Guns, Violence and Entitlement

The national focus on the most recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida has pointed to an ever-increasing agreement on the best policy action: Take away guns. Now. Indeed, 20 years after Columbine, there have been 122 murders of children and school employees, and the number of school shootings has mounted to 208. The outrage surrounding this massacre is completely warranted, as is the response to ban assault rifles and to regulate weapons in the United States. The reasons have been well-rehearsed and are plentiful: we can’t control who uses them; they are used irresponsibly; they are not necessary for a well-functioning society—in fact they are antithetical to a well-functioning society, etc.

The unceasing shock can be heard in a Broward county commissioner’s remarks about the Parkland shooting: “This is not a community where you would expect…not that you would expect it anywhere.” He was quick to point out that Parkland was a close-knit community, that the Douglas High School was an “A” school (presumably that is a very good thing), and that it was “safe,” etc. In other words, horrific events like that are not supposed to happen “here.” I’m left with the question: where are they supposed to happen?

Are they supposed to happen in poor communities with sub-standard schools? Are they supposed to happen in Black or Latino communities? Is that why we don’t see the same level of concern and horror? Are the deaths of civilians and children at the hands of U.S. firepower supposed to happen in Yemen and Pakistan and Somalia? Is that why we don’t see the same level of concern and horror?

Taking away guns is an effective measure. I agree absolutely. It is also a provisional measure that will not get to the heart of a more deep-seated, burning issue: the anger, the violence, the entitled rage behind many of these events. I want us to consider how much we take violence for granted as a part of our daily psyche—but as something to be deployed against those we don’t value, or fear, or despise. Such violence might be effectively seen as emerging from a culture of entitlement: to hurt, injure, damage those who we see either as a) threats or b) less deserving of life or c) both.

I don’t know why Cruz did what he did. Some argue that it was because he was mentally ill. Perhaps. Violence is not restricted to likes of young men like Nikolas Cruz. Whereas Cruz is depicted as ill, when Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. soldier and psychiatrist who shot other soldiers at Ft. Hood Army Base, he was seen as a terrorist. In both instances, they felt entitled to do shoot in order to kill people: there were no threats upon their lives, or at least no discernible ‘cause,” if that is even a relevant concept.

It is a violence that is taken up vigorously by our police forces, our Army, our Navy, our Marine Corps, and is deployed against so many different segments of the world’s population. “Legitimate” injury is always connected to a “just dessert.”

He got shot in the back by a police officer? “Why didn’t he just stop running”?

The police hauled her into custody and she died: “Why didn’t she put out that cigarette?”

He’s been detained in a military prison without charges and tortured for 17 years? “He got what was coming.”

Some trace this violence to the entitled anger of white men. Certainly, that is part of the issue. But it is not just the anger of white men that we need to worry about; we need to worry about the collective, entitled violence embraced by a population that has mostly dealt with its fears, desires, greed, and conflicts through war, incarceration, torture, bombings against populations around the globe. These are collectively, institutionally, socially approved formulations and enactments of violence.

“Good” philosophers are supposed to make distinctions, to insist on comparing like kinds, to refuse to compare “oranges” with “apples.” And yet, by attending to precise distinctions that are based on some skewed sense of the lowest common denominator (“gun violence” is not sexual violence”), by framing events in isolation, then we depoliticize the features that these events have in common: violence, the sense of entitlement to impose violence on certain groups, while decrying similar forms of violence on other groups.

I am a bad philosopher.

War, whether fought on the ground, or remotely: through drones and missiles, seems to be taken as a routine inevitability. “Sure…we have wars. We need to protect ourselves from the enemy, from terrorists, from the people of other nations who breed those terrorists.” [1] We hardly question these [unless we mark ourselves as pacifist, hippy, peacenik types] since, after all, we need a military and police force—don’t we? To protect ourselves? “Our” property? “Our (whose?) children and women?”

