Valentine’s Day 2021–Love Your Sweetie, Hate Your Fellow Man

Did Valentine’s Day 2021 put love, rather than the coronavirus, in the air? Well, yes and no. Retailers made sure we didn’t forget that the only acceptable way to show our love is to buy things, the more expensive the better, for our beloved. But warm and fuzzy feelings for our fellow man are AWOL; even managing civility for him is seemingly a challenge. Beware if you are of a different race from someone else–particularly if you are Asian American. Arrows are aimed at you, and they aren’t from Cupid; they’re a message (and not of love) from your neighbor.

The coronavirus isn’t the only thing spreading in this country. News reports indicate a wave of anti-Asian violence and harassment here in the U.S. Why racism against Asians and why now? Comments by then President Trump earlier in the pandemic referring to the “China flu” or the “Kung Flu” are believed to have spurred this animosity. Whoever said “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” was clearly clueless.

The loveless sentiment directed at Asian Americans affects millions of people. According to 2016 census figures, Asian Americans number approximately 21 million, a majority of whom were foreign born. In fact, Asian Americans constitute one-fourth of all immigrants who have arrived in this country since 1965. The overall population of Asian Americans is highly urbanized and are concentrated in California and the western United States. Their highest populations can be found in the areas of Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco. But in today’s climate, San Francisco’s Chinatown, the nation’s oldest and largest, may not be a safe place for Asian Americans. Their San Francisco treat could be hatred and violence rather than Rice-a-Roni.

Since actions speak louder than words, videos portraying physical assaults on Asian Americans have spoken volumes about the current climate of racial tolerance–or more accurately, the lack thereof. A gut-wrenching clip of a 91 year old man in Oakland’s Chinatown captured him being pushed face down into the sidewalk from behind in an unprovoked attack. Robbery was not the motive–hate and racism were the motivating factors. On the bright side, the attacker did have a mask due to the pandemic. (Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xq4mHOtPQD0 to see the video.)

Sadly, that attack is just one of a growing number of incidents where Asian Americans are the victims. The president of Oakland’s Chamber of Commerce cited more than 20 incidents of small businesses getting robbed and owners and customers assaulted recently. In light of such attacks, neighborhood safety patrols began handing out whistles in San Francisco along with Chinese-language pamphlets titled “How to Report a Hate Crime.” Under these circumstances, whistling while a Chinese small business owner works is not as peppy a thought as when the dwarves whistled while working in “Snow White.”

Where such physical violence occurs, women and people over age 60 are disproportionately targeted. Authorities suggest older Asians are targeted due to the stereotype they don’t report crimes due to language barriers. The physical attacks targeting senior citizens left many older Asian fearful of going out to shop for the Lunar New Year which fell on February 12th. 2021 may be the Year of the Ox, but such shameful behavior against seniors is frankly, bull.

Heartwarmingly, some people not only care about Asian Americans, but they have stepped up to the plate to help their neighbors of a different race. Take Jacob Azevedo, a Latino, for instance. Disturbed by the violence directed at Asian Americans, he put a call out on Instagram offering to accompany anyone in Chinatown going out to the store, running errands, etc. Jacob’s reasoning is likely based on what my dear Mom always said, “Safety in numbers.” In response, hundreds of people on Instagram offered to help. In addition, thousands of dollars were donated to help him buy a personal alarm device to be distributed to older Asians in the community. Now there’s an example of showing love to your fellow man.

Incidents of hate and violence against Asian Americans, sadly, have not been limited to the West Coast. The NYPD has created an Asian Hate Crimes task force to deal with the upsurge in targeting of Asians in the Big Apple. According to that department’s statistics, only one anti-Asian incident was reported in 2019. In contrast, during the first six months of 2020, which saw the initial rise of the pandemic, 20 such incidents were reported. New Yorkers aren’t known for their friendliness, but there’s no excuse for outright hate.

Other organizations are also reporting disturbing incidents. Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander–hopefully not pronounced Ape-y) Hate, an initiative formed in 2020, received over 2,800 reports of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans between March 19, 2020 and December 31 2020. Of these incidents, 71% were verbal abuse while physical assaults accounted for around 9%. Sure those numbers are way lower than the cases of the coronavirus, but even one incident of hate is too many.

