San Bernardino Shooting Illuminates Legislators’ Reliance on #ThoughtsandPrayers, Not Action

San Bernardino Shooting

In a year where we’ve already had more mass shootings than days in the year, yesterday we added to those numbers. The nation saw reports that authorities were responding to a shooting in San Bernardino, CA — it was quickly revealed that “at least 12” were dead, and more wounded, by multiple shooters with “long guns” (which generally means assault rifles) who were, at the time, still active.

The shooting occurred at a complex housing the Inland Regional Center, which serves developmentally disabled people, on a block with several other businesses. It now appears that the shooters, whom police say they are “reasonably confident” were Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, were targeting a Department of Health holiday party that was occurring in the same building. Some sources say that Farook left the holiday party upset about something, perhaps after an “altercation,” suggesting the shooting may have been workplace-related. It seems that Farook and Malik were a couple, perhaps either married or engaged, and had a child together. It doesn’t seem clear what connection Malik had to the health department, if any. While initial reports discussed a third person in relation to the shooting, reports now say that while a third person was detained in the area, they have not been connected to the shooting.

shooting1

Both Farook and Malik were killed in interactions with the police after the shooting; one person was found dead in the vehicle they drove away in, and another was killed on the pavement. Some reports have described them throwing something backwards as police as they fled, speculated to be homemade pipe bombs, but it doesn’t seem that any explosive devices have been recovered. It appears that four firearms total were used; ATF has confirmed that at least two of them were purchased legally, and they are “continuing to investigate leads” regarding the other two. In the final count, 14 people were killed in the shooting, and 17 more wounded.

This was the shooting with the highest fatalities since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012; and it wasn’t even the only shooting that occurred yesterday. Two potentially-connected shootings in Houston killed two men, and a shooter in Savannah, GA killed four.

In the aftermath of the shooting, some politicians rushed to shoehorn it into an existing stance of theirs — like Mike Huckabee, who claimed before the shooters were found that the incident must have involved a “mentally unstable person” taking advantage of a “gun free zone,” because he believes that that’s what mass shootings always are. Other politicians settled for simply tweeting that the victims of the shooting were in their “thoughts and prayers.” Writer Igor Volsky decided to pull back the curtains of the refusal to do anything besides think and pray on Twitter by tweeting how much money the NRA had donated to the campaign of each lawmaker tweeting the platitude.

In an address to the nation, Obama emphasized that we don’t know what the motive for the shooting was, and reiterated that it should be more difficult for “certain individuals” to access weapons. “And I do think that as the investigation moves forward, it’s going to be important for all of us — including the legislatures — to see what we can do to make sure that when individuals decide that they want to do somebody harm, we’re making it a little harder for them to do it because right now it’s just too easy.”

Also Shooting-Related

+ Was there any possibility that the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting would not somehow, by some, be blamed on Planned Parenthood itself? No, not really. For instance, from Colorado state rep JoAnn Windholz:

“Violence is never the answer, but we must start pointing out who is the real culprit,” Windholz said in a statement given to the Colorado Independent. “The true instigator of this violence and all violence at any Planned Parenthood facility is Planned Parenthood themselves. Violence begets violence. So Planned Parenthood: YOU STOP THE VIOLENCE INSIDE YOUR WALLS.”

Also upsetting and unsurprising, despite being bafflingly described as a “gentle loner” in an NYT story that has since gone ahead and removed the word “gentle,” PP shooter Robert Lewis Dear had a clear history of violence against women, with two separate charges of domestic violence from two different women and an arrest for sexual violence and rape.

Prison/Police/Violence

+ Two incarcerated British trans women, Joanne Latham and Vicky Thompson, have killed themselves in prison in recent weeks; both were housed with male prisoners.

+ The uncovering of some internal police department documents in Alabama have revealed a few things: one, that a large group of officers belonged to a “Neo-confederate” organization named as “racial extremist” by the SPLC; the group believed, among other things, that the civil rights movement was a Jewish conspiracy. Second, the same group of officers “were found to have planted drugs and weapons on young black men for years.” And third, an internal affairs investigation into all of this was intentionally covered up to protect the law enforcement careers of the officers involved — so they could keep being policemen. One of the supervisors of the group at the time, Sgt. Andy Hughes, is currently Asst. Director of Homeland Security for the State of Alabama.

“Many of the officers involved were subsequently promoted and are in leadership positions in law enforcement… The group of officers requested they be granted anonymity, and shared hundreds of files from the Internal Affairs Division. They reveal a pattern of criminal behavior from within the highest levels of the Dothan Police Department and the district attorney’s office in the 20th Judicial District of Alabama. Multiple current and former officers have agreed to testify if United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch appoints a special prosecutor from outside the state of Alabama, or before a Congressional hearing. The officers believe that there are currently nearly a thousand wrongful convictions resulting in felonies from the 20th Judicial District that are tied to planted drugs and weapons and question whether a system that allows this can be allowed to continue to operate.”

