In Hesston, Kansas, small town America copes with another mass shooting
The Guardian 2/28/16
Pastor Brad Burkholder is less interested in what the recent massacre in his Kansas town says about the shooter than in what the shooting says about humanity.
Brow furrowed, deep in thought, he stares at the floor of the Hesston Mennonite Brethren church. “Nobody deserved this, but instead of thinking ‘I could never do that’, instead I pray that it’s never me. Because I could get to a place where that could be me.”
Unlike the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado in December, or the attack on a government building in San Bernardino in December, Thursday’s violence in Hesston, Kansas, which took the lives of four and injured 14, lacks a political charge.
The Guardian 12/24/15
On a summer night in 1987, a Denver woman was out drinking with three men, and after saying goodnight and returning home, was severely beaten and raped in her apartment. Her facial bones were broken and she lost sight in one eye.
The victim first told police it was too dark to identify her attacker, then said it was one of the three men. A day and a half later, she said it came to her in a dream that the assailant was her neighbor, Clarence Moses-El.
Based on that, Moses-El, who said he was innocent, was convicted of rape and assault. But last week, a Denver judge overturned the convictions and on Tuesday afternoon, after serving 28 years of his 48-year prison sentence, Moses-El was released on bond.
“This is the moment of my life, right here,” Moses-El, now 60, said outside a Denver jail, laughing and hugging his grandchildren for the first time. “I just want to get home to my family, my grandchildren. It’s wonderful, I waited a long time for this.”
The Guardian 11/29/15
In the hours following the shooting that killed three people and injured nine at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs on Friday, many politicians and commentators were criticized for supposedly politicizing the tragedy. Some fell into the trap. Others jumped in head-first.
“Words matter,” Cowart told the Guardian on Saturday. “And what is the definition of domestic terrorism?”
The FBI says it is “violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law”, as well as any acts of violence with a distinct ideological message or purpose.
Nonetheless, in Colorado Springs, that question was debated in a highly charged atmosphere.
The Guardian 11/28/15
Robert Lewis Dear, a 57-year-old from North Carolina, has been named as the suspected gunman behind a standoff at a Planned Parenthood health clinic in which three people died and nine were injured.
After he was named, Barack Obama said on Saturday the US had “to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them”.
“Period,” the president added, in a statement released by the White House. “Enough is enough.”
Colorado Springs, the location of an attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic that left three people dead, is a centre of rightwing Christian culture with a “wild west mentality” when it comes to guns.
The attack, by a lone gunman carrying a rifle or shotgun, took place at a clinic that is the site of regular anti-abortion protests by the city’s pro-life Christian groups.
The Guardian 11/27/15
Three people have been killed after a gunman armed with a rifle stormed a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and opened fire before an hours-long standoff with police ended when he surrendered.
Hippie Terrorists and Cocaine Corruption in the 1970s Anti-War Scene
The Fix 6/2/15
While the hippie movement of the ’60s is primarily known as one of peace and love, by the decade’s end many political offshoots of this culture began to abandon their pacifist leanings and embrace tactics of destruction and bloodshed in response to the Vietnam War. Similarly, certain segments of the African-American community rejected Martin Luther King’s call for nonviolence following the civil rights leader’s death, and began urging black citizens to arm themselves and retaliate against those who would oppress them.
In his recent book, Days Of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, The FBI, And The Forgotten Age Of Revolutionary Violence, author and Vanity Fair correspondent Bryan Burrough chronicles the number of liberal activist groups in the 1970s who turned to violence in order to get their message heard. In his extensive reporting, Burrough gained access to militants who had previously kept their distance from journalists, fearing prosecution for the crimes they had committed.
When Dylann Storm Roof ended Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina and unleashed a hurricane of bullets, he secured himself a place in the dark history of young, white American males who kill strangers indiscriminately. Of course, we’ve known for some time that most violent crimes are committed by young people, and that men are more violence-prone than women, but in recent cases like Roof’s, Sandy Hook’s Adam Lanza, and the Aurora Theater’s James Holmes, it seems like this newer breed of psychopath is more dangerous than its predecessors.
