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Guns Racism and Fear

For the past two generations, there have been a number of genetic scientists who have insisted that race does not exist. In the Medieval era, distinctions were made for three races…. These are the terms they used although two of them will sound offensive to your ears. They identified Caucasian, Mongoloid, and Negroid races. Now, as I said, two of those are now offensive terms. Caucasian is not. Why do you think that is?

Still, their three racial distinctions were more of a social construct than a matter of biology. And, of course, this Medieval language was based on the limited experience of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Arguments have been made to include Australoid and Native Americans as separate races from the other three, and you can throw in at least two or three more with defensible cases for being identifiably different from the others. 

However, as early as 1950, the United Nations proposed dropping the concept of race altogether in favor of simply talking about ethnicity. After all, while you can talk about certain trends of skin, hair, and eye colors, certain facial features and skull shape, as well as height and structure, you cannot point to a single gene that is present in Black people that cannot be found in some white people, and no single feature that is present in every Asian but not present in any European. 

Race exists, alright, it just doesn’t exist in genetics, it resides in our language, our culture, our economics, and, sadly, it dominates too much space in our skulls. 

So, at a genetic level, we can build a strong argument that race does not exist. We are all humans with a large number of variable shapes and colors. Still, such distinctions as Caucasian, Asian, African, Australian, or Native American, have no basis in the science of biology which has led some among both the well-intended and the unrepentantly racist, to declare that race doesn’t actually exist at all, the fact that it does not exist in terms of genetics does not mean that it does not exist in terms of society.

It can’t even be expressed simply as ethnicity because skin color can affect how an exchange with the police will turn out. It affects the verdict rendered in court. It influences hiring, housing, and even dating.

Race exists, alright, it just doesn’t exist in genetics, it resides in our language, our culture, our economics, and, sadly, it dominates too much space in our skulls. 

I am all about civil rights, equal rights, gender rights; but I have heard and I have probably been a part of conversations among mostly straight white people, that we are tired of talking about all of it. I don’t want to have to learn a different set of pronouns for people whose gender identity doesn’t fall neatly into the binary universe of Men’s and Women’s restrooms, clothing, hairstyles, and sometimes even choices in music, movies, or the subtle differences between a tapas bar or a tea-room. And as a person who likes to wear and therefore buy hats, it is amazing how subtle and sometimes important the difference can be in which hats are worn by which gender. 

Guns Racism and Fear

When I am having a really bad day, very few things can help me to have an effective attitude adjustment better or quicker than indulging myself in buying a new hat, but if you think that there is no difference between these two straw hats, you just don’t have a firm grasp on how the world works. One is clearly a man’s hat and the other is clearly a woman’s hat . . . but give it a few decades, and the fashion trends may reverse those prejudices, but, in the moment, I am dead sexy if I show up at an outdoor jazz festival in the hat on the bottom, and merely confusing if I were to show up wearing the hat on the top. And that, my dear friends, is all that you need to understand about race, or hats. 

In our most recent presidential election, we have heard a lot about the election of Kamala Harris as vice president, the first woman to hold that office, the first woman of color who has claims to both Asian and African roots. Now, I might tell you that I was more concerned about her history as a prosecutor in California than I was about either her race, ethnicity, or gender but I won’t tell you that because that would sound so white and male that it would come back to haunt me.

I can default to a rejection of identity politics in favor of ideas, policies, and plans because everyone who has ever been vice president before the last six months was a white male. We have had one Black president but I’m not sure how much that will eventually mean if we don’t have a second one pretty soon.

After all, while we have never had a woman president in the USA, if you consider the fact that most countries that have had a woman head of state: Israel, Pakistan, Taiwan, Croatia, Turkey, Mozambique, Iceland, Norway, the Philippines, Ireland, German . . . have never elected a second one. So, was Obama a one off, or have we actually changed?

The UK, Argentina, and Bangladesh come to mind as exceptions to this but, folks, women own half of the sky but hardly 1% of the offices of heads of state. There is a philosopher who lives in my skull who wants to say that identity politics doesn’t matter but there is a realist in me, with two feet on the ground, that knows that where it really matters… from access to healthcare, to employment, housing, and education; race, gender, ethnicity, language, and religion all matter. 