+ ICE has halted plans to relocate detained trans women currently housed with men to a different facility in Adelanto, California. While the facility would have been the first detention center to house trans women with other women in the US, this decision is being hailed as a win by activists who have been organizing for months to stop the transfer of trans women to Adelanto. The remote location of the Adelanto facility would have made it significantly more difficult for the women, many of whom have active asylum cases, to be reached by attorneys and advocates.

+ More than a year after the death of Tamir Rice at the hands of Cleveland PD, testimony is being delivered to a grand jury (which, as a reminder, is not a trial but a way of determining whether something will go to trial). Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, was invited to testify. She didn’t speak to press before or after her testimony, but her lawyer, Subodh Chandra said:

Today, Samaria Rice and two of her children had the opportunity to tell a grand jury about the horror they experienced on November 22, 2015, when Cleveland police officers rushed upon and shot their beloved son and brother Tamir Rice. Ms. Rice told the grand jury about how she learned about the police shooting of her 12-year-old son and what a gentle, loving, and kind soul her child was to his family and friends. She had the opportunity to ask the grand jury to consider whether it could possibly be “reasonable” or “justifiable” for officers to speed across the grass when driveways were nearby, rush up to Tamir and shoot him immediately. She believes that the answer is plainly no, and hopes and prays that the grand jury agrees that there is probable cause to indict the officers and hold them accountable for her son’s death.

Samaria Rice

Samaria Rice

Meanwhile, one of the police officers responsible for Tamir’s death has reiterated to the press that they had reason to believe they were in danger from him, specifically because they thought the 12-year-old holding a toy gun was an adult male with a real weapon: “The statement also claims that the police officers thought the suspect “appeared to be over 18 years old and about 185 pounds” and was pulling out a real gun. It was later confirmed that Rice was playing with a toy gun.” The Washington Post has reported that “Although the caller specified to the dispatcher that the person in question was possibly a child playing with a toy, that information was not relayed to the responding officers.”

+ The Illinois Department of Corrections has been ramping up the practice of suing prisoners once they’re released to try to force them to cover the costs of their incarceration. Evidence suggests that they may specifically target inmates that they believe have incoming money, like inheritances or lawsuit settlements, that they find out about either from reading their mail or from financial disclosure forms. Former inmates don’t get free legal representation for these lawsuits, making it extremely difficult for them to defend themselves or win the lawsuits against them, and without any money at all it’s extremely difficult for them to build a new life out of prison. It’s almost impossible to pick a section of this to excerpt for you here because so many of these anecdotes and figures are shocking! Here’s an attempt though.

After one inmate received $50,000 to settle a lawsuit against the department for failure to properly treat his cancer, the department turned around and sued the inmate for nearly $175,000 — even though the department already had agreed in writing not to try to claw back the settlement money. Officials acknowledged filing the lawsuit was a mistake and said that, as a rule, they do not try to punish inmates who file lawsuits. In the end, the money is hardly a rounding error in the Department of Corrections’ $1.5 billion annual budget, and may not cover the litigation and other costs for the attorney general’s office, which files the lawsuits. But for the inmates, the money can mean everything. “If you don’t have a way to support yourself, you go to the underground economy. That’s criminal, and you go back to prison,” said Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, which provides legal assistance to inmates. “That’s horrible public policy.”

Law & Order & Politicians

+ Hunter Moore, operator of revenge porn site isanyoneup.com, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to computer hacking and identity theft after hacking into personal email accounts for nude photos to post on his website. He will have three years of supervised release after his sentence is up, during which he must “notify his probation officer of every ‘computer, computer-related device, screen name, password, e-mail account or ISP’ he uses.”

+ A former employee of Fontbonne Academy, an all-girls prep school in Massachusetts, says he was fired because he’s gay, in violation of state anti-discrimination laws. He was hired in 2013, but his employment was rescinded after he listed his husband as his emergency contact. The school doesn’t dispute the claim, but says that “religious schools in Massachusetts are allowed to restrict employment based on religious beliefs.”

+ The men who fired at BLM protesters calling for justice in the death of Jamar Clark have been charged — but not with what you might think.

+ NJ governor Chris Christie has ended a state program providing emergency housing to terminally ill and/or disabled people to help them avoid homelessness. A three-year-extension to the original program had raised hopes that it might be made permanent until now; after the program’s end, many of its participants will be on the streets.

christie

+ A budget vote earlier this week did not include Republican measure to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, but a separate bill expected to be voted on today, Thursday, includes attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood. The tension over passing a budget that both parties are able to compromise on seems to have swayed Republicans from refusing to consider an option that doesn’t defund Planned Parenthood to now considering a “compromise” that would simply allow individual states to defund it.

+ Paul Ryan is the new Speaker and the US government is still running on the extension for figuring out a budget that kept it from having to shut down earlier this year. He doesn’t have much time left to figure out a budget plan that both Republicans and Dems will agree to. How’s that going for him? Not great.

+ A Texas state agency has sued the US State Department in federal court in an attempt to block Syrian refugees from resettling.