When trying to decipher gun violence, it’s tempting to focus on impoverished minority neighborhoods defined by structural woes like mass incarceration, poverty, lack of education, and so on. But research shows that mass shootings are primarily committed by white males—the most privileged class in society. So why are they the ones who snap? And is calling them “mentally ill” a way to avoid talking about race?
On April 29, when it seemed like the entire country was seething over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in the back of a Baltimore Police Department paddy wagon, a protest in Denver turned tense, and then violent, and police and activists clashed openly in the street.
Jesse Benn was among the protesters on the scene, and as many demonstrators do these days, he was filming the police—an act he says led to him being singled out for arrest and harassment.”During my arrest,” he told VICE, “I suffered a concussion, a severely macerated lip, a loosened tooth, and multiple abrasions and bruises on my body and face… An officer also tried to step on my camera and just missed, in what was a clear effort to damage it.” Benn’s pregnant wife Jessica continued filming after her husband’s arrest, attempting to document the chaos from a safe distance. Then she was spotted, she says, and suddenly became a target.
Almost three years after James Holmes filled a Colorado movie theater with tear gas and bullets during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, killing 12 and injuring 70, his trial finally began on Monday afternoon. While the defense painted a portrait of amentally ill boy in need of treatment, and the prosecution insisted he was a broken-hearted killer out for existential revenge, both sides unveiled similar narratives of a young life spun dangerously out of control.
Of course, each side came to rather different conclusions about whether Holmes understood the moral implications of attacking a roomful of strangers.
The Long-Term Damage of the War on Drugs
Forty-four years after Richard Nixon declared that “public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse,” there is now a nearly universal agreement that the War on Drugs has been a dismal failure. Data showing that the U.S. holds 25% of the world’s prisoners, yet contains only 5% of the world’s population, and that we’ve quadrupled our prison population since Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, has lead to legislators on both sides of the aisle coming together in recognition of the fact that we cannot jail our way out of this problem.
“Substance abuse is a problem, but locking someone up for 20 years is probably not the best strategy,” President Barack Obama said in an interview with Vice News earlier this week. “It’s something we need to rethink as a society.” While some are advocating for small but impactful reforms like removing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, or eliminating the criminal disparity between crack and powder cocaine, there is a growing movement of liberals and libertarians alike who either want to follow Portugal’s lead and decriminalize drugs, or take the Colorado model of legalizing marijuana and apply it to all drugs. Though, simply eliminating the drug laws of the last 40 years won’t come close to eradicating the damage of the War on Drugs, which extends far beyond having too many people in prison.
Did Denver Police Really Shoot Jessie Hernandez Out of Self-Defense?
A recent autopsy report on 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez, who was shot to death by Denver cops on January 26 after allegedly driving a vehicle into an officer, has raised serious doubts about the cop’s claim to have been acting in self-defense. An eyewitness inside the car originally said that shots were fired before the vehicle ever moved, and the autopsy report shows that Hernandez was struck by bullets coming from the driver’s side. That potentially contradicts statements from Denver Police Chief Robert White, who said the car was headed toward the officers, striking one of them in the leg, before they opened fire.
In a statement, Hernandez family’s attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai said, “There is now objective evidence contradicting the Denver Police Department’s claims that Jessie was to blame for her own death. These facts undermine the Denver Police Department’s claim that Jessie was driving at the officers as they shot her.”
Around 200 protesters gathered outside the Denver Police Department’s district two station Wednesday night, some pounding on the windows of the building while the now-familiar chant of “No Justice, no peace!” rang out from the crowd. A video projector was hooked up to a car battery, beaming the image of 17-year-old Jessie Hernandez onto the wall of the station. Hernandez was shot to death on Monday by two Denver police officers, one of whomsuffered a broken leg either when the car Hernandez was operating drove into him or as he moved to get out of the way. There are conflicting accounts of what exactly happened that night, but also more than enough anger to inspire a handful of protests in Hernandez’s name.