Still, we refuse to grapple with that larger issue of violence: the one that is met with muted cries of outrage at best when the U.S. invades Afghanistan and Iraq on the grounds of dubious charges of WMD’s. We have refused to grapple with the larger issue of injustice and violence when the US drones children and civilians who are part of wedding celebrations in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia ad elsewhere.

We’re only now beginning to confront the issue of sexual violence when it affects beautiful wealthy white women on the screen—but many—white women AND white men– were blissfully oblivious to the sexual and physical violence imposed on Black women under slavery, and post-slavery. In contemporary times, UN peacekeepers are only now being called out for raping and violating children and women around the world: Haiti, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and elsewhere. And yet, when such actions take place in organizational/institutional contexts, some of those who should know better find ways to justify the barbarism of the “civilizers” as being difficult to maintain primitive locations.

It’s not just the violence enacted through weaponry and warfare and rape that we need to worry about. We condone violence against rapists, sexual offenders, murderers. And even though this attitude is now attributed to Trump and his white supremacist/nationalist bedfellows (since we have forgotten that this policy position has been decades old), many of us approved violence against those who refused to stay away from U.S. borders.

By insisting that school shootings are about freely accessible guns, without connecting the issue of gun violence to the larger acceptance of violence deployed around the world, we are shortchanging our ability to find other effective solutions. We need to understand violence in its systematicity. —The violence of the lone shooter is not unconnected to the remorseless droning, shooting, or rape of civilians. The violence deployed against beautiful, wealthy white women is not unconnected to the rapes and sexual exploitation of Black and brown human beings—under slavery, under Jim Crow, under the post-Civil Rights era, under the guise of UN Peacekeeping or NGO’s like Oxfam trying to civilize “barbaric” regions.

Many folks on social media point to Australia’s reduction of the gun violence problem to zero after having decided in 1992 to confiscate all guns. Other nations have done the same. But most of them aren’t nations that have lead the world into global wars time and time again. The U.S has been one of those nations. Does this mean that I think that eliminating guns won’t have a productive effect on the reducing some part of the violence in this country? No. I emphatically agree with the predictions that extreme gun regulation will have an impact in reducing deaths. As Emma Gonzalez also pointed out: Nikolas Cruz would not have been able to kill so many people with just a knife.

It is absolutely important to end easy access to most guns, and all assault weapons. But ending access won’t eliminate the underlying, systemic problem. It may just make it easier to ignore.


[1] It irritates me to no end to have the term ‘terrorist’ appropriated casually in order to redeploy it towards anyone else. The term needs to be questioned and deleted, not incorporated casually into household use—even if it is for the purpose of highlighting the evils of white shooters, or our president, or the NRA. The more casually the term is deployed, the more we normalize it as a term to be deployed against anyone we want to vilify, without having to argue for it.


Which Mothers Do We Honor?

Which Mothers Do We Honor?



As many folks paid homage to their mothers on social media yesterday, I worried a bit (okay, a lot) about the way that their public sentiments papered over the ways in which societies (and yes, “we”) dishonor mothers around the world: the ways in which judges and juries refuse to acknowledge and protect women who kill their spouses in self-defense–spouses who are violent and abusive toward their wives and children. I wonder about the tension where the respect for mothers gets invoked in the breath in which we neglect to support black and brown and undocumented mothers who are un/under-employed or making insufficient wages. I question the ways in which we (myself included) chirp Happy Mother’s Day while legislators annul the reproductive autonomy of poor women, or women with few social or material resources to abort pregnancies.


I can’t help but contrast the ways that “we” honor “our” mothers in individual and highly public ways while we simultaneously uphold a political and cultural system that punishes children who mention sexual or physical abuse–by refusing more feasible options than removing children from the household and depriving them of parents altogether.