I realize that I am getting to be very old but still, it is somewhat amazing that within my lifetime, state sanctioned racially segregated schools, and neighborhoods have ended. Gay and lesbian people who have been locked into closets of secrecy for generations are now more free to be out and proud, and trans people, who often could not find many allies even among the gay and lesbian communities, are enjoying a degree of public acceptance which will eventually consign right wing Republican legislatures to the dustbin of shameful history. 

Moment by moment, it seems like change is imperceptibly slow, but over my lifetime, I see shifts in culture that seem to be unbelievably dramatic. Even Springfield, Missouri has a Jewish Synagogue, a Muslim house of prayer, and a Buddhist Temple. 

I can remember when my mother dissolved into tears when she learned that my older brother was marrying a Methodist, because it was another religion. And, truth be told, I have been to some clergy conferences when I felt like maybe mom was onto something, but I am going to choose not to talk about that today.

I took our wisdom lesson today straight out of the newspaper reports of Eric Adam’s victory in the Democratic primary in New York’s mayoral race. New York City is the most liberal Democratic stronghold in the America, but Eric Adam’s is not the most liberal Democrat that was in the race . . . not even close.

From a perspective of identity politics, we can be grateful that a Black man won this primary which almost certainly means that he will be New York’s second Black mayor but skin color may be about all he has in common with New York’s first Black mayor, David Dinkins.

Eric Adams has a background in police work, and he has a strong appeal to working class New Yorkers who do not live in Manhattan.

I could see that as a good thing except for the fact that in this very volatile and crucial time in history, when the Black Lives Matter movement has brought policing tactics and budgets into the spotlight with bold movements of reform if not downright defunding on the table, we now have an almost certain New York incumbent Black mayor who will fight police reform and who campaigned against much of the Black Lives Matter agenda. . . . which leaves this gray bearded white preacher with a great deal that I would like to say, but even more uncertainty about whether I should say it. 

Sociologists do their best work when they are telling us why something happened four or five years ago. They need time to analyze political and social trends, usually enough time to be able to be comfortably right but if I may quote my beloved Soren Kierkegaard here, “Life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forward.” 

We need to understand Adam’s election now, especially when New Yorkers could have elected Andrew Yang, or my favorite, Maya Wiley, or Dianne Morales, or Kathryn Garcia. What does it mean for Democrats to elect a mayor who literally ran against the Democratic party? What made this happen.

Sociologists may want to argue with my conclusions five years from now but since they are not showing up to do the job now, I’ll go ahead and tell you what I think now . . . you surely expect nothing less of me at this point!

I am going to say that it is fear. After all of the big talk about reforming policing, shifting funds away from armed patrolmen and women in favor of hiring more addiction treatment specialists and social workers, now that there has been a sudden uptick in violent crime and shootings in our city streets, just a whiff of fear in a brief period of time, and voters turn like a flock of sheep to be protected by traditional armed police and Adams isn’t even so sure that they don’t need to return to using stop and frisk methods to get guns off of New York City’s streets. 

Trying to get my head around a Black New York politician who thinks that stop and frisk might be a good idea made me need to pour myself a stiff one. 

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Why has there been a sudden uptick in violent crimes and shootings? Is it the pandemic? Is it unemployment? 

Is it low wages, or have the police, under the threat of being defunded, begun pulling back on policing at all, allowing New Yorkers to get a taste of the crime that they believe they have been holding at bay? I don’t live there and I’m not sure that I can pull those threads of speculation apart but there is one thing that I do know for sure: There are too many guns.

The more guns there are in the hands of citizens, the more people get shot and the more violent crimes, the more domestic violence, and the more suicides we will have. There is a reason why the USA has more than 40,000 gun deaths per year and most western democracies have fewer than 10. 

We have hundreds of millions of Americans who think that they are qualified to own and use a handgun who do not know how to parallel park and who have not used their turning signals in years!

Let me just say this, if you only allowed people with an IQ in the higher than average range, say, above 120, to own a gun, 99% of guns would no longer be in the hands of the public, and 95% of the uniformed police force in America would have to find other work.

At the risk of sounding like some fake news commentators that we all hate, what I just said may be incendiary, insulting, prejudiced, and unkind, but it is, none-the-less, true. 

