American Public Problem – OpEd
Too many things are going wrong inside the USA in this election year. On Friday night, a gunman killed four women and a man in a shooting at a Macy’s store at Cascade Mall in Burlington, about 65 miles north of Seattle. After a massive manhunt, the suspect was arrested in Oak Harbor at around 6:30 p.m. on Saturday while walking down the street. He was identified as Arcan Cetin (20), an immigrant from Turkey — a legal permanent resident of the United States who lives in Oak Harbor, according to police. The Sheriff’s office described the suspect – “He was kind of zombie-like.” He seems to be a mental health patient who faced three assault charges in domestic violence cases in 2014 (but not convicted). Officials previously said it appears the gunman, reportedly a Hispanic male wearing grey, acted alone and they have no indication it was terrorism. Now that the identity of Cetin is known, they are not ruling out bringing terrorism charges.
On the other hand, the act of Dahir Ahmed Adan, the Somali young man accused of going on a stabbing spree at a Minnesota mall over the last weekend is considered a terrorist act. The 20-year-old from St. Cloud allegedly stabbed 10 people before being shot dead by an off-duty police officer, ending what authorities called a “potential act of terrorism” at the mall Saturday (9/17/16). Fortunately, none of the 10 people wounded suffered life-threatening injuries. While an ISIS-affiliated media outlet claimed the attacker was a “soldier” of the terror group, no evidence has emerged to suggest ISIS or Daesh had a hand in planning or executing the attack.
In the meantime, recent police-involved shootings of the Blacks reveal that in spite of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s not much has changed. Violent protests have erupted in some parts of the USA centering the unnecessary death of Terrance Crutcher after his SUV stopped in a roadway last week. Crutcher can be seen with his hands raised above his head prior to his death. He walks away from the police officer towards his car. There was no weapon found in his car. Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby was charged last Thursday with felony manslaughter in the 1st degree for his murder.
Last Tuesday (9/20/16), Keith Lamont Scott, another Black man and a father of seven, was shot to death in Charlotte, NC, by another police officer, at an apartment complex parking lot. It has spurred protests in Charlotte over the past four nights with angry protesters chanting: “No tapes; no peace.” Rioting killed one protester, shattered windows and rattled finance executives whose salaries boost the city’s median income to $10,000 above the national average.
The status of the videos held by police — body camera and dash-cam footage — has been a point of contention between police and Scott’s family, with authorities declining to release them throughout the week. However, a few minutes ago, this Saturday evening, a body-cam video has been released by the police (with the first 23 seconds of the audio silent). The other released dash-cam video shows the actual shooting. These two separate videos, however, fail to explain why Scott’s life was to be lost by police shooting.
Scott’s widow released her cell phone recording of the shooting — the first to be released publicly — on Friday. “Don’t shoot him. He has no weapon,” Rakeyia Scott can be heard saying in the footage. The first portions of the shaky video appear to show a number of police officers surround a vehicle in a parking lot. Rakeyia Scott is heard saying, “He doesn’t have a gun. He has a TBI (traumatic brain injury).” [Scott’s family has said he was disabled after being in a near-death motorcycle crash last year.] She is also heard pleading with the police not to shoot her husband, “He’s not going to do anything to you guys. He just took his medicine.” And yet, he was killed, according to police, by an officer after Scott had failed to heed commands to drop a gun. His family has said he didn’t have a gun. One wonders if this sad event be de-escalated!
Such ‘trigger-happy’ shootings are not uncommon in the USA. In the mid-1990s, as Charlotte pushed to become a world-class city, its leaders cracked down on crime with a heavy-handed police force. Longtime African-American residents remember James Cooper, a 19-year-old black man killed by a white officer in 1996 as he reached back in his car window during a traffic stop to check on his 4-year-old daughter. The officer said he thought he had a gun.
The black community has been left feeling justice was not served. Jonathan Ferrell was a 24-year-old unarmed black man shot 10 times by white officer Randall Kerrick. Ferrell had just crashed his car in a suburban neighborhood and banged on a neighbor’s door looking for help. She (the neighbor), however, called 911.