I worry about the ways in which the state (yes, even the pre-Trump state) criminalizes women who engage in prostitution because there are no better ways to make an income needed to care for their children. I worry about the ways in which women’s pleas for economic, psychic, emotional assistance, or the need for networks gets ignored by their families, friends, neighbors who are “too busy,” to help, or read these pleas as pathologies, as reflecting an unwillingness to “buck up and deal” or “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”


I am concerned about the ways in which “we”—both on the right and the left disparage abused women who refuse to leave their spouses. Disparagement even when they and the subjects of their derision—the women who are already injured and suffering—know that leaving their spouses, while providing relief from a daily onslaught of abuse, still invites an open-ended future-often an indefinite future in which they flail about through insufficiently funded battered women’s and homeless shelters, where they unceasingly try to shield their children from the trauma, the stigma of having left their father, left their school systems, left their routines and beds. All of this–while suffering yet again, through social and familial ostracization for having breached patriarchal normative frameworks of relationships


Lest y’all think I’m being too cynical: Anna Jarvis, daughter of Anna Reeves Jarvis (founder of Mother’s Friendship Day in the1850’s—a much more structural political battle), died penniless trying to fight the commercialization of Mother’s Day. Still, Jarvis Jr.’s was less of a political celebration of Mother’s Day than was her mother’s vision.


I don’t begrudge those who wish to observe various moms on this Hallmark holiday (I’ve done so as well). But as we know, the point of Hallmark holidays is to render a deeply political, often oppressive structure “apolitical,” sentimental, devoid of power, injustice, and hierarchical politics. When we honor mothers on Facebook, or elsewhere on social media, we are submitting to the political economy of Hallmark. Buying cards, making breakfast, cleaning the house, offering a gift to one’s own mother offers a joy to both mother and child—but it is a fleeting joy. It enjoins one to forget the political structure in which “we” incarcerate mothers who enter the country illegally, or break up those families by deporting undocumented parents, or insist that applicants for asylum (often mothers) need to prove even harder their dire need of refuge from gangs, or rapists, or civil war, or famine—when in fact all of these are real and often caused through our United States foreign and economic and energy policies: whether structural adjustment polices through the World Bank, or loopholes in climate protocols, or through the introduction of war in the name of National Security.


All of this to ask: which mothers are we honoring?

The Politics of Distraction and Chaos

The latest Executive Order from DT, banning Syrian refugees and putting a 90 day hold on Iraqi nationals who want to enter the US has, at least on the surface, put us on a new playing field it seems. I tried to find the list of the other 5 countries that the press, from the NYT to CNN, has insisted is on the list of banned countries. There is nothing in the executive order about it, although there are references to earlier segments of US law that appear to list those countries. According to CNN, an earlier draft of the order (why can’t we have access to that??) listed the seven countries to which this EO applies. But I see no other confirmation, apart from the media parroting each other.

Here’s the upshot as far as I can tell: those five countries were listed on an original list of exceptions to Visa waivers, passed in December 2015 as part of an Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2016 (h/t to Emory Law School professor Deborah Dinner for helping me figure where to look, and for pointing me to Seth Frantzman’s site for some leads). I don’t agree with Frantzman’s conclusions, but still his efforts to find where the assumed countries are listed are commendable.

Frantzman points us to an announcement from the DHS website, wherein in they list 3 more countries to the list of 3 others already on the list to be exempted from the Visa Waiver Travel program, i.e., travelers from this list will not be eligible for visa waiver exemptions). The six countries are as follows: Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria (already mentioned in DT’s EO).



You will notice that these are seven countries listed under a Travel Visa Waiver restriction that was passed in December 2015, announced in February 2016, that is, under the Obama Administration. Trump’s EO in effect develops further the policy enacted under Obama’s DHS, namely suspending visa issuances to those foreign nationals. To be sure, The Obama policy was narrower than the Trump EO, But let’s also be clear: these were countries of concern under the Obama Administration’s watch.

Trump’s EO suspends the Visa Waiver altogether, requiring in-person interviews for all persons seeking non-immigrant visas.

It is also the case that Trump’s EO is much more sweeping than the DHS restrictions, in that it seeks to suspend the entry of all refugees for 120 days, pending further scrutiny, and suspends the entry of all Syrian refugees until further notice (which is not the same as forever, but perhaps that’s a distinction without a difference).