According to the Denver Police Department’s initial account, Officers Gabriel Jordan and Daniel Greene were investigating the report of a suspicious vehicle—it was allegedly stolen—in the city’s Park Hill neighborhood. As the officers approached the car on foot, the driver accelerated toward them, at which point shots were fired. But does it ever make sense for cops to shoot moving cars, even when their own lives are in danger?
Following the most divisive year in recent memory for race relations in America, the first week of 2015 was met with an act of violence possibly targeting the premier black activist organization in the country. At 10:45 AM local time Tuesday morning, volunteers working at the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP heard a loud explosion outside the building that they said was powerful enough to knock items off the wall.
Whether the alleged bomber was targeting the NAACP or not, his or her skills with an incendiary device were pretty rudimentary, and if the intention was to cause harm to any persons or property, the attack failed miserably. Despite occurring in the middle of a workday morning while many people were inside the building, no one was harmed in the explosion. According to Sanders, the building containing the NAACP and Mr. G’s Hair Design Studios “was slightly charred, as was the sidewalk, but all of the damage was external.”
The Cannabist 2/11/15
When legal marijuana becomes so mainstream that being a black market grower is as antiquated as bootlegging moonshine, what will become of those who have devoted their lives to the underground trade? In the wake of last year’s policy changes on the vertical integration of marijuana shops in Colorado, wholesale growers are expanding their operations, creating loads of new industry jobs.
Is it worth it for black market growers to click off their lamps and go work for the man? Profits may have sunk on illegal weed, yet growers in the shadows are still earning more than entry-level jobs in the white market are paying. Even if they tried to go mainstream, are employers in the legal industry motivated to hire them?
In July 2010, a homeless street preacher named Marvin Booker was being processed in a Denver County jail when a guard directed him toward a cell. Booker walked in the opposite direction, indicating he needed to grab his shoes. An officer grabbed his arm and Booker resisted, pushing her away. Three more officers jumped on top of him, tasing Booker in the thigh before placing him in a sleeper hold. When the officers stood up, they found Booker limp on the ground, unconscious. He was dead.
Earlier this month, a federal grand jury awarded Booker’s family $4.65 million, the largest police settlement in Denver history. “The fight leading up to that verdict was exhausting,” says Darold Killmer, the Booker family attorney. “The city spent millions defending themselves against charges of excessive force.”
On November 7, a visitor to the world-renowned Villisca Axe Murder House in Villisca, Iowa, was rushed to a nearby hospital after being found with a self-inflicted stab wound to his chest. The house is a familiar site to paranormal investigators, who have proclaimed it to be one of the most haunted places in America following the 1912 murders of six children and two adults whose skulls were crushed while they slept in their beds. The crime was never solved, and visitors to the house regularly report emotional, physical, and supernatural disturbances during their overnight visits.
“They play with the children, they hear voices, they get pictures of anomalies,” says Martha Linn, 77, who bought the house in 1994 and restored it to its 1912 condition, stripping the place of all electricity and plumbing and turning it into a tourist attraction. “I have notebooks from just the last two years full of what overnight experiences people have had. Very few of them go away without experiencing something.”
For one week during the winter of 2005, I worked for a puppy mill. A friend and I had been hired to drive a van across the country—the company served as a middleman between major dog-breeding facilities in Iowa and various stores between there and New York City. When I signed up for the job, I had no idea that I would be committing a crime, nor that I would be participating in an industry of torture that would haunt me forever.
My friend (whom I will name Pete) and I were in our early 20s and had barely traveled outside of our rural homelands. This was our chance to explore the country while making some quick, much-needed cash (as dropout artists, we went through jobs like tissues). And puppies! My twee little heart fluttered at the idea of it: driving through Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and NYC, the urban jungles of our musical heroes, mythical landscapes we’d only read about in magazines and biographies—all in a van with maybe four or five purebred baby dogs on our laps, eagerly exploring this exotic new world alongside us.