No one has yet done a study on IQ and gun ownership but Pew research.

Clearly demonstrates that the less education you have, the more likely you are to own a gun. And, so far as the police go, I can cite the 2000 case in New London, Connecticut, where courts upheld the policy of refusing to hire anyone with an IQ higher than 120. The suit was brought by Robert Jordan who scored 125 on his IQ test and he was deemed to be too intelligent to take the training at the police academy. I’m not here trying to make friends; I’m here trying to tell you what is true.

Most gun owners say that they own a gun in order to protect their home and family from violent crime when we know that a gun owner is 40 times more likely to shoot him or herself than they are to use it in home defense. This is also, a fact. 

But they buy the gun out of fear. All of this talk about the 2nd amendment is just a smokescreen to say that gun owners are just scared and they think that having a loaded handgun in the drawer next to the bed will protect them from the things that “go bump” in the night when the most substantial danger they face is the fact that they own a gun.

Fear doesn’t help people to make good decisions. It doesn’t make them smarter. In fact, fear is responsible for most of the dumbest things that governments and individuals do.

Let me give you an example, about 3000 Americans were killed on 9-11 in 2001. It was a horrifying event, to be sure, but the USA is protected by the world’s largest Army, Navy, Airforce, and Marines, not to mention the CIA and other security offices. Still, in the wake of 9-11, the Bush administration created the Division of Homeland Security to fight off future terrorist attacks.

In January of 2001, the USA already had the largest military budget in the world, more than the next 10 added together, 8 of whom are our allies! But after 9-11, we created the Division of Homeland Security, and they now have an annual budget of more than $50 billion dollars on top of our Defense and CIA budgets. 

I was teaching at Drury University during those early years of the Division of Homeland Security and I went to a student forum in which a recruiter from DHS was trying to persuade students to come to work for this new and all important agency. During the Q&A I pointed out to this young professional that even in 2001 when we had 3000 deaths from terrorists, we still had 40,000 deaths from the flu.

If you stretch that out for a decade after 9-11, we have more than a hundred times as many people dying from the flu as we have from terrorist attacks and for 1% of the DHS budget, we could go on an aggressive campaign of hand washing and vaccinating the public and save many more lives.

His red-faced reply was simply, “You don’t understand.” When, in fact, I understood very well. The government uses fear of terrorists to build government bureaucracy and to fatten the profits of the military industrial complex while offering virtually no greater degree of safety to the public.

3000 Americans were killed by foreign terrorists 20 years ago, and we still spend $50 billion a year in response, but this year more than 600,000 Americans have died from Covid 19 infections and most of our area residents have still not had a vaccine and most of the unvaccinated still say that Covid is either a hoax or irrelevant while none of them doubted the events of 9-11.

Fear doesn’t make you smart. Fear doesn’t lead to good decisions. Fear doesn’t help us to have a good or efficient government. Fear has led us into the longest, most expensive, and most entirely unnecessary wars of our entire history. 

Guns Racism and Fear

Fear is driving a move among Americans to turn away from much needed police reform and to embrace the constant increase in spending for armed police. But please, take a look at this chart that shows the rate of violent crime in our cities over the past 30 years. Between 1990 and 2020, violent crime was down by nearly 50%. Is there a significant surge in violent crime in America or does the media stoke fear because that gets more viewers and politicians stoke fear to get more voters and to get the citizens to cower in fear from everything that goes “bump in the night.” 

You have heard me say this before, if all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail. If you are afraid of crime then the public is led to believe that there is only one answer, put more armed police on the streets. 

But I can tell you this, crime goes down when unemployment goes down. Crime goes down when wages go up. Domestic violence will go down when we have safe affordable child care for parents who need to go to work.

Dr. Roger Ray

There are dozens of things that we can do to lower the crime rate that have nothing to do with putting more armed police on the streets and most of those solutions are less expensive, are more satisfying to the public, and go to create a better society. All we have to do, is top reacting in fear. Fear may be a natural response, but it isn’t your best one and it sure isn’t your smartest one. So, I will say to you what I have said to you many times in the past: 

I want you to stop being afraid.

Let’s make America smart again.

Dr. Roger Ray

The Emerging Church