Trump’s is a rather cleverly crafted EO, in that there is no explicit reference to all Muslims, but rather to “Islamic terrorists” (which we can certainly read as an “existential threat,” to paraphrase Judge Bruce Selya in his 2013 opinion on the Tarek Mehanna case. And we know that “terrorist” is a salient and legally acceptable category in a way that “banning all Muslims” is not. So, I suspect that this EO will-through conventionally narrow legal readings—be upheld as constitutional.

But all that is neither here nor there. I think there is another point here which is extremely salient: This is a politics of distraction and chaos in to which we would do well not to cave. Remember that this EO was effective in stopping exactly 109 travelers in the first 24 hours of the EO taking effect. 109 of 325,000 foreign nationals who fly into the US in a 24 hour period. Of course, this doesn’t include the number of travelers who were turned back in international airports, who are stranded elsewhere. But I worry that the Trump Administration in delivering these splashy—incredibly incompetent, ill-planned, insufficiently vetted EO’s–is leading us around like trained seals. They know we’re protesting, they’re expecting it, and it expends our energy while other less visible chaos is being wrought. In that sense, (and I did join the protests yesterday), I’m reminded of Walter Benjamin’s comments about the aestheticization of politics in his 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”

Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.

Agreed, we are not proletarian masses, and I hestitate to use the term “Fascism,” because it is overused. But I’m struck by his point that property is preserved while political expression is exercised. I’m also reminded of Hannah Arendt’s point about how the success of authoritarian regimes depends upon throwing us into confusion and chaos, while other devastating acts are undertaken under “dark of night,” as it were (my phrase).

This is not to say that there isn’t important reason to be on record as dissenting. This is not to say that there is no cause for concern—but Trump/Bannon et al are continuing a certain politics of distraction that has been in effect for a long time, including under the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations—namely getting us to focus on a certain social politics of antagonism and hate, while they enact other deeply destructive economic policies: NAFTA, the repeal of Glass-Steagall (leading eventually to the massive mortgage foreclosure crisis), financial treats for pals in the investment banking industry, the loss of pensions, bailing out the banks, cowtowing to the health insurance industry, etc.

We know that Trump has put Steve Bannon, clown and white supremacist extraordinaire (excuse me, his “Chief of Staff” on the NSC), along with the NSC Executive Secretary, while removing the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs from permanent status. This is a WTF moment. Responses from the Trump administration responded that they didn’t want to waste the DNI’s or Chairman’s time. I repeat: WTF?

We also know that over the weekend, Trump launched a barely-noticed drone strike in Yemen that killed the the 8 year old daughter—and the second, US citizen, child– of suspected terrorist and US citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki’s children (the first, American 16 year old Abdulrahman having been killed during an Obama Administration drone strike). You can read all about the heinousness of the Obama Admin’s actions at the previous link.

The big question for me here is: what else are these bozos up to? What are they trying to pass under the radar while keeping our noses focused on this superficial “Clash of Civilizations” approach to foreign policy and immigration/visa policies? What kind of economic destruction are they playing into? Funnily enough, even Benjamin Wittes, on his Lawfare blog (with whom I agree about almost nothing), also thinks there’s something else going on besides “national security concerns”.

Something to consider while we’re being distracted and thrown into chaos.




Some thoughts as we head even further* into the KaliYuga (the epoch of terrible things)…

This post comes after a long hiatus from this blog: almost 2.5 years later. As some of you know, I lost my darling almost 2 years ago next week, and I moved to the South  which, remarkably, has showered hope on me again despite the current moment.  Salon has dropped me from their masthead (without notice), and so I return to my blog. I’d like to think that this piece constitutes a happy (re)inauguration of this blog. Happier than the one happening in DC today in any case. This piece honors the memory of Robert E. Prasch III, and speaks to some of our shared concerns. Love to you all and thanks for reading.