Charlotte police charged Kerrick with voluntary manslaughter one day later. But the jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict at his trial, and state prosecutors decided not to retry the case. There were peaceful protests then, which prompted headlines like, “How Charlotte Avoided Ferguson’s Fate.”
As the protesters marched in Charlotte this past week their pain has just been made worse by recent shootings in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and elsewhere.
This Saturday, President Obama officially opened the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in the capital that through thousands of artifacts captures the 400-year long history of African-Americans in this country. He said the $540 million museum represented a “common journey towards freedom”. “The very fact of this day does not prove that America is perfect, but it does validate the ideas of our founding – that this country born of change, of revolution, of we the people, that this country can get better.”
Just as the lynching murder of Emmett Till in 1955, exhibited now in the museum, helped spark the civil rights movement, could the death of Crutcher and Scott spark a new movement in the 21st century? We may not know the answer yet.
There is little doubt, however, that America is polarized these days along racial and ethnic lines. Many whites, esp. southerners, have discovered their new messiah in Trump to transform ‘America great’ again! They are emboldened by the prospect of this casino and real estate mogul – whose well-known racism and bigotry that they have embraced – winning the coming presidential election. Their anger is often vented against minorities. And as you will notice below from my own experience the past week they are seemingly not ashamed of showing their ugly side.
I have been a frequent flyer for more than a decade. Last Monday, I was in an American Airlines flight (AA 5606) to Savannah, Georgia. The flight was late by almost two hours and I was hungry. During the flight, when the main cabin air-hostess, Nicole, was serving juice/drinks to the passengers, I asked her if I could buy snacks for my lunch. She replied that there was no snack available to sell. Minutes later, however, when she proceeded to serve a couple – who were sitting two rows in front of me – they asked of snacks to buy. Nicole told them that she could sell them for credit card only. When the couple said that they had only cash and no credit card, she did not mind giving them two lunch snack packs for free. I was simply stunned to see such a naked demonstration of bias from a white air-hostess!
My return flight AA 5606 to Philadelphia was on time last Friday. However, during my flight I encountered the same discrimination from another white air-hostess (who was assigned to the first class cabin). After serving the first class cabin passengers, she came to assist her colleague serving drinks and cookies/pretzels in the main cabin where I was seated in an aisle seat. She asked the passengers on my both sides about their choice, but ignored me totally, as if I did not exist. Then she went on to serve rows behind me, while I stared at her with disbelief. When she was returning to the first class cabin, I asked her for the reason of ignoring me. She replied, “You were sleeping.” I could not believe that she would tell a lie to excuse her unprofessional behavior; I was all awake and occasionally was glancing at her – hoping that she would ask me about my choice of fruit juice. She did not apologize for her rude behavior.
What’s America coming to these days? As a frequent flyer with the American Airlines, I probably need to rethink my choice of flying American the next time I travel.
But more importantly, American citizens need to come to grips with the ugly reality that is poisoning their environment. Anger is building up on all sides, and sometimes it is oozing out unpleasantly.
Many White Americans, especially those living in the southern states feel that ultra-liberal values of the powerful and vocal 1% – living mostly in the northeastern and the western states – have been pushed down the throats of the ‘silent’ 99% to digest. They are upset with the Obama administration for passing such controversial laws. Many white conservatives, including women, are thus flocking to Trump’s camp in spite of the latter’s sexist and degrading remarks about women. The ‘rigged’ politics of yesteryears – run by and for the politicians – is challenged by their new avatar – a shrewd and immoral businessman – who is making them dream for a better future. They are dismissive of Trump’s fascist leanings and are willing to take a chance with him to ‘fix’ things and make ‘America great’ again. They are equally oblivious of the fact that demagogues rise to power on the backs of workers, citizens, and average “Joe” or “Jane.”
For the minority blacks, the distrust of the police runs very deep. They continue to be racially profiled by the police and are harassed routinely. Obama’s presidency has not made much of a difference in their lives. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, notes, “When people work two jobs but don’t make enough to own a home, they get discouraged, and seeing video after video of black men dying makes them lose hope and start to wonder if they matter to society.” Under such circumstances, as we have noticed with the army veteran Micah Johnson in Dallas this summer, some will fight back, and kill before getting killed.
