Watch Out for Terrorists

The U.S. is now top-of-the-heap worldwide when it comes to mass shootings. Under the definition used by the Gun Violence Archive – that four or more people shot and killed in roughly the same place and time equals a “mass shooting” – we’re now experiencing seven such incidents a week.

It’s an everyday event.

Unless, of course, you’re personally in the crosshairs. In which case, it tends to be memorable.

I have only been held at gunpoint twice. The first time, I was pinned in a stairwell by an anxious young man holding a handgun; police had mistakenly identified him as a Black Panther. The second time I was exiting a shower and was menaced by a husband with a rifle. These were one-off, single-target threats, so I’m no expert at mass shootings.

I also recognize the folly of trying to discuss gun control in the current political context. Didn’t the White House just reassure us that last week’s Texas church shooting wasn’t about guns, but rather, “a mental health problem”?

Given that, this might be a good time to share what’s known about mental health problems that predispose people to shoot you. You probably want to avoid those folks.

Of course, it’s hard to avoid them completely. That would entail staying away from elementary schools, universities, post offices, birth-control clinics and churches, not to mention bike paths, theatres, country-music concerts and even Walmart.

Then again, it’s not like the bad guys are hiding under your bed.

Or maybe they are. For women, the statistically most-dangerous group of people would be husbands. In the US, approximately 1,500 women are killed annually by husbands or boyfriends.

Devin Patrick Kelley, who killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Spring last week, fits that profile. Before the church shooting, Kelley spent 12 months in a military prison for assaulting his then-wife and stepson. He had also been charged with animal cruelty for beating a dog. (Welfare officials in many states are legally required to report animal cruelty because it so strongly predicts child abuse and domestic violence.)

One might reasonably think that someone with a background like Kelley’s shouldn’t be allowed to buy one gun, let alone four.

Actually, under Texas law, Kelley shouldn’t have been able to buy a gun. But apparently, our gun laws aren’t well enforced.

Thank goodness our elected officials are working hard to make us safer by building walls, conducting extreme vetting and barring entry to visitors from places known for terrorism. Places like Mexico, Syria, Iran, Sudan and Yemen.

I’m concerned we don’t pay enough attention to North Carolina.

I kid you not. The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have cataloged dozens of examples of terrorists from North Carolina. Dylan Roof, who drove from South Carolina to murder nine black people in a church in Shelby, North Carolina, was one of the more infamous.

Robert Lewis Dear, the gunman who killed three people and wounded nine at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, was another. Undocumented and unvetted, Dear was able to sneak across Colorado’s borders with a semi-automatic rifle. When police arrested him, he muttered, “no more baby parts.” Dear wasn’t a churchgoer, but online, he had often spoken of Jesus and the “end times.”

Typical terrorist ideology. Homeland Security, TSA and FEMA have identified characteristics that tend to identify potential domestic terrorists like Dear. Among them: libertarian philosophies; stockpiling food, ammo, hand tools and medical supplies; buying gold; anxiety about the apocalypse and the antichrist; fear of big government, homeschooling, a belief in a New World Order conspiracy and NRA membership.

NRA membership?

It’s probably just statistical error that, in cases of domestic violence, having a firearm in the house ups the odds of murder about five-fold. Between 1990 and 2005, more than two-thirds of spouse and ex-spouse homicides were shootings.

Still, America is number one worldwide in firearms per capita, way ahead of Yemen, which is number two. U.S. civilians now own about 270 million guns, enough for every adult to have one, with firearms to spare. (In more than half of American mass shootings, the killer had more than one firearm. That’s not true abroad.)

With just 4.4 percent of the world’s population, America has achieved a stunning 30 percent of the world’s public mass shootings. That makes us number one in mass shootings.

Since we don’t seem to be able to keep firearms out of the hands of people like Devin Kelley and Dylan Roof, and since it’s hard to stay out of all the public places shooters tend to show up, it’s at least good to know how to identify who’s most likely to have you in the crosshairs.

Seeking Higher Ground column
Published in The Sopris Sun on November 16 , 2017

Challenging Rape Culture – Who Will Take the Pledge?