Two days ago, I was called in for jury duty in my new home territory of DeKalb County, Georgia. That’s part of the 5th district, for all y’all who are keeping track of the spat between Rep. John Lewis and the Trumpster. I spent nine hours in total in the DeKalb County Courthouse. Six of those hours were in a courtroom with 17 others while lawyers for the state of Georgia and the defense asked us a series of questions. The questions were designed to weed out potential jurors who might present obstacles to either side of the case. The charges involved domestic battery, leveled against a young black man, probably not older than 20.

We were ushered out of the courtroom several times so the lawyers could confer privately or speak with some of us who declined to elaborate on our answers publicly. As the day wore on, the 17 of us (one was dismissed immediately for an important reason which I won’t share with you so as not to give any of y’all ideas) developed a sense of camaraderie, kind of like “feeling close” to the participants of your favorite reality TV show. And people’s most intimate views came out. In particular the following 2 views were ringing loud and clear: 1) the accused guy was guilty of the charges. 2) they were hoping to be excused from the jury, because they had a bunch of important work meetings. It was patently clear that a number of us were grasping at straws, but giving lame answers to questions in the hopes of getting off jury duty.

Many of us, I’m betting, were anti-Trump folks. I know that the two who expressed the previous comments were definitely anti-Trump. When they (both women) found out that I was a WGSS faculty member at Emory, they anticipated that I was going to participate in the Women’s march. I’m wondering if anyone else besides me sees the tension in this story: Participating in the Women’s march was important. But giving the man in front of us the benefit of the doubt, and feeling obligated to participate on a jury of his peers somehow didn’t occur to them.


As I read lots of suggestions about what do instead of/after the Women’s March (talking circles, get-togethers for strangers who don’t talk to each other, be nice to people, make space for everyone to speak, “resist hate, exclusion, and policies that impoverish your community”…run for office, etc. etc.), I’m struck by how there has been little mention of practices that seem to be the least glamorous and the most important:

Maintain your civic responsibilities. Undertake your political obligations as citizens: not just to vote and to speak. But to try NOT to get excused from jury duty if you think you can be a fair juror (being impartial, I think, is next to impossible, but one can try to be fair). Juries are hugely important sites of social change and justice. Thinking thoughtfully, deliberatively, generously, and fairly is one of the most underestimated values of civic citizenship. And remember that for many decades, non-whites, women of any color or status, COULD NOT SERVE on a jury as the peers of the accused. This is, as problematic as it is, an important civic responsibility—undervalued, and casually dismissed by many of the most otherwise justice-minded of our friends and family.

On a broader level:

Figure out what kind of assistance/advocacy you can offer to men/women/children who are inadequately represented in our legal system. Be a children’s advocate. Join organizations that assist those who are charged with crimes and don’t have adequate laws or protections of their dignity and interests: the elderly, children without parents/legal guardians, men and women of color (Black, Arab, Latino, often) to protect their interests in the courtroom or in prison.

It’s important to be nice and generous and practice kindness and organize gatherings where we talk to each other and make each other feel better.

But there are a lot of folks who are already suffering under policies that, if not enacted under the Obama Administrations, were continued or exacerbated over the last eight years: Muslim men in solitary confinement due to specious material support statutes that make it nearly impossible for them to get a fair trial; men and women of color who are falsely accused of crimes against police officers; undocumented migrants who are penned up in prisons for months because they have “made the mistake” of trying to flee violence (public or domestic or sexual), disbelieved by overworked, harried, or indifferent bureaucrats. The list could/should be continued indefinitely, but you know the details.

Often, the best resistance is that which is everyday, obvious, and unsung. Be a citizen if you still have that privilege and defend others who don’t have—or who may have lost that right–through no fault of their own.