+ A month-long voting process began in Hawaii on November 1 to elect delegates who will attend a convention for Native Hawaiian self-governance in Honolulu. Currently, Native Hawaiians are the only indigenous group in the US without their own political structure. Aljazeera has a good story on the context of this vote, including the colonization of Hawaii and the movement to return sovereignty to it. This week, the Supreme Court ruled that the vote count must be blocked due to an injunction request filed by a group who say that “Hawaii residents who don’t have Native Hawaiian ancestry are being excluded from the vote, in violation of their constitutional rights.” Voting is now being extended til December 21 (originally it would have ended on the 1st).

ISIS

+ British lawmakers voted 397 v. 223 to begin airstrikes against ISIS bases in Syria, with an “eventual ground assault.” The vote is viewed to have been made largely against the wishes of UK citizens.

+ An in-depth look at how ISIS specifically targets LGBT people, with at least 36 men being killed in Syria and Iraq so far on charges of sodomy. Witnesses report that gay men are executed specifically by being thrown off of the tops of buildings to their deaths, and that many fear that close friends or family members will turn them in and expose their sexual orientation.

Grab Bag

+ The Washington Post has a piece on how the decisions of the Obama administration as far back as 2009 made it possible for some of the recent legal advances for transgender Americans, like Medicaid coverage for transition-related costs and no longer needing confirmation of genital surgery to legally change gender on record.

+ Students at Brandeis University (my alma mater!) who had been occupying the university’s administrative building for almost two weeks in a sit-in reminiscent of the famous occupation of Ford Hall by Black students in the 1970s, believe they have finally won their goal of having the administration lay out a plan to meet their 13 demands. Interim President Lisa Lynch released a timeline proposing to meet students’ requests over the next few years.

+ CNN has a piece on the racial segregation of Milwaukee, one of the most segregated cities in the US (and where I live, coincidentally). Milwaukee has the lowest rate of black suburbanization in the US, with 90% of black citizens in the Milwaukee metro area living in the city; Milwaukee also has some of the most glaring racial disparities in the country, with an African-American poverty rate that ranks second in the country, and five times greater than that of whites.

“Milwaukee is emblematic of a whole range of challenges facing the United States right now,” says Robert Smith, an associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “And when we add the question of race to the mix, we rise to the top. It’s very fair to say that the cultural and political wars of our day are playing out in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in egregious patterns. This is one of the ground zeros.”

+ The Daily Texan has a piece on the lives of LGBT professors at UT.

+ Jussie Smollet of Empire and his sister Jurnee Smollet reminded everyone on World AIDS Day that we can’t pick and choose which black lives matter.

“So what does it really mean? Does it mean that Black lives matter, but not gay Black lives? Does it mean that Black lives matter, but not Black women? Does it mean that Black lives matter, but not Black people that are suffering from HIV and AIDS, not Black people that feel misunderstood? No. No, no, no, no, no.”

jussie-smollett-star-alongside-sister-jurnee-new-wgn-series_610x464_1

+ A 19-year-old student at Concordia College says that she was asked to resign her informal post as her worship group’s message coordinator because of her relationship with another woman. The student in question wants to use the incident to ask the school for more protections for LGBT students.

“Hagan said she has received tepid support from school leaders. She said they’ve promised to create a dialogue about respecting differences. “They have tried stuff like that before, and it has obviously not worked,” she said.”

+ Fatima Mernissi, sociologist and groundbreaking scholar of Islamic feminism, has passed away. Her books include Beyond the Veil, Tales of a Harem Girlhood and The Forgotten Queens of Islam.

+ In Brazil, activists gathered for the Black Women’s March, drawing attention to the disproportinate violence that Afro-Brazilian women experience.

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1064 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. It’s exhausting to read anything more about the UK Syrian airstrikes vote, the whole debate was entirely driven by rivalries and power struggles between British political parties as well as within them (esp true for Labour) not concern for Syrians or for UK residents… And I mean this about all the parties involved…

    • I’m in SoCal & local news reported similar facts. In fact they were showing live footage of those bomb disarming robot going to the suspects home to see what more they can find.

  2. Why do we keep talking about “mentally unstable person”, “mental disturbances”, “psychiatric disorders” and such in every case of a mass shooting? Because if that were the case you’ll be pouring money in mental healthcare like the world was coming to an end.

    If mass shootings were a disease, with so many people dying week after week, day after day, how much time will it take to the CDC to take control of the situation?

    Another question, how many countries around the world have problems taking care of mental illness? Probably all the underdeveloped countries of the world can be included in the list, but in those countries we don’t kill each other like flies. If we say, in a very fast analysis, that so many countries have problems with psychological and psychiatric healthcare but mass shootings are not a common occurrence, don’t you think you should take a harder look at the matter? Maybe the difference is guns? The National Instant Criminal Background Check System processed 185,345 requests just on Nov. 27.

    I know this probably was already discussed, but I needed to take out the feelings of my cheast.

  3. Today I saw someone post on Facebook that they don’t want to hear any more about thoughts and prayers unless you are thinking and praying about who you are voting for next. I think that’s relevant.

  4. Thanks for this news round up. As grim is most of these stories are, it’s important to stay informed.

    On a semi-related note, donate to Planned Parenthood, as it’s one of the few concrete things we can do to help in at least one of these situations. We can’t change our country’s fetishistic gun worshiping culture, but we can help Planned Parenthood keep its doors open.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.