The problem of targeting of Asian Americans in our country has received attention at the highest possible level. In response to this sad situation, President Biden signed a memorandum on January 26, 2021 directing federal agencies to explore ways of combating racism and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. And, of course, everyone knows that xenophobia is a big word meaning dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries, right? Hey, but wait. Aren’t ALL of us Americans ultimately from other countries? My ancestors, for example came from Ireland.

While President Biden is to be applauded for acknowledging the inexcusable behavior directed at Asian Americans and ordering steps to be taken to address it, government directives aren’t going to solve the problem. A change of heart is required because hearts filled with hate produce hate. Recognizing that someone of a different race is our neighbor and a human being deserving of the decent treatment we would ourselves expect helps to soften hearts hardened with hate. Unfortunately, it’s not only love that may be blind, but hate as well.

How ironic it is to see hearts displayed everywhere for Valentine’s Day 2021with all being urged to show their love to that special someone when hate is literally being dished out to certain others. Shouldn’t our behavior be consistent? We need to love our sweeties, certainly, but we also need to at least be civil to our fellow man–including Asian Americans. Even better, let’s aim to follow Jesus’ directive to love one another, and let’s do it not simply on Valentine’s Day but EVERY day.

Just WONDER-ing:

Is there an Asian American population in your community? Have you ever been treated poorly because of your race? How did that make you feel? If you haven’t, do you imagine it would be a pleasant experience? Does an individual’s racial background alone justify physical violence against him?

School Daze — Reading, Writing, And Reality

It’s back to school time, and reading, writing, and arithmetic are not all that students are facing. What they encounter at school these days is a cold hard dose of reality. They are learning a whole lot of bad exists in the world, and that bad often rears its ugly head in the school house.

Back when I was in elementary school, the biggest danger we students could imagine was a fire in the building. We regularly had fire drills where we learned to calmly and quickly line up and exit the school building and go to a designated spot safely away from the burning structure. Did these drills scare us? Heck, no. It was quite fun to go outside and have a break from the normal classroom routine.

Things became a little darker when I was in high school. We students experienced bomb threats. Someone would call the front office and claim to have planted a bomb in the school. The building was evacuated, and the students would typically go sit in bleachers on the athletic field. Were we scared? Heck no! These threats coincidentally occurred when a test or anticipated pop quiz loomed in some class. We weren’t concerned that it was a terrorist calling in the threat; of course it was just an ill-prepared student.

Fast forward to 2019, the year my grandson has started first grade. It’s a different, and scarier, school environment for him and all other  students than the one I grew up in. They have to face the reality that at any time someone might try to kill them right there on the school grounds. Forget test anxiety; students may need to be more concerned about surviving the school day than about passing a test.

You don’t even have to set foot on school property today to get that safety and security are huge concerns. All the schools in our county are now surrounded by fencing to keep the bad guys out. Put a little concertina wire on top, and the grounds might start resembling correctional rather than educational institutions. Oh, and the doors to the building and to the classrooms where classes are occurring are kept locked. Sure the bad guys are locked out, but students may get that locked in goodness feel just like they were in jail.

Preparation for entering this risky environment begins before the school year starts. It used to be that students would stock up on lined notebook paper, pencils, and erasers. The current must have item for students is bullet-resistant backpacks. TuffyPacks sell for between $129 and $149, and Skyline backpacks go for $119 for kids and around $199 for adults. These backpacks are touted as being like wearing a police vest. Sadly, though, these backpacks don’t protect against military-style weapons. Geez! What good are they?

But it’s not enough to have the gear, students have to know what to do to get it in gear if an emergency arises. School are engaging in risk management and taking preventive steps to deal with situations which are unthinkable but could still happen. What do they do? Active shooter drills! Such drills came into use after the Columbine shooting in 1999. According to a May 2019 piece by Yahoo News, up to 95% of schools in this country have held a drill or lockdown in recent years to prepare for such violence.

While it might be fun to have something bearing your name, I shudder to think that one violence prevention training bears my name. ALICE training it is. That stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. Alice is not in Wonderland if this training is necessary; it is more like being in the Twilight Zone.

Are active shooter drills a good thing? Well, certainly they enhance everyone’s awareness of risks. But therein lies the problem. Take a kindergarten student for example. Will he feel prepared to deal with an intruder event by undergoing such a drill or will he be more likely to be stressed and anxious about being gunned down before he gets to eat his PB&J sandwich for lunch? I’m thinking that there has to be some psychological trauma to thinking there really is a Boogeyman, and he’s coming to the school to get you with a gun. President Trump  falls in the trauma causing camp on this question. He’s stated that active shooter drills are “very bad for children.”

And why might these drills be bad for children? I’m sure we can all agree that these drills are upsetting to students. It has been well established that a sense of safety and security in childhood is tied to mental health later in life. Do we want little ones to become Chicken Little early in life with the sense that they sky (or at least bullets) might be falling any minute while they are in school?

And what if the active shooter is a student? If he’s been through the drills, he knows what the procedures are and how to use them to his advantage. Take the Parkland shooting for example. The shooter, an expelled student, had been through numerous such drills while a shooter at the school. He pulled a fire alarm which he knew would trigger the procedure for students to evacuate the building, i.e., become sitting ducks for him to fire upon.

But active shooter drills won’t prepare students for all the violence which they might encounter in the school house. Let’s not forget bullying, gang violence, fights, etc. Home schooling is not a viable alternative to keeping students safe from violence. Students are more likely to be abused by a parent than to be shot in school. And the home is a big source of weapons for students who do attend school. According to CDC’s School-Associated Violent Death Study, firearms used in school-associated homicides and suicides came from the perpetrator’s home or from that of relatives or friends.

While it is a laudable goal for students to learn in a safe school environment, it is not always going to be an achievable goal. The school environment mirrors that of the community in which it exists. If violence is occurring outside the newly fenced school grounds, it isn’t a quantum leap to expect that the school environment will reflect that reality.

How did we end up in such a violent society today? Would that we could go back to a simpler time decades ago when there were no active shooter drills. Oh, wait. There used to be drills for students to hide under their desks for a possible nuclear bomb attack during the Cold War. Never mind. There always has been and always will be violence on this Earth and it will inevitably impact our youngsters in school.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do active shooter drills prepare students for emergencies or cause trauma? Has our society become more violent as the years have passed? Do you worry about the safety of your children/grandchildren when they are in school? Will you rush out and buy a bullet-resistant backpack for you or for your favorite student after reading this post?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking A Shot At Understanding Mass Shootings

 

It’s been a bang-up time since July 28th, and I don’t mean that in a good way. In case you’ve been living under a rock (which might be a pretty safe place to be these days), three separate mass shootings occurred here in the U.S. in less than a week’s time. Let’s take a shot at understanding what’s up with all this violence.

As Americans, we like to believe our country is #1. And it is–it has more mass shootings than any other country. Shoot! That’s not a record of which to be proud.

Why is the U.S. at the top of the list for sites of mass shootings? A number of factors have been identified as contributing to this infamous ranking. First, there are more guns owned here, and these weapons are more accessible. In fact, the U.S. has the highest per-capita gun ownership in the world–a whopping 120.5 guns for every 100 people. This statistic makes sense. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. So where there are guns, there is bound to be gunfire.

Is the solution to clamp down and make sure illegal weapons aren’t available? Not really. A recent report from the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center found that 75% of shooters had legally purchased or were legally in possession of the firearms they used in a mass shooting in a public place. Since the Secret Service released this finding, I’m assuming the statistic isn’t secret.

Another proposed reason for the high incidence of these violent crimes in the U.S. is the shooters’ desire for fame. The media is all over these situations. While the shooter may be getting negative attention, i.e., people decry his actions, for some negative attention is better than no attention at all.

Dylan Klebold, a 17 year old shooter at Columbine High School in 1999 where 13 were killed, would clearly be Demonstrative Exhibit A for this desire for attention theory. He made a video prior to the shooting which expressed his thoughts about what he was going to do. He stated “directors will be  fighting over this story.” Sure, he may have had his 15 minutes of fame during the actual incident, but his actions live on in the media that reaches untold masses..

Hand in hand with the desire for attention theory is the copycat theory. According to this theory, publicity about one mass shooting sparks a desire in someone to do the same thing. Unfortunately, it is not a bright or legal idea which they copy. Mass shooters and lemmings apparently think along the same lines.

Some mass killings are a reaction to bullying or other mistreatment, real or perceived. Disgruntled employees, present or former, may target bosses and co-workers. Bullied students may target those who have bullied them or those who are accepted while they are not. Seems like shooters’ coping skills are far less refined than their shooting skills.

Regardless of why they do it, who are the people who are committing these mass shootings? Unfortunately, according to a former chief psychologist of the U.S. Secret Service, there is no useful profile of a mass shooter. About the only common factor among all such shooters is that they are men. The N.Y. Times reported that the vast majority of these perpetrators were white males acting alone. Would banning men from owning weapons and only allowing women to do so solve the mass shooting problem?

And what exactly is a “mass” shooting?  How many people does it take to make a “mass?” I’ll take a wild guess and say more than one. The FBI defines a mass killing as the killing of 3 or more people in a public place.

The most highly publicized mass shootings have resulted in the deaths of way more than 3 people. The El Paso and Dayton shootings this past weekend resulted in 22 and 9 people respectively losing their lives. Seventeen were killed in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018, and 26 were killed in the 2017 Sutherland Springs Church shooting. Fifty-eight perished in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, and 49 perished in the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. Twenty-seven died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Is it just me or do you hear strains of “Living In The Wild, Wild West” playing in the background? No matter how many people are killed in these types of incidents, one life lost in this manner is one too many.

The AR-15 is widely known as the weapon of choice for the perpetrators of mass shootings. For example, it was used in this past weekend’s Dayton shooting, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and the Las Vegas shooting. The National Rifle Association calls the AR-15 “America’s rifle.” The N.Y. Times describes the AR-15 as one of the “most beloved and most villified rifles in the U.S.” Translation? Shooters love it; victims and their families don’t.

To me, a gun is a gun. The only difference between two guns is their size and how loud they are. Those in the know about guns will tell you that the AR-15 is a lightweight, semi-automatic firearm. The weapon was developed by Armalite in 1959. The designation “AR” does NOT mean “assault rifle” as I would have guessed. It stands for Armalite, and 15 is the model number. Colt now holds rights to the name AR-15.

Both Australia and New Zealand have banned the AR-15 from use. New Zealand quickly enacted a ban on the AR-15 effective April 10th of this year following the Christchurch mosque shootings on March 15th in which this type of weapon was used. The shooter was quick on the draw, and the New Zealand politicians were quick on the ban.

The El Paso shooter did not use an AR-15. He wielded an AK style firearm. “AK” does not stand for “All Killed.” AK stands for Avtomat Kalashnikova or Automatic Kalashnikov. Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov was the designer. Aha! A Russian consipiracy!  When they aren’t busy interfering in elections, Russians are paving the way for mass shootings to occur in this country. The AK-47 is reportedly the most widely used shoulder weapon the the world today.

I am not a crime or gun expert, but I am a human being. I have decades of experience being one and interacting with others. Based on that experience, I believe that regardless of what laws are passed or what guns are banned, if someone is hell-bent on wreaking havoc, they will find a way to do so. It may not be with an AR-15, but it might be with a car. People have intentionally plowed into crowds resulting in death and destruction.

The cause behind these mass shootings is the person with his finger on the trigger. This person is someone who has himself experienced pain through bullying, mental illness, lack of acceptance, lack of attention, lack of self-esteem, etc. As President Trump noted this week, “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.” Banning guns may be a quick fix, but the issues behind the hand itching to be on a trigger will remain and likely find a violent outlet through another medium. Let’s get to the root of the gunman’s problems and eradicate the underlying cause for the violence. We could at least give it a shot.

JUST WONDER-ing:

Do you think banning the weapons commonly used in mass shootings will preclude any future violence? What steps do you think could be taken to address the underlying issues leading a gunman to commit violence? Is our society becoming desensitized to violence as a result of frequent mass shootings?