As I wrote my column this morning, nearly every woman I know was posting “Me too” on Facebook.

Initially baffled, I soon earned that those words, posted in the wake of news about Harvey Weinstein’s predatory Hollywood behavior, came in response to actress Aylssa Milano’s post: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

I at first counted myself lucky. I couldn’t remember being sexually harassed at work.

Oops. Not true. Somehow I had repressed what had happened to me as a 17-year-old junior summer camp counselor. Not in an office, but at work nonetheless. An older co-worker dragged me into the boys’ showers in the wee hours, then tried repeatedly to rape me. I fought him off by rolling into a fetal ball and acting like a hedgehog for hours. Hours!

The next year, a stranger followed me through downtown Denver and into an empty CU extension classroom, where he grabbed my genitals. Another stranger rubbed his crotch against me on a San Francisco subway train. He followed when I got off, fleeing only after I walked into a restaurant and asked the hostess to call the cops.

Then there was my encounter with Stanette Marie Rose, a stockbroker in the 1997 class action harassment/discrimination lawsuit of Martens v. Smith Barney. As NOW’s San Francisco chapter president, I led picketing in support of the 23 female brokers who filed the lawsuit. Stanette’s attorney phoned me to reveal that the women brokers were secretly watching us picket at lunchtime with tears of gratitude in their eyes.

Later, Stanette called to thank me personally. Still later, after a co-worker threatened her with a gun, I hid Stanette’s documentation. Since I was a untraceable stranger, I was the only person she knew who might be able to keep her diary safe from office burglary, seizure or destruction. Martens vs Smith Barney resulted in a class-action settlement of more than $100 million dollars.

That’s unusual. Mostly, women’s responses to what has been called “rape culture” are more in tune with what my friend the Reverend Amy Rowland wrote, “The direct personal attacks are memorable, but the ‘socially acceptable’ level of hostility toward women in this country is so high I tune it out to dodge the barrage.

Another of my former pastors, the Reverend Diane Miller posted, “I don’t even want to bother with my experiences, they are completely Everywoman.” She concluded, “we’ve seen the statistics.” My reply: “I’m dead sure that the majority of it doesn’t even show up in the statistics. It doesn’t get reported. None of what happened to me rises to the statistical level—it’s lifetime trauma under the radar.”

That’s what local resident Leana Fisher reports too. Reflecting on “the whisper network” that warns other women but stops short of reporting, Fisher ticked off examples: “The sexually abusive counselor at summer camp who we sang parody songs about…The married teacher in Junior High we knew was ‘dating’ an eighth-grade girl…The college professor who was willing to give ‘extra credit’ for ‘extra work’ assigned at his apartment. The famous yoga teacher with gropey adjustments who wanted to talk about kundalini energy after class… Some of these were actual and obvious crimes, some definite sexual harassment, some that grey area of someone with all the power using that power in a vague, icky, non-quid-pro-quo, but just-wrong way.

“Why, as humans, are we so prone to keep silent and how do we empower people to break the silence?” Fisher asked. “I don’t have answers, but I’m naming the problem… We’re as sick as our secrets and we need to get healthy.”

Counterbalancing all of this, several men I know responded to Andrea Shorter, who challenges adult men to teach boys “about the wrongs of sexual harassment and assault against women” by sitting down to “speak with your sons, nephews, little brothers, etc. by Thanksgiving.”

Many men I know are taking Andrea’s pledge and posting the words, “I Will.”

The Reverend Jeremy Nickel, yet another minister I know, wrote, “While I’m proud of the way I’ve personally comported myself with female-bodied people, I have also been silent when words were called for, or looked the other way, or laughed at something that really wasn’t funny. Through my own weakness and insecurity, I too have perpetuated the toxic masculinity that feeds mistreatment of those in female bodies. I am sorry. I see all the ‘me toos’ and don’t say ‘not me’. I respond with a pledge to do better, to speak louder, to challenge men and help guide boys out of this abhorrent behavior.”

Who else will take pledge?

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Column published in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent October 26, 2017