Civil Rights

When the Shooting Starts

By Jim Smith

Back in the ‘60s, the level of paranoia in Venice was high. Most of us held radical views, were poor or black or brown. We endured daily harassment by L.A.’s finest. Our heroes JFK, RFK, Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, Malcolm X and others were being gunned down by either overt or covert government action to the approval of good Americans across the country. Meanwhile in Vietnam millions of residents of that country were being executed by more good Americans. The carnage in Vietnam was so bad that it led King, the modern-day Prince of Peace, to call America “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. He was assassinated one year to the day after that speech.

Our worst fears, that vigilantes or G-Men in vigilante disguises would start shooting anti-war protestors and other radicals were not realized, at least not yet. Some of my closest friends in Venice packed up and moved to Canada, a decision they have not regretted. Others of us scouted potential places of exile in Mexico. It’s happened before. Another Venetian friend grew up in Mexico City, where her family had fled during the McCarthy years (if you don’t know about this terrible time in American history, google “anti-Communist witch hunt”).

Comes now the horrible shooting in Tucson of a member of Congress, a judge, a nine-year-old girl and many more. The media and leaders of government shed crocodile tears that such a thing could happen in this great country. Meanwhile, a million people lay dead in Iraq because of senseless American action, thousands more fall because of American drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In Gaza and the West Bank, still more feel the bite of American weapons. At this writing, Egypt’s dictator is on the verge of using American weapons against its people. Iran, North Korea, Yemen, Cuba, and some South American countries are threatened by the American government which has shown it is not above stooping to thuggery on behalf of corporate profits.

None of this is mentioned in the memorials and recriminations about Jan. 9 in Tucson. It is as if such violence is an inexplicable catastrophe. How could this have happened? It must be because of Fox News or Sarah Palin or those Republicans in Congress. If we can only swat these mosquitos, everything will be fine. No need to drain the swamp. Don’t think about the the billion people in the world who live on a dollar a day or less. Don’t think about the tin-horned dictators around the world who daily commit atrocities against their own people with the backing of American arms.

Yes, we are a violent species and if it wasn’t America it would be someone else oppressing and killing mothers, fathers and children. But we have to admit that America is the best ever at holding down the whole world. The Nazis couldn’t do it. The sun has set on the British Empire, and the French. But America has cruised along for the past 65 years on top of the world. During the same time random, and not-so-random, violence has invaded our cities and our politics.

Even in our lovely Venice, hostility and threatened violence against the poor has reached such a level that a small but well-heeled segment of our community has earned the title, “Haters.” No one has yet been shot in Venice. But that may only be because the right mentally-unbalanced person has not yet acted.

Recently on a local blogsite, one of the anonymous haters posted a photo of himself sunbathing and surrounded by his gun collection. Isn’t this just a little more obvious that Sarah Palin’s crosshairs on Gabby Giffords’ congressional district? Why on Earth does someone living in an apartment in Venice need a lot of guns? And by the way, the Second Amendment calls for a well-armed militia, and is not carte blanche for lone gunmen to arm themselves.

Is it a surprise that the shooting started in Arizona? In my article, entitled Sinking Arizona, last June, I versified: Oh Arizona…a Death’s Head has gripped your state. It didn’t take an oracle to see that taking up arms was coming. But since the main targets of hostility were immigrants, who are nearly invisible to middle class pundits, no notice was taken until it was too late.

Even the timing of the shooting left a trail through history. It came within a week of Martin Luther King’s birthday. In the 1980s it had taken a boycott of the state to compel its legislature to acknowledge the national holiday. Since then the state has been “enriched” by white Californians relocating there because they do not want to live in our state which is becoming a majority minority. Their racist, right-wing views fit in well with the frontier mentality that still permeates much of Arizona.

In America’s long history of slavery, the taking at gun point of half of Mexico, thousands of lynchings, segregation, McCarthyism, assassinations, mass killings in our schools, the most massive prison system in the world, wars and more wars, the shooting of a Blue Dog Democrat, a federal judge, a little girl and others will likely end up as a footnote in the sad story of a country that never outgrew its wild west attitude.

If we had any storytellers of merit, he or she might write a Greek tragedy about that terrible day of Sept. 11, 2001 and the hope that was born on that day with the birth of Christina Taylor Green. The tragedy ends with that hope – that young girl – being shot dead nine years later in a Tucson shopping center.

James Baldwin’s aptly named book, The Fire Next Time, may describe the next few years of the American “experience,” as atrocities mount on atrocities both at home and abroad with nothing or no one to stop it.

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