals came to nothing. Nothing was left but love and grief.
Hate prompts someone to murder another. But guns give power to that hate, power and scope. Yes, people can and do kill with their bare hands, with knives and clubs, and rope. But it's more difficult, and the number of people you can kill without getting caught is significantly reduced.
The shootings in Dallas make all that clear. Hundreds of people in a peaceful protest against the unjust killings of two black men by police were literally outgunned by one shooter, who may have had a few accomplices, with a powerful rifle and a good aim. He took five lives and injured nine others.
Guns turn thugs into tyrants. They are the problem.
Just ask Australia. I'm not the first person to tout this recent study, but it should be touted over and over again. In 1996, the people of Australia, horrified by one particularly egregious mass killing, weren't cowed by critics who said people were trying to "politicize" a tragedy.
They did something practical and direct: They banned rapid-fire long-guns, including guns that were privately owned at the time. After a phase-in period, if you were caught with a banned gun, you were prosecuted, potentially facing jail time. The government bought the guns back from private owners.
In 2003, the country offered to buy back handguns, and thousands of Australians participated in this program and also voluntarily surrendered other guns that had not been banned. These efforts resulted in Australia ridding itself of one million firearms.
So did Australia turn into a police state, dominated by a crazed autocrat? Hardly. It has a vibrant democracy. Somehow, its citizens have been able to live without the one million guns that were seized or turned in voluntarily.
And since 1996, Australia hasn't had any more mass shootings.
Yes, I am in favor of confiscating all privately held assault rifles and any other gun powerful enough to inflict mass carnage in a short span of time. I will leave it up to the experts to determine where to draw that line.
I also want all guns to be registered, with registration records computerized and part of a permanent national database. Guns should be taxed heavily. Just as we tax cigarettes heavily because they are dangerous and we want to discourage their use.
The time is long past for most of us to reassure "law-abiding gun owners" and hunters that we only want "common-sense" restrictions.
This problem is way beyond that talk, which failed anyway. I agree with Comedy Central's Samantha Bee that gun ownership is not a "right" (unless you happen to be part of a well-regulated militia)- it is not essential to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Guns are the problem. That's what we have to face up to. As Australia did. After one mass shooting. In 1996.
This week, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on an NRA-backed bill that would do nothing to actually prevent gun sales to known or suspected terrorists.
Candidly, it's unbelievable and inexcusable that Republicans are finding more ways to block Congress from keeping guns away from these dangerous individuals -- the vast majority of whom are foreign nationals. And it's even more egregious considering 86 percent of Americans support doing so.
First, some background: There are currently 10 categories of individuals blocked from buying guns through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Those categories include felons, those under felony indictment, fugitives from justice, drug users or addicts, those committed to mental institutions or adjudicated as mentally defective, foreign nationals here unlawfully or on non-immigrant visas, those dishonorably discharged from the military and those under a domestic violence restraining order.
One category that cannot be blocked from buying guns is known or suspected terrorists.
Law enforcement investigates and monitors these individuals using the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database, commonly referred to as the terrorist watch list. The watch list is comprised of fewer than 5,000 Americans and more than 900,000 foreign nationals.
According to FBI data compiled by Government Accountability Office, known or suspected terrorists on the watch list who undergo background checks to buy guns pass their checks 91 percent of the time. This means they did not fall into one of the 10 prohibited purchaser categories.
Between February 2004 and December 2015, these individuals passed 2,265 of 2,477 initiated background checks. That means of all known of suspected terrorists who went through a background check to buy a gun, 91 percent of them passed the check and were approved to buy a gun.
These numbers should sound the alarm. Known and suspected terrorists who threaten public safety are able to easily -- and legally -- buy guns.
For example, Khalil Abu-Rayyan was under FBI investigation earlier this year for making "increasingly violent threats" to others about "committing acts of terror and martyrdom."
While under investigation, he purchased a .22 caliber revolver at a sporting goods store in Dearborn Heights, Mich. Later, Abu-Rayyan stated that he plotted an attack against a church.