Some highly vulnerable youths are disturbed by the news of daily violence in the TV and the Internet that they read or see faced by their fellow people in war-torn countries. Some are self-radicalized by propaganda messages that incite them to choose death over life.
Many minorities, esp., Muslims, have lost jobs in recent months as a result of America’s untiring and noxious heritage of hatred, discrimination, racism and bigotry. As psychologists would say it won’t be irrational to suspect that the terrorist acts of guys like Mateen, Adan and Rahami (and even Tamerlane Tsarnaev) were motivated more by their uncontrolled resentment at losing jobs than any ideology. The ‘land of opportunity’ had simply failed them to earn an honest living!
Sociologist Charles Kurzman has recently stated in the USA Today (September 22, 2016) that terror fears are out of proportion to risks. Since 9/11, only 118 people in the USA became victims of terrorism – perpetrated by Muslims. In the same 15-year period more than 230,000 Americans have been murdered by their fellow Americans; thus, terrorist victims of Muslims accounted for only 0.05%. Yet, because of American obsession with terrorism, Muslims are demonized for the crimes of the few in their rank.
Trump, like many of the ultra-right, anti-immigrant, racist and bigot leaders of our time, has been able to exploit their worst fears and emotions. But, is Trump to be blamed solely for his evil tactics?
“America, truly, has more than a ‘Donald Trump’ problem. More ominously, we have an American public problem,” argues Anthony DiMaggio, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University, “that cuts to the very core of the quality of our democracy.” “If Donald Trump is enjoying electoral success, it’s because the public – passively or actively – allowed it to happen. What makes Trump’s case more disturbing than the norm of across-the-board voter ignorance is that such a large contingent of Americans know full-well about his bigotry, and embrace it. The ascendance of Donald Trump tells us much about the quality of American character – particularly about our enduring and toxic legacy of hate, ignorance, bigotry, and white-supremacy,” writes Anthony DiMaggio.
White supremacy never disappeared from America’s political culture, and DiMaggio opines that hate culture has returned with all its ugliness.
To understand the depth of the American public problem, just consider the facts below.
Public Policy Polling (PPP) found that in August 2015, 54 percent of Republicans, and 61 percent of Trump supporters still believed Obama was born in another. In May 2016, a PPP poll found 65 percent of Trump supporters said Obama was a Muslim and 59 percent said he was born outside the U.S.
A Reuters-Ipsos June 2016 survey, for example, found that 58 percent of Trump supporters said they held a “somewhat unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” view of Islam. This type of blanket hatred is troublesome when Pew Research Center polling finds that the vast majority of American Muslims reject terrorism, and hold moderate, rather than extreme political values. A Texas Policy Project poll from June 2016 also found that 76 percent of Republicans “somewhat supported” or “strongly supported” a blanket ban of Muslims from entering the U.S.
Seventy percent of Republicans agreed in an August 2016 Pew survey that “undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit serious crimes.” This view persists, despite statistics from the Public Policy Institute of California concluding that immigrants actually commit fewer crimes than U.S. citizens.
Reuters polling from June 2016 finds that nearly half of Trump supporters agree that African Americans are more “violent” and “criminal” than whites. Similarly, 40 percent say African Americans are more “lazy” than whites. These findings are prominent on the reactionary right, despite social scientists’ longstanding findings that race is not a significant predictor of Americans’ level of commitment to work, or hours worked, and despite the reality that the vast majority of whites, African Americans, and Hispanics are employed.
American public problem can only be defeated by restoring American sanity. And American sanity cannot be restored in the vacuum. It needs tangible results that better the life of ordinary people of all races and religions. The media have a serious role to bust those popular myths that are at the heart of the American public problem, propagated by hateful hosts and preachers that want Americans to embrace fascism over democracy, division or segregation over unity, and supremacy over equal rights for all. The results of the November election will show how well they have succeeded in this crucial task.