*As Jane Bunker aptly reminded me, we’ve been in the KaliYuga for a while. And it doesn’t really mean the epoch of terrible things, although it does suggest the Dark Epoch. Forgive my idiomatic interpretation…

Shoot first, ask later: Why the concept of “reasonable fear” is anything but reasonable

Hi, all. I’ve taken a Twitter breather. I’m finding that my work is a little more focused off Twitter, but will probably be back a little later. This post came out in Salon earlier in the month, but I thought I’d post and link to it here for readers who might have missed it:


Recently, Tamara Nopper and Mariame Kaba authored a haunting article, “Itemizing Atrocity,” analyzing reactions and analyses of the police shooting of Michael Brown and the seemingly sudden militarization of the police. They point to Ferguson as an example of the excess of the spectacle that draws attention to the most extreme cases of brutality or violence, and simultaneously renders the daily, hourly, violence faced by black Americans as ordinary and therefore unworthy of the empathy engendered in extreme cases.

Attention is drawn to the “spectacular event” rather than to the point of origin or the mundane. Circulated are the spectacles — dead black bodies lying in the streets or a black teenager ambushed by several police officers in military gear, automatic weapons drawn.

Their insights resonated as every major media outlet covered the repeated, more extreme, ever-growing confrontations between protestors and Ferguson law enforcement. The sympathy for the brutalized in Ferguson emerged as a response to the documented ill treatment of relatively privileged and protected whites (reporters, supporters, observers) who momentarily faced the same treatment that is de rigeur for vulnerable blacks — in Ferguson, St. Louis, Chicago, Paterson, Charlotte, Houston, New Orleans, Los Angeles and elsewhere.

Read the rest at Salon.

What Do You Mean “We” Tortured Some Folks?

About a week ago, for the first time ever, the US government, through the comments of its Chief Executive no less, confirmed that “folks were tortured.” Simultaneously, he observed that there “was little need for sanctimony” given the heightened fears of the American public in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and the enormous pressure that law enforcement officials were under to prevent future attacks.

The President’s official confirmation that “folks” were tortured and not just undergoing “enhanced interrogation techniques”–was remarkable. They were striking not so much because the public learned something new, but because they should have ramifications for those who designed, justified and endorsed torture as part the US’s National Security strategy to combat terrorism.

For those who provide the legal cover for torture, including John Yoo and Jay Bybee, there might be some fear that an official US confirmation of torture will have ramifications for them. But they claim not to be afraid of prosecution. Given the soothing, exculpatory tone of the President’s remarks and AG Eric Holder’s lapdoggish compliance, (despite his 2009 resolute acknowledgment that waterboarding is torture), they have every reason to believe it.

Yet, his remarks are notably deceptive on a number of fronts.

Read the rest at

Ferguson: Not a revelation, but a reminder of White Supremacy

The news that a police officer shot an African American teen several times in the chest was shocking, horrifying, gut-wrenching. But it was not surprising. As even a weekly perusal of newspapers tells us, the murders of Black teens and men by private white citizens or police officers are common, ordinary, every day events. Two days after the shooting of Michael Brown, another young unarmed Black man, this time in Los Angeles, was shot by a police officer.

Yet, in the initial twenty-four hours after Michael Brown’s shooting, I saw flashes of the same questions in the comments to news articles and on Twitter: “What did he do?” “Why?” “Wtf?” Certainly, some of these were plaintive questions asked by grieving persons. But others reflected an earnest, though frustrating, innocence—one that found a shooting of a Black teen by a policeman to be unusual, accidental, coincidental, extraordinary. Their questions echoed as I flipped through the fleeting images that followed the news of the shooting—rows of police officers with shields and batons and terrifying looking dogs, pumped up and ready to attack–accompanied by articles about “looting and riots,” tear gas, sniper guns, and bullets.

Photo 6 in this New York Times slide show, among others, remains in my mind.

In the first three days after Michael Brown’s shooting, as the Black community gathered to protest his death, “left” media analyzed this event as if it were just a case of the police accidentally losing control. Elsewhere, mainstream news sites reported on the protests as if commenting on two equally strong baseball teams: The Cops versus Black people, rather than a case of Black protests against continual injustice. Other news sites report “rioting” and “looting,” as if looting is the prime obstacle to safety, rather than protecting Blacks against an arrogant, secure police force.

Read the rest at