Fortunately, police confiscated the weapon during a traffic stop. Abu-Rayyan was in possession of drugs and charged for possessing a gun while using a controlled substance.
This case shows the potentially dangerous situations we're talking about.
Under the NRA-backed bill, the gun sale would proceed after 72 hours unless the government wins a court hearing establishing probable cause that the suspected terrorist has committed or intents to commit an act of terrorism.
Before the hearing could occur, the government would need to file an emergency petition, notify the suspected terrorist, allow the suspected terrorist to secure a lawyer and schedule the hearing at a time all parties could be present.
Any lawyer or judge would tell you that it would be impossible to meet this 72-hour deadline.
The unworkable time constraint is not the only serious flaw in this bill.
First, if there is enough evidence to establish probable cause in a judicial hearing, there is enough evidence to arrest an individual, search his/her home and car, seize his/her property and indict the individual.
The Justice Department would not need to pursue a hearing to block a gun a sale if the suspected terrorist could be arrested on terrorism-related charges.
Second, the Justice Department would not risk revealing a covert investigation to suspected terrorists and their lawyers, particularly if classified information would be presented in open court.
The bottom line is this process is designed to fail, preserving the dangerous status quo that allows known or suspected terrorists to easily get their hands on guns.
Republicans claim that this unworkable process is needed to protect due process rights under the Second Amendment, but that is simply not true.
Courts have routinely upheld laws that "keep guns out of the hands of presumptively risky people," even without a conviction or a court hearing before the denial of the gun transfer.
Known or suspected terrorists certainly fall into this category.
House Democrats are calling for a vote on an alternative bill, which was introduced by Republican Congressman Peter King.
It would give the attorney general the authority to block a gun sale to known or suspected terrorists, while protecting due process rights.
It allows an individual who believes they were mistakenly denied a gun to learn the reason for the denial and appeal that decision -- both administratively with the Justice Department and judicially.
The administrative appeals process is the same process currently in place for anyone who believes they are wrongly denied a gun through the background check system. Gun buyers have used this procedure and suspected terrorists should be no different.
The bottom line is that to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks in this country we need to make it harder for known or suspected terrorists to get their hands on weapons.
Allowing the attorney general to block gun sales to these individuals is a commonsense step that would help protect the public and is consistent with the rule of law.
Why has Congress not been able to pass meaningful gun control reform legislation in 2016? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
Thirty-thousand Americans die each year from gun violence. Two-thirds commit suicide. Congress often lags behind the American people, and this issue has been no different. For instance, Americans, including gun owners, overwhelmingly believe that everyone who buys a gun should have to first pass a criminal background check. In the wake of the recent mass shooting in Orlando, Americans continue to find it inconceivable that someone suspected of being a terrorist can legally buy a firearm in this country.
Too often, Congress has refused to enact commonsense reforms, even though they are supported by the majority of the American people. Why is that?
Historically, the gun lobby has had a much more vocal, well-funded, and passionate base of supporters. But for tragic reasons, the politics are beginning to shift on this issue, as the gun violence epidemic today is leaving no community unscathed. It is not just families in cities such as my hometown of Chicago that are affected by gun violence on a daily basis; neighborhoods that never thought they would have to deal with it are now affected as well. So we have momentum building among families and supporters devastated by gun violence and who feel the urgency to act and stop this epidemic. We have also seen gun owners turned off by the maximalist position that the gun lobby takes after these mass shootings, which opposes even commonsense measures that are consistent with the Second Amendment such as universal background checks, preventing suspected terrorists from buying a gun, developing smart gun technology, and banning assault weapons. But if all of our voices are heard, if we continue making the case that we can reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment, there is hope.
Lastly, I think we need to create space for more safe dialogue between people on opposite sides of this issue - between families who have been affected by gun violence and those Americans who want to enjoy their Second Amendment rights. We need to break down the stereotypes, mistrust, and defensiveness that has built up, so everyone understands these policies are not about taking away guns from law-abiding gun owners, or infringing on the Constitution. They're about finding common ground that keeps all communities safe, while respecting everyone's rights.This question originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions: