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History > 2016 > USA > Gun violence (I)





The President Announces Commonsense Steps to Keep Guns Out of the Wrong Hands        Video        White House        January 5, 2016


President Obama speaks on the additional steps

he's taking to reduce gun violence

and make our communities safer


The White House
















National Guard

Deployed in Milwaukee

Amid Unrest

Over Fatal Police Shooting


AUG. 14, 2016




Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin activated the Wisconsin National Guard on Sunday to assist local law enforcement following a night of violence in Milwaukee that began hours after a police officer fatally shot a fleeing armed man there.

Angry crowds confronted the police in Milwaukee on Saturday night, setting fires and throwing rocks following the shooting that afternoon. One fire, at a gas station in the Sherman Park neighborhood, burned unattended while gunshots kept firefighters from extinguishing it. Other fires burned at an auto-parts store, a beauty supply company and a bank branch.

One police officer was hospitalized with a head injury after a brick was thrown through the window of his patrol car, Mayor Tom Barrett said at a news conference early Sunday morning. The police reported just before 3:30 a.m. that order was being restored to the area.

In a statement, Governor Walker praised volunteer clean-up efforts on Sunday morning.

“This act of selfless caring sets a powerful example for Milwaukee’s youth and the entire community,” he said. “I join Milwaukee’s leaders and citizens in calling for continued peace and prayer.”

Mr. Walker noted that, under Wisconsin law, the shooting was being examined by an independent investigation and asked that people give law enforcement “the respect they deserve for working so hard to keep us safe.”

Mr. Walker said he decided to make the National Guard available to provide assistance upon request after consulting with the mayor of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee County sheriff.

Three people were arrested on unspecified charges during the mayhem, in which crowds of at least 200 people filled the streets, said Assistant Chief James Harpole of the Milwaukee police.

The shooting and protests come as communities across the nation scrutinize what many see as excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, particularly against black people. Protests broke out across the country last year after a police officer in Madison, Wis., fatally shot an unarmed biracial man.

The race and identity of the officer and the man shot and killed on Saturday were not immediately released.

Many of the protesters were black, and Alderman Khalif J. Rainey expressed the frustration within the community. “The black people of Milwaukee are tired,” he said. “They’re tired of living under this oppression.

“What has happened may not have been right,” Mr. Rainey said, “I’m not justifying that, but nobody can deny that there are racial problems here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that have to be rectified, because if you don’t, you’re one day away.”

Crowd breaks widows of unoccupied squad near Sherman and Auer. Other squad set afire and broken windows on another. pic.twitter.com/Jux2mJZYyQ
— Milwaukee Police (@MilwaukeePolice) Aug. 14, 2016

Three buildings in flames. Two stores & a gas station. #Milwaukee pic.twitter.com/wrqd4xpYSY
— Alejandro Alvarez (@aletweetsnews) Aug. 14, 2016

The Saturday shooting came after more violence in Milwaukee. Five people were shot and killed overnight Friday, Mr. Barrett said at a news conference recorded by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier on Saturday. At least two of those occurred near where the officer shot the man on Saturday.

The violence overnight Saturday erupted after an officer killed a man who the police said was armed with a semiautomatic handgun and who fled after a traffic stop.

The police said two uniformed officers stopped two people in a car at about 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. The police did not provide details on why the car was stopped, though Mr. Barrett said the episode began when police spotted a “suspicious vehicle.”

Both occupants ran from the car. During the pursuit, Mr. Barrett said, an officer ordered the man to drop his gun and fired when he did not, striking the man in the chest and an arm. He said the gun held 23 rounds.

The man, described by the police as a 23-year-old Milwaukee man with a lengthy arrest record, died at the scene.

The handgun had been taken in a burglary in March, the police said. The officer was not named, but officials said he was 24 and had been an officer for three years. He was placed on administrative duty.

Mr. Barrett appealed to parents to keep their children off the streets in order to restore calm in the neighborhood. “Parents, get your kids home,” he said at the news conference.

Mr. Barrett said that the officer was wearing a body camera that he understood to be operating and that the investigation into the shooting would be conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Justice because the case involved a Milwaukee police officer.


Correction: August 14, 2016

An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of a Milwaukee alderman. He is Khalif J. Rainey, not Raney.
Correction: August 15, 2016

A earlier headline with this article referred incorrectly to the man, later identified as Sylville K. Smith, who was fatally shot by the police. As the article correctly states, he was armed with a handgun, he was not unarmed.

Justin Porter and Lew Serviss contributed reporting.

National Guard Deployed in Milwaukee
Amid Unrest Over Fatal Police Shooting,
AUG. 14, 2016,






Baton Rouge Shooting

Jolts a Nation on Edge


JULY 17, 2016

The New York Times





BATON ROUGE, La. — A gunman fatally shot three law enforcement officers and wounded three others here on Sunday before being killed in a shootout with the police. The attack’s motive was unclear as of Sunday evening, leaving an anxious nation to wonder whether the anger over recent police shootings had prompted another act of retaliation against officers.

What was clearer were the waves of worry that rushed across the United States as sketchy details emerged of a bloody melee Sunday morning on a workaday stretch of highway in Louisiana’s capital — a city that had already been rocked by the police shooting on July 5 of a black man, a purported murder plot against the police that was apparently foiled and many racially charged nights of protest and rage.

State and local officials speaking at a news conference here on Sunday afternoon did not address whether the law enforcement officers who were killed and wounded — three members of the Baton Rouge Police Department and three deputies from the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office — had been lured to the scene. Police officials said the officers had responded to a call about a man carrying a gun.

Officials initially believed that other people might have been involved in the attack, but the superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, Col. Michael D. Edmonson, said at a news conference that it was the act of a lone gunman.

Some details about the gunman began to emerge late Sunday: Officials identified him as Gavin Long, an African-American military veteran. According to military records released by the Marine Corps, Mr. Long served as a data network specialist and was a sergeant when he left the Marines in 2010. He enlisted in his hometown, Kansas City, Mo., in 2005, and was deployed to Iraq from June 2008 to January 2009, his records show. They also show a number of commendations, including the Good Conduct Medal.

On a social media site registered under the name Gavin Long, a young African-American man who refers to himself as “Cosmo” posted videos and podcasts and shared biographical and personal information that aligned with the information that the authorities had released, so far, about the gunman.

In one YouTube video, titled, “Protesting, Oppression and How to Deal with Bullies,” the man discusses the killings of African-American men at the hands of police officers, including the July 5 death here of Alton B. Sterling, and he advocates a bloody response instead of the protests that the deaths sparked.

“One hundred percent of revolutions, of victims fighting their oppressors,” he said, “have been successful through fighting back, through bloodshed. Zero have been successful just over simply protesting. It doesn’t — it has never worked and it never will. You got to fight back. That’s the only way that a bully knows to quit.”

“You’ve got to stand on your rights, just like George Washington did, just like the other white rebels they celebrate and salute did,” he added. “That’s what Nat Turner did. That’s what Malcolm did. You got to stand, man. You got to sacrifice.”
East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputy Brad Garafola. Credit East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, via Associated Press

In one of a string of podcasts the man posted, titled, “My Story,” he expounded on the recurrence of the number seven in his life. “My father was born in 1947. My mother was born in 1957. And I took physical form on 7/17/87.”

Sunday was the man’s 29th birthday.

Around the country, political leaders, police officers and activists focused their attention, and their mourning, on the slain officers. They also sought to calm the tensions that welled up this month over the killings of black men by the police and the retaliatory violence directed at officers, including the July 7 killings of five officers in Dallas, carried out by a black man who said he wanted to kill white police officers.

Just last week, President Obama was in Dallas for a memorial service, and on Sunday afternoon, he was at the White House, again addressing the nation after an assault on police officers. He said the killings were “an attack on all of us.”

“We have our divisions, and they are not new,” he said, noting that the country was probably in store for some heated political speech during the Republican National Convention this week in Cleveland.

“Everyone right now focus on words and actions that can unite this country rather than divide it further,” the president said. “We need to temper our words and open our hearts, all of us.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said, “The violence, the hatred just has to stop.”

Colonel Edmonson said a call came in to police dispatch early Sunday reporting “a guy carrying a weapon” in the vicinity of the Hammond Aire Plaza shopping center on Airline Highway — a commercial thoroughfare dotted with carwashes, car dealerships and chain stores that cuts through a leafy residential neighborhood. It is also about a mile from the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters, where protesters had held numerous rallies since July 5, when the police here fatally shot Mr. Sterling, after a confrontation in front of a convenience store.

On Sunday, around 8:40 a.m., law enforcement officers observed the man, wearing all black and holding a rifle, outside a beauty supply store, the colonel said. In the next four minutes, there were reports of shots fired and officers struck, said Colonel Edmonson, whose agency will take the lead on the investigation, helped by local and federal investigators.

Mark Clements, who lives near the shopping center, said in a telephone interview that he was in his backyard when he heard shots ring out. “I heard probably 10 to 12 gunshots go off,” he said. “We heard a bunch of sirens and choppers and everything since then.”

Avery Hall, 17, who works at a nearby carwash, said he was on his way to work when the gunfire erupted. “I was about to pull in at about 8:45, and we got caught in the crossfire,” he said. “I heard a lot of gunshots — a lot. I saw police ducking and shooting. I stopped and pulled into the Dodge dealership. I got out and heard more gunshots. We ducked.”

On the police dispatch radio, a voice could be heard shouting: “Shots fired! Officer down! Shots fired. Officer down! Got a city officer down.”

Around 8:48 a.m., officers fired at the suspect, killing him, Colonel Edmonson said.

On Sunday afternoon, officials said that two of the slain officers were Baton Rouge city police officers, and that the third was from the Sheriff’s Office. One city police officer and two sheriff’s deputies were wounded, including one who was in critical condition.

The shooting was the latest episode in a month of violence and extraordinary racial tension in the country. The night after the police shooting of Mr. Sterling, who was selling CDs outside a convenience store here, a black man was killed by the police during a traffic stop in a St. Paul suburb. The next night, five police officers were killed by a gunman in Dallas.

Violence against the police, Mr. Edwards said, “doesn’t address any injustice, perceived or real.”

He continued, “It is just an injustice in and of itself.”

Speaking at the news conference, the police chief here, Carl Dabadie Jr., called the shooting “senseless” and asked people to pray for the officers and their families.

“We are going to get through this as a family,” he said, “and we’re going to get through this together.”

The police in Baton Rouge had in recent days announced that they were investigating a plot by four people to target police officers, and they cited the threat to explain why their presence at local protests, which had been light at first, had grown heavy.

The police said a 17-year-old was arrested this month after running from a burglary of the Cash American Pawn Shop in Baton Rouge. He and three others, including a 12-year-old arrested on Friday, were believed to have broken into the pawnshop through the roof. It was unclear whether the burglary was connected to Sunday’s shooting.

Chief Dabadie told reporters at the time that the 17-year-old had told the police “that the reason the burglary was being done was to harm police officers.”

The explanation, however, was met with skepticism on social media sites, where many people believed the report was concocted by the police to justify their militarized response to the protests after the death of Mr. Sterling.

“That was bull — it was a scare tactic to calm things down,” Arthur Reed of Stop the Killing, the group that first released the video of Mr. Sterling’s shooting, said on Sunday. “And it worked. I ain’t going out there if people are going to be out there trying to kill police.”

The intense protests had started to lose steam. Sima Atri, a lawyer who represented some of the protesters who were arrested last weekend, said recently that many protesters were afraid to hit the streets after the authorities’ aggressive approach last weekend, which included nearly 200 arrests. (Nearly 100 charges were dropped on Friday.)

A protest on Saturday afternoon attracted fewer than a dozen people, who huddled on the side of the road under a tent to escape the blazing sun and flashed signs at passing cars. They were mostly white; the protesters at large demonstrations shortly after Mr. Sterling’s death had been nearly all black.

Louisiana has lately taken a harder line to defend its police officers, who this year will become a protected class under the state’s hate crimes law.

The killing of the officers on Sunday occurred as hundreds of police officers trained in crowd-control tactics braced for protests outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Cat Brooks, the co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, cautioned against criticizing activists after the attack on Sunday in Baton Rouge.

“I think anytime that there’s a loss of life — black, white, police officer, otherwise — it’s cause for us to take a moment and be sad about that life,” she said. “And I think we have to be really careful about where these shootings of police officers steer the conversation. I think it’s absurd to insinuate that a movement that is doing nothing more than demanding that the war on black life come to an end is in any way responsible for these police officers getting shot.”

Stephen Loomis, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, has urged people not to bring their guns anywhere near Cleveland’s downtown during the convention because officers are in a “heightened state.”

In Cleveland on Sunday, Steve Thacker, 57, of Westlake, Ohio, stood in the city’s Public Square holding a semiautomatic AR-15-style assault rifle — allowed under the state’s open-carry law — as news broke that several officers had been killed in Baton Rouge. When asked about Mr. Loomis’s comments and the Baton Rouge shooting, Mr. Thacker said that despite the attack, he wanted to make a statement and show that people could continue to openly carry their weapons.

“I pose no threat to anyone. I’m an American citizen. I’ve never been in trouble for anything,” said Mr. Thacker, an information technology engineer. “This is my time to come out and put my two cents’ worth in, albeit that it is a very strong statement.”


Correction: July 17, 2016

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated a part of the service record of Gavin Long. He served six months in Iraq, not a year.

Julie Bloom and Richard Fausset reported from Baton Rouge, and Mike McPhate from New York. Reporting was contributed by Alan Blinder from Dallas; Rick Rojas, Katie Rogers, Mike McIntire and Frances Robles from New York; Yamiche Alcindor from Cleveland; and Christiaan Mader from Baton Rouge.

A version of this article appears in print on July 18, 2016,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline:
Attack on Officers Jolts a Nation on Edge.

Baton Rouge Shooting Jolts a Nation on Edge,
NYT, July 17, 2016,






Obama Tells Mourning Dallas,

‘We Are Not as Divided as We Seem’


JULY 11, 2016

The New York Times




DALLAS — President Obama said on Tuesday that the nation mourned with Dallas for five police officers gunned down by a black Army veteran, but he implored Americans not to give in to despair or the fear that “the center might not hold.”

“I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem,” Mr. Obama said at a memorial service for the officers in Dallas, where he quoted Scripture, alluded to Yeats and at times expressed a sense of powerlessness to stop the racial violence that has marked his presidency. But Mr. Obama also spoke hard truths to both sides.

Addressing a crowd of 2,000 at a concert hall, the president chided the police for not understanding what he called the legitimate grievances of African-Americans, who he said were victims of systemic racial bias.

“We cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid,” Mr. Obama said to applause. “We can’t simply dismiss it as a symptom of political correctness or reverse racism. To have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority, dismissed perhaps even by your white friends and co-workers and fellow church members again and again and again — it hurts.”

But the president also turned to the protesters of the Black Lives Matter movement and said they were too quick to condemn the police. “Protesters, you know it,” Mr. Obama said. “You know how dangerous some of the communities where these police officers serve are, and you pretend as if there’s no context. These things we know to be true.”

It was the poignant speech of a man near the end of his patience about a scourge of violence that he said his own words had not been enough to stop. Mr. Obama spoke after a week in which the police killed two black men, in Minnesota and Louisiana, and Micah Johnson, the Army veteran, killed the five officers in Dallas.

“I’ve spoken at too many memorials during the course of this presidency,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve hugged too many families. I’ve seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change. I’ve seen how inadequate my own words have been.”

He acknowledged that the Dallas killings — “an act not just of demented violence but of racial hatred” — had exposed a “fault line” in American democracy. He said he understood if Americans questioned whether the racial divide would ever be bridged.

“It’s as if the deepest fault lines of our democracy have suddenly been exposed, perhaps even widened,” Mr. Obama said. “And although we know that such divisions are not new, though they have surely been worse in even the recent past, that offers us little comfort.”

Americans, he said, “can turn on the TV or surf the internet, and we can watch positions harden and lines drawn, and people retreat to their respective corners, and politicians calculate how to grab attention or avoid the fallout. We see all this, and it’s hard not to think sometimes that the center won’t hold and that things might get worse.”

But Mr. Obama insisted on holding out hope.

“Dallas, I’m here to say we must reject such despair,” Mr. Obama said, adding that he knew that because of “what I’ve experienced in my own life, what I’ve seen of this country and its people — their goodness and decency — as president of the United States.”

He cited both the Dallas police and protesters as part of that decency. “When the bullets started flying, the men and women of the Dallas police, they did not flinch and they did not react recklessly,” Mr. Obama said. “They showed incredible restraint. Helped in some cases by protesters, they evacuated the injured, isolated the shooter and saved more lives than we will ever know. We mourn fewer people today because of your brave actions. ‘Everyone was helping each other,’ one witness said. ‘It wasn’t about black or white. Everyone was picking each other up and moving them away.’”

Mr. Obama concluded: “See, that’s the America I know.”

A row of police officers behind Mr. Obama in the concert hall did not clap when Mr. Obama spoke of racial bias in the criminal justice system, saying that “when all this takes place more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid.”

But when Mr. Obama added, “We ask the police to do too much, and we ask too little of ourselves,” the officers behind him applauded.

Law enforcement officials who attended the service broadly welcomed Mr. Obama’s remarks.

“To me, this is one of his best speeches I’ve ever heard,” said Chief Warren Asmus of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who saw the speech as a milestone in the acrimonious national debate about policing and race.

“He started to build that bridge that I think hasn’t been built for a long time,” Mr. Asmus said. “From what I heard today, I see it as a turning point.”

But Chief Terrence M. Cunningham of the Wellesley, Mass., police said that while he liked much of Mr. Obama’s speech, he was concerned about the president’s discussion of the shootings by the police in Louisiana and Minnesota, which remain under investigation.

“It’s almost like he’s put his thumb on the scale a little bit,” he said. “Let’s let the facts come in.”

Some protesters responded positively to Mr. Obama’s remarks.

“I liked his speech,” said Dominique Alexander, the founder of Next Generation Action Network, an activist group in Dallas that organized the protest the night of the shooting. The president, he said, “did a good job” in a situation where “both sides are mourning, both sides are hurting.”

Many conservatives were angry about a reference Mr. Obama made in his remarks to gun control, when he said that “we flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book.”

Three others spoke at the memorial, including former President George W. Bush, a Dallas resident who said his city was not prepared for the evil visited upon it on Thursday, nor could it have been. “Today the nation grieves, but those of us who love Dallas and call it home have had five deaths in the family,” Mr. Bush said. He said the forces pulling the country apart sometimes seemed greater than the ones bringing it together.

“Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions,” Mr. Bush said to applause. “And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.”

The memorial was held in the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, a cavernous concert hall with a massive 4,535-pipe organ dominating the back of the stage. Nearly all of the auditorium’s seats were filled, many with men and women wearing blue police uniforms from places like Massachusetts and South Carolina, and from towns throughout Texas, like League City, Huntsville, Robinson and La Marque. They walked into the hall under a giant American flag strung from fire trucks.

On one side of the stage, five seats sat empty except for uniform hats and folded American flags to memorialize the five dead.


Gardiner Harris reported from Dallas, and Mark Landler from Washington. Alan Blinder and John Eligon contributed reporting from Dallas.

Follow The New York Times’s politics and Washington coverage on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for the First Draft politics newsletter.

A version of this article appears in print on July 13, 2016,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline:
Obama Consoles and Challenges a Shaken Nation.

Obama Tells Mourning Dallas, ‘We Are Not as Divided as We Seem’,
NYT, July 11, 2016,






A Week From Hell


JULY 8, 2016

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages

Op-Ed Columnist

Charles M. Blow


This was yet another week that tore at the very fiber of our nation.

After two videos emerged showing the gruesome killings of two black men by police officers, one in Baton Rouge, La., and the other in Falcon Heights, Minn., a black man shot and killed five officers in a cowardly ambush at an otherwise peaceful protest and wounded nine more people. The Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, said, “He was upset about Black Lives Matter” and “about the recent police shootings” and “was upset at white people” and “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”

We seem caught in a cycle of escalating atrocities without an easy way out, without enough clear voices of calm, without tools for reduction, without resolutions that will satisfy.

There is so much loss and pain. There are so many families whose hearts hurt for a loved one needlessly taken, never to be embraced again.

There is so much disintegrating trust, so much animosity stirring.

So many — too many — Americans now seem to be living with an ambient terror that someone is somehow targeting them.

Friday morning, after the Dallas shootings, my college student daughter entered my room before heading out to her summer job. She hugged me and said: “Dad, I’m scared. Are you scared?” We talked about what had happened in the preceding days, and I tried to allay her fears and soothe her anxiety.

How does a father answer such a question? I’m still not sure I got it precisely right.

Truth is, I am afraid. Not so much for my own safety, which is what my daughter was fretting about, but more for the country I love.

This is not a level of stress and strain that a civil society can long endure.

I feel numb, and anguished and heartbroken, and I fear that I am far from alone.

And yet, I also fear that time is a requirement for remedy. We didn’t arrive at this place overnight and we won’t move on from it overnight.

Centuries of American policy, culture and tribalism are simply being revealed as the frothy tide of hagiographic history recedes.

Our American “ghettos” were created by policy and design. These areas of concentrated poverty became fertile ground for crime and violence. Municipalities used heavy police forces to try to cap that violence. Too often, aggressive policing began to feel like oppressive policing. Relationships between communities and cops became strained. A small number of criminals poisoned police beliefs about whole communities, and a small number of dishonorable officers poisoned communities’ beliefs about entire police forces. And then, too often the unimaginable happened and someone ended up dead at the hands of the police.

Since people have camera phones, we are actually seeing these deaths, live and in living color. Now a terrorist with a racist worldview has taken it upon himself to co-opt a cause and mow down innocent officers.

This is a time when communities, institutions, movements and even nations are tested. Will the people of moral clarity, good character and righteous cause be able to drown out the chorus of voices that seek to use each dead body as a societal wedge?

Will the people who can see clearly that there is no such thing as selective, discriminatory, exclusionary outrage and grieving when lives are taken, be heard above those who see every tragedy as a plus or minus for a cumulative argument?

Will the people who see both the protests over police killings and the killings of police officers as fundamentally about the value of life rise above those who see political opportunity in this arms race of atrocities?

These are very serious questions — soul-of-a-nation questions — that we dare not ignore.

We must see all unwarranted violence for what it is: A corrosion of culture.

I know well that when people speak of love and empathy and honor in the face of violence, it can feel like meeting hard power with soft, like there is inherent weakness in an approach that leans so heavily on things so ephemeral and even clichéd.

But that is simply an illusion fostered by those of little faith.

Anger and vengeance and violence are exceedingly easy to access and almost effortlessly unleashed.

The higher calling — the harder trial — is the belief in the ultimate moral justice and the inevitable victory of righteousness over wrong.

This requires an almost religious faith in fate, and that can be hard for some to accept, but accept it we must.

The moment any person comes to accept as justifiable an act of violence upon another — whether physical, spiritual or otherwise — that person has already lost the moral battle, even if he is currently winning the somatic one.

When we all can see clearly that the ultimate goal is harmony and not hate, rectification and not retribution, we have a chance to see our way forward. But we all need to start here and now, by doing this simple thing: Seeing every person as fully human, deserving every day to make it home to the people he loves.


I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter (@CharlesMBlow), or e-mail me at chblow@nytimes.com.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A Week From Hell,
NYT, July 8, 2016,






The Horror in Dallas,

a Country Drowning in Grief


JULY 8, 2016

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages




Instantly, shockingly, the murder of five police officers on duty at a peaceful protest in Dallas has compounded the nation’s continuing agony. The devastating attack wounded seven other officers and two civilians. In mere hours, the carnage left the country with a wrenching shift: from grieving the latest black victims of police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana to grieving for the police officers slain so viciously in Dallas.

“It looked like an execution, honestly,” Ismael Dejesus said after witnessing the assassination of a policeman, captured on video. “He stood over him after he was already down and shot him three or four more times in the back.” Addressing horrifying violence for a second time in two days, President Obama called the murders “a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement.”

In the aftermath, possible motives will be ticked off for the killer and any accomplices. But the police and protesters alike could only wonder what might truly account for such a level of atrocity. The police quoted the main suspect — Micah Johnson, a black Army veteran with service in Afghanistan, who was killed after being cornered — as intent on killing white people and avenging the innocent deaths of black citizens in police encounters elsewhere. “This must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens,” said Dallas’s police chief, David Brown, who is black.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch touched on the sense of contagion that at times seemed to be driving the deadly encounters. Speaking at the Justice Department, she urged Americans “not to allow the events of this week to precipitate a ‘new normal’ in our country.” Her plea was basic: “Turn to each other, not against each other.”

A Dallas minister and organizer of the street protest, Dominique Alexander, said the demonstration was entirely about peaceful change, not revenge. It was a local protest, he noted, praising a police sergeant he saw running to assist a civilian injured in the melee. The Thursday night march, one of multiple protests across the nation, offered no early hint of violence. Police officers wore summer shirts, not the SWAT team military gear that can antagonize protesters. There was no warning that a sniper lurked nearby until shots rang out and officers fell.

The streaming videos this time caught police officers, suddenly the prime targets, instinctively heading toward the gunfire and shepherding panicked crowds toward safety.

“The officers who were killed were probably walking with us to keep us safe,” said DeKanni Smith, who was among the demonstrators. “I’m disgusted.”

Disgust may well summarize the nation’s reaction to such an appalling twist in what seems to be a nonstop cycle of violence. As with the lives lost in Louisiana and Minnesota, the murdered officers in Dallas now cry out to us for something better, for a fresh and far stronger resolve to repair relations in the cause of law enforcement and to stem the nation’s bleeding.


This editorial has been updated to reflect news developments.

A version of this editorial appears in print on July 9, 2016,
on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline:
A Country Drowning in Grief.

The Horror in Dallas, a Country Drowning in Grief,
NYT, July 8, 2016,






My Protests and Prayers in Dallas


JULY 8, 2016

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages

Op-Ed Contributor



Dallas — On Friday, the city of Dallas was in mourning, and so was I.

We lost five police officers. They were gunned down at a peaceful protest on Thursday night that took place just a few blocks from where I live. I was at that protest too.

So was my friend Angela. She stayed longer than I did, leaving right before the shots rang out. “Peaceful crowd. Sprits lifted and prepped for action. Sad to see it turn out like this,” she later wrote on Facebook.

Everyone is sad to see it turn out like this. The city planned a prayer vigil for noon on Friday and I decided to go and maybe to stay until the end this time.

I walked to Thanks-Giving Square, where the vigil was held, down a street lined with police officers in their dress blue uniforms. They were pleasant to everyone who greeted them. Some people took pictures. I took a photo of some people posing with the police too.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said, and others in the crowd expressed condolences as well.

I imagine it feels, for the Dallas police, as if a member of their family has died.

That’s how it felt for me, watching the terrible news earlier in the week, hearing about Alton B. Sterling and Philando Castile. And how it felt after we lost Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and the long list of others.

I walked to the center of the square and stood on the steps next to a man dressed in a business suit. It was hot — 96 degrees. I drank a bottle of water but he didn’t open his. The speakers, seemingly every dignitary and politician from the area, were lined up under a circular plaque that read: “Come into his courts with praise. Psalm 100.” We bowed our heads in prayer.

“Were you there last night?” I whispered to the man in the suit.

“Yeah, I am one of the organizers. I’m James.”

We whispered back and forth to each other between and during the speeches.

“The crowd is different today,” he said.

I nodded. There were many more people, maybe 1,000. It appeared as if the majority of them were white. The atmosphere was different. The voice of Black Lives Matter had become a silent whisper between James and me.

“They’re blaming us,” he said.

At one point, a speaker said the answer was to love one another. The speaker said, I want everybody here to find someone in the crowd who is different from you and shake his hand and give him a hug.

James and I exchanged glances. Several white people were lined up against the wall to my left. They hugged each other as they clasped hands. A few of them looked at me, and I awkwardly shook their hands and hugged them. I didn’t see James hug anyone, and I wished that I hadn’t either. My Southern politeness kicked in, even though I always find a forced hug uncomfortable.

During the vigil, a parade of dignitaries spoke: preachers of every faith, City Council members, the police chief. Friday belonged to the city officials and the necessary public mourning. But Thursday night, before the shooting, the Black Lives Matter protests belonged to us, the people who were mourning two senseless deaths at the hands of the police in Louisiana and Minnesota.

The police chief, David Brown, took his turn speaking. He was the hero of the hour. He had captured the villain who killed his officers. He was proud of his accomplishments and the audience was moved by his speech. He told us how most of the time, wearing the police uniform in Dallas, he hears negative comments and gets complaints. But it felt good today, it gave him some measure of comfort, to hear the words: “Thank you.”

The crowd then spontaneously shouted, “Thank you.”

The chant went through the crowd, all of us who had found someone different from us to hug: “Thank you.”

The chant that resonated more with me was from Thursday night.

“Enough is enough,” the crowd chanted. “Enough is enough,” I chanted along too, with the call and response, standing on the edge of the park just a few blocks from my home.

I had gone to the protest that night not only to show respect for the deceased and their families but for myself, for my well-being. It’s similar to the reason we attend funerals. I wanted to be with the bereaved so that we could lift up each other.

People young and old, black, white, Latino, were taking a stand in Dallas on Thursday night. One little boy had a sign pinned to his back with a quotation from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on it. Police officers and citizens talked and took selfies. The speakers stepped to the microphone, one by one, to speak about the horrific deaths in Louisiana and Minnesota. Their volume rose as they spoke about hope, and they finished with chants — “Enough is enough”; “No more 404,” the police code when something like this happens; “Black lives matter.” I clapped and I chanted too. But whatever I had gone to the protest for, I was feeling the opposite effect.

I decided to leave early, around 8, so I wouldn’t have to walk home in the dark. Also my phone had died.

When I was home and plugged it back in, I saw a text from my friend Angela. She told me to turn on the news.

I watched the cameras broadcasting images of the park where I had just been standing, the police officers who had been posing for selfies now under attack.

How could the peaceful demonstration I had been a part of turned to this?

I live two blocks from Baylor Hospital and I heard sirens going back and forth all night.

I was at the protest Thursday night to be lifted up out of my sadness. “Enough is enough,” we chanted. I added my voice. But it was not enough because within a couple of hours five more people were dead.


Sanderia Faye is the author of the novel “Mourner’s Bench.”

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My Protests and Prayers in Dallas,
NYT, July 8, 2016,






Divided by Race, United by Pain


JULY 8, 2016

The New York Times


Op-Ed Columnist

Frank Bruni


THERE aren’t any ready answers for how to end this cycle of bloodshed, these heart-rending images from Louisiana and Minnesota and Texas of a country in desperate trouble, with so much pain to soothe, rage to exorcise and injustice to confront.

But we have choices about how we absorb what’s happened, about the rashness with which we point fingers. Making the right ones is crucial, and leaves us with real hope for figuring this out. Making the wrong ones puts that possibility ever further from reach.

So does a public debate that assigns us different tribes and warring interests, when almost all of us want the same thing: for the killing to cease and for every American to feel respected and safe.

We have disagreements about how to get there, but they don’t warrant the inflammatory headlines that appeared on the front of The New York Post (“Civil War”) or at the top of The Drudge Report (“Black Lives Kill”). They needn’t become hardened battle lines.

“We have devolved into some separatism and we’ve taken our corners,” Malik Aziz, the deputy chief of police in Dallas, said in an interview with CNN on Friday. “Days like yesterday or the day before — they shouldn’t happen. But when they do, let’s be human beings. Let’s be honorable men and women and sit down at a table and say, ‘How can we not let this happen again?’ and be sincere in our hearts.”

“We’re failing at that on all sides,” he concluded, expressing a sentiment uttered by public officials black and white, Democrat and Republican, in laments that drew on the same vocabulary.

Separate, divided: I kept hearing those words and their variants, a report card for America as damning as it was inarguable.

Separate, divided: I kept seeing that in pundits who talked past and over one another, in a din that’s becoming harder and harder to bear.

Separate, divided: I kept thinking of Donald Trump and how he in particular preys on our estrangement and deepens it.

On Friday he didn’t, putting out sorrowful, thoughtful messages on Twitter and Facebook and announcing his postponement of a speech on economic opportunity that he had been scheduled to deliver. He was otherwise silent, and while that was entirely out of character, it was wholly in line with the shock and confusion that Americans were feeling.
Interactive Feature

Hillary Clinton wrestled with that confusion in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, stressing, “We can’t be engaging in hateful rhetoric.” Asked if and why she’d be better at dealing with race relations than Donald Trump would, she declined to disparage him. This wasn’t the moment for that.

We can’t keep falling into the same old traps. We can’t keep making hasty conclusions, faulty connections. Predictably, there was a recurrence of talk after the killings of five police officers in Dallas late Thursday night that this was the fruit and fault of the Black Lives Matter movement and that cries of police misconduct equal a bounty on police lives.

That was a willfully selective interpretation of events. It ignored an emerging profile of the suspected gunman as someone who acted alone, not as the emissary of any aggrieved group.

It ignored how peacefully the protest in Dallas began and how calmly it proceeded up until shots rang out. Black and white stood together. Civilians and cops stood together. Those cops were there precisely because they’d been briefed on the demonstration and brought into its planning. They were a collaborative presence, not an enemy one.

“We had police officers taking pictures with protesters, protecting them, guarding them, making sure they was getting from one point to another,” Aziz recalled.

And their instincts amid the gunfire weren’t to flee for cover but to run toward its source and to hurry demonstrators out of the way. If we don’t pay full tribute to that, we’ll never get the full accountability from police officers that we also need, and we’ll never be able to address the urgent, legitimate demands at the heart of the Dallas demonstration and others like it.

“We’re hurting,” Dallas’s police chief, David Brown, said during a news conference on Friday morning. “Our profession is hurting.”

He’s black. So are many other officers on the Dallas force, a diverse one with a good record. And he implored everyone to remember that these men and women, in Dallas and elsewhere, “literally risk their lives to protect our democracy.”

“We don’t feel much support most days,” he continued. “Let’s not make today most days.”

That appeal was all the more poignant for how it united police and protesters in a desire that no sweeping, damning judgments be made about a whole class of people; that such prejudice be resisted; that such cynicism be renounced.

We must be openhearted and coolheaded that way.

But we have to be honest, too, and not shrink from the ugliness laid bare by technology and social media — by the footage of the police pumping bullets into Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., on Tuesday and of Philando Castile bleeding and dying beside his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, on Wednesday in Falcon Heights, Minn. Over and over, Reynolds says “sir” to the police officer who shot Castile and whose gun is still visibly pointed toward the interior of the car where both she and her 4-year-old daughter, Dae’Anna, sit. It’s a shockingly intimate portrait of disbelief and helplessness.

On Friday morning, Reynolds appeared on CNN and insisted that her story not be seen in isolation. “It’s about all of the families that have lost people,” she said.

“This thing that has happened in Dallas, it was not because of something that transpired in Minnesota,” she continued. “This is bigger than Philando. This is bigger than Trayvon Martin. This is bigger than Sandra Bland. This is bigger than all of us.”

She added that Friday was Dae’Anna’s graduation from preschool, that Castile was supposed to be there, and that his absence would be hard on the little girl.

Reflecting on Castile’s death, Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota asked: “Would this have happened if those passengers would have been white? I don’t think it would have.”

It’s an important question, a defensible guess, and we need to be able to hear and express both without the instant commencement of political warfare, without superimposing particular causes and constituencies over the narrative, as if every new development and every next death were a bludgeon to be wielded.

There’s only one cause here: taking the appropriate steps — in criminal justice, in police training, in schools, in public discourse — so that each of us goes about our days in as much peace as possible. And the constituency for that is all of America.

Among the important choices we’re making is whom to listen to. There are voices out there — too many of them — that seek to inflame. There are others that don’t. Three from Dallas stood out.

One was that of Mayor Mike Rawlings, who lamented how racial issues “continue to divide us.”

“This is on my generation of leaders,” said the mayor, who is white. “It is on our watch that we have allowed this to continue to fester, that we have led the next generation down a vicious path of rhetoric and actions that pit one against the other.”

Another voice was that of Erik Wilson, the deputy mayor pro tem of the city, who is black. “No conflict has ever been solved with violence,” he told CNN. “It’s always been solved with conversation. And that is something that we need to focus on.”

And then there was Deputy Police Chief Aziz, who is also black. Referring to nationwide instances of excessive police force, he said, “We should be held accountable, and that is what we have a criminal justice system for.”

But of equal importance, he said, was “a real dialogue with the community that we can no longer be separate. We can’t divide ourselves.”

Separate, divided: those words again. They’re our curse right now. Must they be our fate?


I invite you to follow me on Twitter (@FrankBruni) and join me on Facebook.

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A version of this op-ed appears in print on July 10, 2016,
on page SR1 of the New York edition with the headline: Divided by Race, United by Pain.

Divided by Race, United by Pain,
NYT, July 8, 2016,






Bad Guys Win

if the Police Reject Protests


JULY 8, 2016

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages

Op-Ed Contributor



THURSDAY night in Dallas, a calm and peaceful protest was shattered by a brutal precision attack against officers at the scene. Just moments before, some of those same officers had been amiably chatting with young families and others in the diverse group of demonstrators.

As the news spread that five officers had been slain and seven others, along with two civilians, wounded, my colleagues in departments around Dallas responded as if family members had been shot.

“My neighbor asked me, ‘Why are you crying? You said you didn’t know any of those guys,’” one friend who recently retired said to me. “I don’t even know how to explain to him how hard this hits me.”

Along with palpable grief, the most common reaction I heard was pride. Those of us who couldn’t be there were glued to the television, watching officers charge toward the gunfire, engage the gunman and protect civilians. We heard a radio call for plainclothes officers to suit up in their body armor — many didn’t want to waste the time.

For me, though, the pride was over more than just those acts of bravery; it was over the commitment to professionalism, trust and respect by the Dallas police that will allow the department to be as levelheaded in the aftermath of the massacre as it was in the midst of it.

Friday morning, after our brothers were assassinated for being white and for being officers, the word was sent out: more protests are expected, and we must not interfere with them. And that is the way it should be.

Some might ask why there are no tanks or National Guard troops in the streets of Dallas. One reason is the relationship that Chief David O. Brown has built with the community. Since taking over the department in 2010, Chief Brown has worked to get officers to reduce the tension when they confront suspects or other civilians. Even as budget cuts have trimmed the ranks and increased stress on the police, complaints about officers’ use of force have gone down, along with assaults on officers and the crime rate.
A Dallas police officer responding to the shooting on Thursday night. Credit Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News

The department has also been more open. Even as his officers fought terror in the streets — the worst loss of life for law enforcement since Sept. 11, 2001 — Chief Brown maintained his commitment to transparency, briefing reporters while the bullets were still flying.

Last year, when a rifle-wielding gunman in an armored vehicle attacked the Dallas Police Headquarters, officers live-tweeted the attack.

The department has also thoroughly reported all shootings involving its officers and detailed how its officers have used force.

Such a ready release of information is an important way for police agencies to make a deposit in the bank of community good will.

Demonstrators on Thursday night were protesting shootings by police in Louisiana and Minnesota. Much is made of the body count of police shootings. Far fewer people follow through to learn that, by the count of The Washington Post, 90 percent of the times when police officers shot someone, that person had had a gun or knife, or had posed another threat.

Police officers and protesters are less far apart in their goals than we might think, watching the local news.

The Dallas police and other departments in the area are being clear in our internal conversations: We’re here to protect and serve. When we make mistakes, we try to fix them. When we explain what we do to the public, the public rewards us with trust.

And while Chief Brown has called for an end to “this divisiveness between our police and our citizens,” let’s let the protesters have their say; let’s hear it all. And maybe, if both sides listen, we can get somewhere.


Nick Selby is a police detective in the Dallas area and an author of “In Context: Understanding Police Killings of Unarmed Civilians.”

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A version of this op-ed appears in print on July 9, 2016,
on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline:
Police and Protesters Can Co-Exist.

Bad Guys Win if the Police Reject Protests,
NYT, July 8, 2016,






Study Supports Suspicion

That Police Are More Likely

to Use Force on Blacks


JULY 7, 2016

The New York Times



The vast majority of interactions between police officers and civilians end routinely, with no one injured, no one aggrieved and no one making the headlines. But when force is used, a new study has found, the race of the person being stopped by officers is significant.

The study of thousands of use-of-force episodes from police departments across the nation has concluded what many people have long thought, but which could not be proved because of a lack of data: African-Americans are far more likely than whites and other groups to be the victims of use of force by the police, even when racial disparities in crime are taken into account.

The report, to be released Friday by the Center for Policing Equity, a New York-based think tank, took three years to assemble and largely refutes explanations from some police officials that blacks are more likely to be subjected to police force because they are more frequently involved in criminal activity.

The researchers said they did not gather enough data specifically related to police shootings to draw conclusions on whether there were racial disparities when it came to the fatal confrontations between officers and civilians so in the news.

The study’s release comes at a particularly volatile time in the relationship between the police and minority communities after high-profile fatal police shootings of African-American men this week in Louisiana and Minnesota prompted widespread outrage.

Portions of the episodes, both captured on video and released publicly, have intensified calls for police reform as many departments across the nation have been slow to deploy body cameras or to mandate changes in officer training standards after the high-profile deaths of a number of African-Americans at the hands of police officers in the past two years.

African-American activists who have demanded greater police accountability since the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., set off days of rioting, said Thursday that the study was critical to the conversation, but far from surprising.

“It’s kind of like, ‘Is water wet?’” said Aislinn Sol, organizer of the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter. “But what we gain with each study, each new piece of information is that we are able to win people over who are on the fence. The evidence is becoming overwhelming and incontrovertible that it is a systemic problem, rather than an isolated one.”

The organization compiled more than 19,000 use-of-force incidents by police officers representing 11 large and midsize cities and one large urban county from 2010 to 2015. It is the sort of data the Obama administration and the Justice Department have been seeking from police departments for nearly two years, in many cases, unsuccessfully.

The report found that although officers employ force in less than 2 percent of all police-civilian interactions, the use of police force is disproportionately high for African-Americans — more than three times greater than for whites.

The study, “The Science of Justice: Race, Arrests, and Police Use of Force,” did not seek to determine whether the employment of force in any particular instance was justified, but the center’s researchers found that the disparity in which African-Americans were subjected to police force remained consistent across what law enforcement officers call the use-of-force continuum — from relatively mild physical force, through baton strikes, canine bites, pepper spray, Tasers and gunshots.

“The dominant narrative has been that this happens to African-Americans because they are arrested in disproportionate numbers,” said Phillip Atiba Goff, a founder and president of the Center for Policing Equity, based at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But the data really makes it difficult to say that crime is the primary driver of this. In every single category, the anti-black disparity persists.”

The study found that the overall mean use-of-force rate for all black residents was 273 per 100,000, which is 3.6 times higher than the rate for white residents (76 per 100,000) and 2.5 times higher than the overall rate of 108 per 100,000 for all residents.

For those who were arrested, the mean rate of use of force against blacks was 46 for every 1,000 arrests, compared with 36 per 1,000 for whites.

The Obama administration has been nudging police departments to adapt de-escalation tactics and to fix broken relationships with poor and minority communities across the nation, which typically experience far more intensive policing because of what are frequently higher crime rates.

But because police departments often refuse to release use-of-force data that would illustrate such trends, the federal government has had a difficult time in determining whether police departments are employing force less often.

The federal government cannot generally compel police departments to hand over such material, and many local agencies say they do not require officers to submit use-of-force reports.

Other departments say they lack the resources to collect such information, and others acknowledge privately that they fear that the release of their data would subject them to unwanted scrutiny from the public and the federal government.

But when the Justice Department has had the ability to review use-of-force records, it has found evidence of abuse.

In Seattle, federal investigators found that one out of every five use-of-force episodes had been excessive.

In Albuquerque, the Justice Department determined that most police shootings from 2009 to 2012 had been unjustified.

Researchers for the center said Thursday that the compilation of the use-of-force material after years of failed efforts to determine whether racial bias was present represented a significant success. The data is so closely held by police departments that the agencies that cooperated with the project did so anonymously.

Though the 12 municipalities that provided data were not named, they represented a large urban county in California and 11 cities spanning the nation with populations that range from less than 100,000 to several million, with an average population of 600,000.

The center said that given the diversity of the municipalities — six are predominantly white, one is predominantly black or Latino, and five have populations in which no single racial or ethnic group represents 50 percent or more of the population — that the findings are likely to hold true for most other cities.

Cameron McLay, the police chief of Pittsburgh, said his agency had been among those to share its use-of-force data. He said use of force by his officers had decreased in recent years, but acknowledged that there remained concerns about disparities in use of force when it came to African-Americans.

“We are responsible for not just bringing down the crime rate, but for making people feel safe in their communities,” he said.


A version of this article appears in print on July 8, 2016,
on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline:
Study Supports Suspicion That Police Use of Force Is
More Likely on Blacks.

Study Supports Suspicion That Police Are More Likely to Use Force on Blacks,
NYT, July 7, 2016,






Death in Black and White


JULY 7, 2016

The New York Times

Sunday Review

Contributing Op-Ed Writer

Michael Eric Dyson


This essay has been updated to reflect news developments.

We, black America, are a nation of nearly 40 million souls inside a nation of more than 320 million people. And I fear now that it is clearer than ever that you, white America, will always struggle to understand us.

Like you, we don’t all think the same, feel the same, love, learn, live or even die the same.

But there’s one thing most of us agree on: We don’t want cops to be executed at a peaceful protest. We also don’t want cops to kill us without fear that they will ever face a jury, much less go to jail, even as the world watches our death on a homemade video recording. This is a difficult point to make as a racial crisis flares around us.

We close a week of violence that witnessed the tragic deaths of two black men — Alton B. Sterling and Philando Castile — at the hands of the police with a terrible attack in Dallas against police officers, whose names we’re just beginning to learn. It feels as though it has been death leading to more death, nothing anyone would ever hope for.

A nonviolent protest was hijacked by violence and so, too, was the debate about the legitimate grievances that black Americans face. The acts of the gunman in Dallas must be condemned. However, he has nothing to do with the difficult truths we must address if we are to make real racial progress, and the reckoning includes being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed or discounted.

In the wake of these deaths and the protests surrounding them, you, white America, say that black folks kill each other every day without a mumbling word while we thunderously protest a few cops, usually but not always white, who shoot to death black people who you deem to be mostly “thugs.”

That such an accusation is nonsense is nearly beside the point. Black people protest, to one another, to a world that largely refuses to listen, that what goes on in black communities across this nation is horrid, as it would be in any neighborhood depleted of dollars and hope — emptied of good schools, and deprived of social and economic buffers against brutality. People usually murder where they nest; they aim their rage at easy targets.

It is not best understood as black-on-black crime; rather, it is neighbor-to-neighbor carnage. If their neighbors were white, they’d get no exemption from the crime that plagues human beings who happen to be black. If you want interracial killing, you have to have interracial communities.

We all can see the same videos. But you insist that the camera doesn’t tell the whole story. Of course you’re right, but you don’t really want to see or hear that story.

At birth, you are given a pair of binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy. Those binoculars are privilege; they are status, regardless of your class. In fact the greatest privilege that exists is for white folk to get stopped by a cop and not end up dead when the encounter is over.

Those binoculars are also stories, bad stories, biased stories, harmful stories, about how black people are lazy, or dumb, or slick, or immoral, people who can’t be helped by the best schools or even God himself. These beliefs don’t make it into contemporary books, or into most classrooms. But they are passed down, informally, from one white mind to the next.

The problem is you do not want to know anything different from what you think you know. Your knowledge of black life, of the hardships we face, yes, those we sometimes create, those we most often endure, don’t concern you much. You think we have been handed everything because we have fought your selfish insistence that the world, all of it — all its resources, all its riches, all its bounty, all its grace — should be yours first, and foremost, and if there’s anything left, why then we can have some, but only if we ask politely and behave gratefully.

So you demand the Supreme Court give you back what was taken from you: more space in college classrooms that you dominate; better access to jobs in fire departments and police forces that you control. All the while your resentment builds, and your slow hate gathers steam. Your whiteness has become a burden too heavy for you to carry, so you outsource it to a vile political figure who amplifies your most detestable private thoughts.

Whiteness is blindness. It is the wish not to see what it will not know.

If you do not know us, you also refuse to hear us because you do not believe what we say. You have decided that enough is enough. If the cops must kill us for no good reason, then so be it because most of us are guilty anyway. If the black person that they kill turns out to be innocent, it is an acceptable death, a sacrificial one.

Terror was visited on Dallas Thursday night. Unspeakable terror. We are not strangers to terror. You make us afraid to walk the streets, for at any moment, a blue-clad officer with a gun could swoop down on us to snatch our lives from us and say that it was because we were selling cigarettes, or compact discs, or breathing too much for your comfort, or speaking too abrasively for your taste. Or running, or standing still, or talking back, or being silent, or doing as you say, or not doing as you say fast enough.

You hold an entire population of Muslims accountable for the evil acts of a few. Yet you rarely muster the courage to put down your binoculars, and with them, your corrosive self-pity, and see what we see. You say religions and cultures breed violence stoked by the complicity of silence because peoples will not denounce the villains who act in their names.

Yet you do the same. In the aftermath of these deaths, you do not all condemn these cops; to do so, you would have to condemn the culture that produced them — the same culture that produced you. Condemning a culture is not inciting hate. That is very important. Yet black people will continue to die at the hands of cops as long as we deny that whiteness can be more important in explaining those cops’ behavior than anything else.

You cannot know how we secretly curse the cowardice of whites who know what I write is true, but dare not say it. Neither will your smug insistence that you are different — not like that ocean of unenlightened whites — satisfy us any longer. It makes the killings worse to know that your disapproval of them has spared your reputations and not our lives.

You do not know that after we get angry with you, we get even angrier with ourselves, because we don’t know how to make you stop, or how to make you care enough to stop those who pull the triggers. We do not know what to do now that sadness is compounded by more sadness.

The nation as a whole feels powerless now. A peaceful protest turned into the scene of a sniper attack. Day in and day out, we feel powerless to make our black lives matter. We feel powerless to make you believe that our black lives should matter. We feel powerless to keep you from killing black people in front of their loved ones. We feel powerless to keep you from shooting hate inside our muscles with well-choreographed white rage.

But we have rage, too. Most of us keep our rage inside. We are afraid that when the tears begin to flow we cannot stop them. Instead we damage our bodies with high blood pressure, sicken our souls with depression.

We cannot hate you, not really, not most of us; that is our gift to you. We cannot halt you; that is our curse.


Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown, is the author of “The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America” and a contributing opinion writer.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTOpinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on July 10, 2016,
on page SR2 of the New York edition with the headline:
Death in Black and White.

Death in Black and White,
NYT, July 7, 2016,






Michael Brown’s Mom,

on Alton Sterling

and Philando Castile


JULY 7, 2016

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages

Op-Ed Contributor



St. Louis — I CRIED on Wednesday as I watched, like much of the country, the horrifying video images from Baton Rouge, La., showing a black man being shot to death, in the back and chest, after being wrestled into submission by two white police officers. On Thursday, I woke up to the news of a black man in Minnesota, shot by the police during a traffic stop. I am devastated and infuriated.

Alton Sterling is dead. Philando Castile is dead. My son, Michael Brown, has been dead for almost two years now.

Death isn’t pretty for anyone, but what these families now face is the horror of seeing their loved one die over and over, in public, in such a violent way. They face the helplessness of having strangers judge their loved one not on who he was or what he meant to his family but on a few seconds of video. Mr. Sterling died in a very lonely way, surrounded by his killers. Can you imagine a lonelier death? Mr. Castile died with his girlfriend and her young daughter watching as he was gunned down.

Sometimes it seems like the only thing we can do in response to the police brutality that my son and so many other black boys and men have suffered is to pray for black lives. Yes, they matter, but is that changing anything? What is going to be different this time?

There is again an uproar, and people are going to once again do a lot of talking about black-on-black crime versus white-on-black crime. Truth is, black on black crime is perpetuated by systemic injustice and social ills. But, real talk, this debate is meaningless so long as we still live in a world where a black man can get killed for selling cigarettes on the street, where a black boy can get killed for waving a toy gun.

It’s a problem when you look to the law as a protector and it comes into your community and shoots people dead with no remorse or consequences. It is a problem that you have some law officers trying to do the right thing, and then others who bring shame on the badge.

Someone asked me what I would say to Mr. Sterling’s family, if I had the chance. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t know what to say. When Michael was killed, people tried to talk to me, but I was in shock; I didn’t know how to respond. I know enough now to advise well-meaning people to pause before offering kind words. So many told me, “I am so sorry for your loss.” After a while, all the “sorrys” bled together, and at the end of it, nothing changed. Let Mr. Sterling’s family members grieve with the people in their lives who knew him before everyone else saw these shocking images and felt they had to put their two cents in.

The mothers I’ve met along the way — Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother; Wanda Johnson, Oscar Grant III’s mother — we’ve helped one another cope, and we’ll try to do the same for Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile’s families. I’ll never forget meeting Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice. I looked at this strong woman and was amazed to think that she was just starting a horrible journey, one that will never end, one that I am still on.

When their children are killed, mothers are expected to say something. To help keep the peace. To help make change. But what can I possibly say? I just know we need to do something. We are taught to be peaceful, but we aren’t at peace. I have to wake up and go to sleep with this pain everyday. Ain’t no peace. If we mothers can’t change where this is heading for these families — to public hearings, protests, un-asked-for martyrdom, or worse, to nothing at all — what can we do?

Since I lost my son to a police shooting, I’ve done a lot of thinking. I’ve gone to therapy, as have my other children. I’ve started a foundation in Michael’s honor. I’ve campaigned in St. Louis to mandate body cameras on police officers at all times. We cannot assume that justice will be done. So I will never stop talking about my son or fighting for justice for him.

People will try to twist the words of Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile’s families and turn them into something ugly. These men will be called “thugs” and much, much worse. It’s already happening. Click on the comments section of any article you read about their deaths, and you will be shocked by the racist comments of people who insist — insist — that they obviously deserved to die.

So what would I say to their families? When you’re ready, and if you need me, I’ll be there for you. But the people I would really like to say something to are the ones who claim that justice will prevail. Whose justice? When justice comes to the one who didn’t pull the trigger, that’s when I’ll believe you.


Lezley McSpadden is the author of “Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil: The Life, Legacy and Love of My Son Michael Brown.”

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTOpinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on July 8, 2016,
on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline:
The Mothers of Dead Black Men.

Michael Brown’s Mom, on Alton Sterling and Philando Castile,
NYT, July 7, 2016,






When Will the Killing Stop?


JULY 7, 2016

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages




Updated: July 8, 2016

Videos of two fatal shootings of African-American men have again documented what appear to be almost casual killing by the police. They prompt the deepest shock at what the nation has witnessed over and over again: a chance encounter with the police and an innocent black life ended.

On Thursday night, a peaceful march in Dallas against the shootings ended in violence when snipers on rooftops killed five officers and wounded seven others. One suspect, who was killed in a stand-off with police, said he wanted to kill whites, according to the Dallas police chief. This horrendous attack on the police and the two killings this week demand sober reflection by the nation’s political and law enforcement leadership.

Of the two videos, the first showed Alton Sterling on Tuesday pinned to the ground outside a store in Baton Rouge, La., when he was shot in the chest and back at close range by police officers.

The second showed the death of Philando Castile, who was stopped for an alleged traffic infraction in a St. Paul suburb and was shot several times by a police officer. The video, which was taken by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was sitting next to him in the car, starts seconds after Mr. Castile was shot. “He was just getting his license and registration, sir,” Ms. Reynolds calmly tells the officer. She says to the camera that he was not reaching for the gun he was licensed to carry.

“Would this have happened if the passengers, the drivers were white? I don’t think it would have,” Gov. Mark Dayton said at a news conference on Thursday. “All of us in Minnesota are forced to confront that this kind of racism exists.”

Mr. Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, said she told her son: “If you get stopped by the police, comply. Comply, comply, comply.” She added, “I think he was just black in the wrong place.”

The Justice Department has been called on to investigate the two shootings. It speaks volumes that local law enforcement is not to be trusted to carry out investigations, as communities take to the streets to demand justice.

The shootings seem part of some gruesome loop of episodes of law enforcement gone amok. For African-Americans, the threat of police abuse — in the form of random stops, assaults and violations of civil rights — has long been part of life. Yet this grievous reality became a national issue only with the 2014 killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in an encounter with a white officer in Ferguson, Mo.

After a year and a half of racial upheaval in Ferguson, the local government there agreed to reforms of a law enforcement system that Department of Justice investigators found regularly violated constitutional rights. Minority citizens were routinely harassed by police officers and shuttled through a court system that further exploited and victimized local residents.

Unfortunately, after Ferguson, police shootings of black citizens have continued, with the police too often maintaining their wall of resistance with the help of local prosecutors. Until ordered to do so by a judge, Chicago officials fought release of a dashboard video of the 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. He was shot 16 times by a police officer later indicted on charges of first-degree murder.

The killing in Minnesota on Wednesday was the 123rd killing of a black person by law enforcement in America so far this year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Fortunately, the rise of social media and smartphones in the hands of witnesses has delivered video evidence to much of the nation of what black communities have known all too well.

The latest killings are grim reminders that far more reforms are needed to make law enforcement officers more professional and respectful of the citizens they have a duty to protect. Intensive training, stricter use-of-force standards and prosecutions of officers who kill innocent people are necessary to begin to repair systems that have tolerated this bloodshed.

And beyond that, with killings happening in cities, suburbs and rural communities, there needs to be leadership in every police department in the country that insists on cultural and attitudinal change. Credible civilian oversight of the police has to be a factor if community trust is ever to be restored. The latest ghastly images show how much has not been done, two years after Ferguson.

When Will the Killing Stop?,
NYT, July 7, 2016,






Five Dallas Officers Were Killed

as Payback, Police Chief Says


JULY 8, 2016

The New York Times





DALLAS — The heavily armed sniper who gunned down police officers in downtown Dallas, leaving five of them dead, specifically set out to kill as many white officers as he could, officials said Friday. He was a military veteran who had served in Afghanistan, and he kept an arsenal in his home that included bomb-making materials.

The gunman turned a demonstration against fatal police shootings this week of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana from a peaceful march focused on violence committed by officers into a scene of chaos and bloodshed aimed against them.

The shooting was the kind of retaliatory violence that people have feared through two years of protests around the country against deaths in police custody, forcing yet another wrenching shift in debates over race and criminal justice that had already deeply divided the nation.

Demonstrations continued Friday in cities across the country, with one of the largest taking place on the streets of Atlanta, where thousands of people protesting police abuse brought traffic to a standstill.

Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary, said in New York that there was apparently just one sniper, though there were so many gunshots and so many victims that officials at first speculated about multiple shooters.

Officials said they had found no evidence that the gunman, Micah Johnson, 25, had direct ties to any protest or political group, either peaceful or violent, but his Facebook page showed that he supported the New Black Panther Party, a group that has advocated violence against whites, and Jews in particular.

Searching the killer’s home on Friday, “detectives found bomb-making materials, ballistic vests, rifles, ammunition, and a personal journal of combat tactics,” the Dallas Police Department said in a statement.

Three other people were arrested in connection with the shooting, but the police would not name them or say why they were being held.

In addition to the five officers who died, seven officers and two civilians were wounded. The Police Department said that 12 officers had returned fire during a wild series of gun battles that stretched for blocks.

After the shooting subsided, Mr. Johnson, wielding an assault rifle and a handgun, held the police off for hours in a parking garage, claiming — apparently falsely — to have planted explosives in the area, and threatening to kill more officers. In the end, the police killed him Friday morning with an explosive delivered by a remote-controlled robot, the Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, said.

During the standoff, Mr. Johnson, who was black, told police negotiators that “he was upset about Black Lives Matter,” Chief Brown said. “He said he was upset about the recent police shootings. The suspect said he was upset at white people. The suspect stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”

He refused to rule out the possibility that more people were involved, saying, “We’re not satisfied that we’ve exhausted every lead.”

Mr. Johnson, who lived in the Dallas area, served as a private in the Army Reserve from March 2009 to April 2015, according to records released by the Pentagon. He was listed as a carpentry and masonry specialist, and served in Afghanistan from November 2013 to July 2014.

The sequence of events this week provoked anger and despair, dealing blows both to law enforcement and to peaceful critics of the police, who have fended off claims that the outcry over police shootings foments violence and puts officers’ lives in danger.

“All I know is that this must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens,” Chief Brown said.

Just hours after President Obama, reacting to video recordings of the shootings in Baton Rouge, La., and Falcon Heights, Minn., spoke in anguished terms about the disparate treatment of the races by the criminal justice system, he felt compelled to speak again, this time about the people who attacked officers.

“We will learn more, undoubtedly, about their twisted motivations, but let’s be clear: There are no possible justifications for these attacks or any violence towards law enforcement,” he told reporters Friday morning in Warsaw, where he was attending a NATO summit meeting, after speaking by phone with Mayor Mike Rawlings of Dallas.

The White House said Mr. Obama would travel to Dallas early next week, at the invitation of the city’s mayor. Later in the week, the president will host a discussion between the police and community leaders to help find solutions to racial disparities and ways to better support police, aides said.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, who was in Washington, said that the week’s violence had left many people with a justifiable “sense of helplessness, of uncertainty and of fear,” but that “the answer must not be violence.”

“To our brothers and sisters who wear the badge, I want you to know that I am deeply grateful for the difficult and dangerous work that you do every day to keep our streets safe and our nation secure,” she said. To the protesters, she said, “Do not be discouraged by those who would use your lawful actions as a cover for their heinous violence.”

But William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, appearing on Fox News, said that there was “a war on cops,” and that the Obama administration was to blame for appeasement of those who attack the police.

The attack appeared to be the deadliest for law enforcement officers in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001.

“Our profession is hurting,” Chief Brown said, calling the actions of his officers nothing short of heroic. “Dallas officers are hurting. We are heartbroken. There are not words to describe the atrocity that occurred to our city.”

The shooting erupted just before 9 p.m., only a few blocks from Dealey Plaza, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. It cut short an emotional but peaceful demonstration, unleashing chaos as terrified marchers, including families with children, ran for cover, while police officers ran toward the shooting, guns drawn and firing back.

“I grabbed my shirt because I was close enough, I thought I might have been shot,” said Jeff Hood, a minister who took part in the march. “I was screaming, ‘Run, run!’”

Bystanders captured extraordinary video of the shootout on downtown streets, with officers taking shelter behind patrol cars and pillars, and tending to their fallen comrades, amid the boom of gunfire and the flash and glare of squad cars’ emergency lights.

The violence struck near one of the city’s busiest districts, filled with hotels and restaurants as well as county government buildings, and hundreds of people spent much of the night trapped in buildings that were placed on lockdown.

The dead included four officers of the Dallas city police, and one from Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

Jane E. Bishkin, a Dallas lawyer who represents five of the wounded officers, said that they were expected to recover, but that one of them, a woman, had suffered a serious injury to her left arm and might be disabled as a result.

After Mr. Johnson was cornered on the second floor of a parking garage, negotiators spent hours trying to get him to surrender, Chief Brown said, but he “told our negotiators that the end is coming and he’s going to hurt and kill more of us, meaning law enforcement, and that there are bombs all over the place in this garage and downtown.”

“The negotiations broke down, and we had an exchange of gunfire with the suspect,” the chief said. “We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was.”

The three other suspects were a woman who was taken from the garage and two others who were taken in for questioning after a traffic stop, but they were not providing much information, the chief said.

On Friday, a large part of downtown remained off limits to civilians as detectives, and agents from the F.B.I. and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, combed through the sprawling crime scene.

Chief Brown suggested that the gunman had some knowledge of the march route.

“How would you know to post up there?” he said. “We have yet to determine whether or not there was some complicity with the planning of this, but we will be pursuing that.”

But Dominique R. Alexander, a minister and head of the Next Generation Action Network, who said he had planned the march, said his group did not condone any violence.

“I was right there when the shooting happened,” he said. “They could have shot me.”


Manny Fernandez reported from Dallas, and Richard Pérez-Peña and Jonah Engel Bromwich from New York. Reporting was contributed by Michael S. Schmidt from Washington, Alan Blinder and Patrick McGee from Dallas, Mark Landler from Warsaw, Julie Turkewitz from Colorado Springs, and Sewell Chan from London.

A version of this article appears in print on July 9, 2016,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline:
Five Officers Killed as Payback, Chief Says.

Five Dallas Officers Were Killed as Payback, Police Chief Says,
NYT, July 8, 2016,






What White America Fails to See


JULY 7, 2016

The New York Times

Michael Eric Dyson


IT is clear that you, white America, will never understand us. We are a nation of nearly 40 million black souls inside a nation of more than 320 million people. We don’t all think the same, feel the same, love, learn, live or even die the same.

But there’s one thing most of us agree on: We don’t want the cops to kill us without fear that they will ever face a jury, much less go to jail, even as the world watches our death on a homemade video recording.

You will never understand the helplessness we feel in watching these events unfold, violently, time and again, as shaky images tell a story more sobering than your eyes are willing to believe: that black life can mean so little. That Alton B. Sterling and Philando Castile, black men whose deaths were captured on film this past week, could be gone as we watch, as a police officer fires a gun. That the police are part of an undeclared war against blackness.

You can never admit that this is true. In fact, you deem the idea so preposterous and insulting that you call the black people who believe it racists themselves. In that case the best-armed man will always win.

You say that black folks kill each other every day without a mumbling word while we thunderously protest a few cops, usually but not always white, who shoot to death black people who you deem to be mostly “thugs.”

That such an accusation is nonsense is nearly beside the point. Black people protest, to one another, to a world that largely refuses to listen, that what goes on in black communities across this nation is horrid, as it would be in any neighborhood depleted of dollars and hope — emptied of good schools, and deprived of social and economic buffers against brutality. People usually murder where they nest; they aim their rage at easy targets.

It is not best understood as black-on-black crime; rather, it is neighbor-to-neighbor carnage. If their neighbors were white, they’d get no exemption from the crime that plagues human beings who happen to be black. If you want interracial killing, you have to have interracial communities.

We all can see the same videos. But you insist that the camera doesn’t tell the whole story. Of course you’re right, but you don’t really want to see or hear that story.

At birth, you are given a pair of binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy. Those binoculars are privilege; they are status, regardless of your class. In fact the greatest privilege that exists is for white folk to get stopped by a cop and not end up dead when the encounter is over.

Those binoculars are also stories, bad stories, biased stories, harmful stories, about how black people are lazy, or dumb, or slick, or immoral, people who can’t be helped by the best schools or even God himself. These beliefs don’t make it into contemporary books, or into most classrooms. But they are passed down, informally, from one white mind to the next.

The problem is you do not want to know anything different from what you think you know. Your knowledge of black life, of the hardships we face, yes, those we sometimes create, those we most often endure, don’t concern you much. You think we have been handed everything because we have fought your selfish insistence that the world, all of it — all its resources, all its riches, all its bounty, all its grace — should be yours first, and foremost, and if there’s anything left, why then we can have some, but only if we ask politely and behave gratefully.

So you demand the Supreme Court give you back what was taken from you: more space in college classrooms that you dominate; better access to jobs in fire departments and police forces that you control. All the while your resentment builds, and your slow hate gathers steam. Your whiteness has become a burden too heavy for you to carry, so you outsource it to a vile political figure who amplifies your most detestable private thoughts.

Whiteness is blindness. It is the wish not to see what it will not know.

If you do not know us, you also refuse to hear us because you do not believe what we say. You have decided that enough is enough. If the cops must kill us for no good reason, then so be it because most of us are guilty anyway. If the black person that they kill turns out to be innocent, it is an acceptable death, a sacrificial one.

You cannot know what terror we live in. You make us afraid to walk the streets, for at any moment, a blue-clad officer with a gun could swoop down on us to snatch our lives from us and say that it was because we were selling cigarettes, or compact discs, or breathing too much for your comfort, or speaking too abrasively for your taste. Or running, or standing still, or talking back, or being silent, or doing as you say, or not doing as you say fast enough.

You hold an entire population of Muslims accountable for the evil acts of a few. Yet you rarely muster the courage to put down your binoculars, and with them, your corrosive self-pity, and see what we see. You say religions and cultures breed violence stoked by the complicity of silence because peoples will not denounce the villains who act in their names.

Yet you do the same. You do not condemn these cops; to do so, you would have to condemn the culture that produced them — the same culture that produced you. Black people will continue to die at the hands of cops as long as we deny that whiteness can be more important in explaining those cops’ behavior than the dangerous circumstances they face.

You cannot know how we secretly curse the cowardice of whites who know what I write is true, but dare not say it. Neither will your smug insistence that you are different — not like that ocean of unenlightened whites — satisfy us any longer. It makes the killings worse to know that your disapproval of them has spared your reputations and not our lives.

You do not know that after we get angry with you, we get even angrier with ourselves, because we don’t know how to make you stop, or how to make you care enough to stop those who pull the triggers. What else could explain the white silence that usually greets these events? Sure, there is often an official response, sometimes even government apologies, but from the rest of the country, what? We see the wringing of white hands in frustration at just how complex the problem is and how hard it is to tell from the angles of the video just what went down.

We feel powerless to make our black lives matter. We feel powerless to make you believe that our black lives should matter. We feel powerless to keep you from killing black people in front of their loved ones. We feel powerless to keep you from shooting hate inside our muscles with well-choreographed white rage.

But we have rage, too. Most of us keep our rage inside. We are afraid that when the tears begin to flow we cannot stop them. Instead we damage our bodies with high blood pressure, sicken our souls with depression.

We cannot hate you, not really, not most of us; that is our gift to you. We cannot halt you; that is our curse.


Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown, is the author of “The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America” and a contributing opinion writer.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTOpinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

What White America Fails to See,
NYT, July 7, 2016,






After Philando Castile’s Killing,

Obama Calls Police Shootings

‘an American Issue’


JULY 7, 2016

The New York Times




ST. PAUL — President Obama, reacting with the same horror as many Americans to a grisly video of a bloody, dying man in Minnesota who was shot by the police, begged the nation to confront the racial disparities in law enforcement while acknowledging the dangers that officers face.

“When incidents like this occur, there’s a big chunk of our citizenry that feels as if, because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same, and that hurts, and that should trouble all of us,” Mr. Obama said in a statement on Thursday after arriving in Warsaw for a NATO summit. “This is not just a black issue, not just a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue that we all should care about.”

A few hours earlier, Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota, who seemed shaken by the video showing the man, Philando Castile, as he died, also pointed to the role of race. “Would this have happened if the driver were white, if the passengers were white?” he asked. “I don’t think it would have.”

The statements capped a wrenching day that started with widespread replays of the extraordinary video of Mr. Castile’s final moments and the aftermath of the shooting, which his girlfriend had narrated as they occurred live on Facebook. There were demonstrations and a vigil for Mr. Castile, with appearances by members of his family, in St. Paul.

But the shooting reverberated far beyond the state. In Dallas, gunfire broke out Thursday evening at a demonstration, turning a vocal but peaceful rally into chaos as two snipers shot at police officers, killing five of them, the police said.

Mr. Dayton and members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation asked for the Justice Department to investigate the death of Mr. Castile, 32, who died hours after the department took over the investigation into the fatal police shooting, also captured on video, in Baton Rouge, La. The governor said he had spoken with White House and Justice Department officials.

But the department responded that for now, it would leave the investigation to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and would offer assistance.

The shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota follow a long string of deaths of black people at the hands of the police — in Staten Island; Cleveland; Baltimore; Ferguson, Mo.; and North Charleston, S.C., among others — that have stoked outrage around the country. The encounters, many of them at least partly caught on video, have led to intense debate about race relations and law enforcement.

Mr. Obama, in Warsaw, said he felt compelled to follow up a Facebook message with a personal statement about the killings, though he said he could not comment directly on them. “But what I can say is that all of us, as Americans, should be troubled by these shootings, because these are not isolated incidents,” he said. “They’re symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”

The president cited the nation’s tortured racial history and current statistics on unequal treatment of the races. Sounding wistful, he said, “maybe in my children’s lifetimes, all the vestiges of that past will have been cured.”

Mr. Castile’s deadly encounter with the police occurred Wednesday night at 9 p.m., in the small city of Falcon Heights, just northwest of St. Paul. The graphic video showed Mr. Castile, who had been shot several times, slumping toward the woman who was recording the scene. As she did so, her 4-year-old daughter sat in the back seat and an officer stood just outside the driver’s side window, still aiming his gun at the mortally wounded man at point-blank range.

The video is all the more shocking for the calm, clear narration of the woman, Diamond Reynolds, and the fact that she was streaming it live on Facebook. On the video, Ms. Reynolds, who said Mr. Castile was her boyfriend, gives her account of what happened, saying again and again that he had informed the officer that he was carrying a gun, and that he was just reaching for his driver’s license and registration — as the officer had requested — when the officer opened fire. She estimated, at various times, that three, four or five shots were fired.

“Please, Officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him,” she said. “You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir.”

Ms. Reynolds’s daughter appears several times in the video. Near the end of the 10-minute clip, as the two are sitting in the back of a police car and Ms. Reynolds becomes increasingly distraught, the girl comforts her mother. “It’s O.K., Mommy,” she says. “It’s O.K. I’m right here with you.”

Late Thursday night, Minnesota authorities identified the officer who fired as Jeronimo Yanez. They said he is on administrative leave as the investigation continues. Another officer who did not shoot but was on the scene is also on leave.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office ruled Mr. Castile’s manner of death to be a homicide, meaning he was killed by another person.

In a short statement, the medical examiner said Mr. Castile sustained multiple gunshot wounds and died at 9:37 p.m. in a hospital emergency room, about 20 minutes after he was shot.

Mr. Castile had worked in the nutrition services department of St. Paul Public Schools since 2002, and became a supervisor two years ago, the district said in a statement. In recent years, he worked at J. J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, which is part of the district.

“He was one of the softest-spoken people you’ve ever met,” said Antonio Johnson, a first cousin of Mr. Castile’s. “This kid has never been in an argument. You could try to argue with him, and he was so nonconfrontational that he’d just laugh.”

Danny Givens, a nondemoninational pastor who said he was a friend of Mr. Castile’s, said, “Philando was a very even-keeled man, good-hearted, personable, smile would light up a room, eyes that just speak volumes of love.”

In its statement, the school district said: “He had a cheerful disposition and his colleagues enjoyed working with him. He was quick to greet former co-workers with a smile and hug.”

In the day after the shooting, Ms. Reynolds and her video supplied the only public accounts of the lethal encounter. Officials said they could not offer any details, though they did confirm that a gun — presumably Mr. Castile’s — was recovered from the scene.

Mona Dohman, the state commissioner of public safety, who oversees the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, declined to say whether Mr. Castile had a permit to carry a concealed firearm.

Mr. Dayton said he was struck by the fact that the video did not show officers making any attempt to render first aid to the dying man, but that they handcuffed Ms. Reynolds and placed her and her daughter in the back of a police car. “The stark treatment I find just absolutely appalling at all levels,” he said.

The video of the shooting passed rapidly among Twitter, Facebook and YouTube users, becoming significant news online. The terms #FalconHeightsShooting and #PhilandoCastile were trending on Twitter as news of the encounter spread.

Another day, another hashtag. You didn't deserve this, brother. You didn't deserve this. #PhilandoCastile
— NE-YO (@NeYoCompound) July 7, 2016

Hillary Clinton wrote on Twitter: “America woke up to yet another tragedy of a life cut down too soon. Black Lives Matter.”

Speaking to reporters on Thursday morning, Ms. Reynolds said that Mr. Castile, had just come from having his hair done for his birthday when they were pulled over on Larpenteur Avenue, a major thoroughfare through Falcon Heights, a predominantly white and middle-class city of 5,500 residents. The two officers who stopped them were from the nearby city of St. Anthony, which provides police services under contract to Falcon Heights, One officer approached Mr. Castile, who was driving, and said he had a broken taillight, Ms. Reynolds said.

“He tells us to put our hands in the air, we have our hands in the air,” she said. “At the time as our hands is in the air, he asked for license and registration,” which Mr. Castile carried in a wallet in his back pocket.

As he is reaching for his back pocket wallet, to produce his license and registration, “he lets the officer know, ‘Officer, I have a firearm on me,’ ” she said. “I began to yell, ‘But he’s licensed to carry.’ After that, he began to take off shots — bah, bah, bah, bah, ‘Don’t move! Don’t move!’ But how can you not move when you’re asking for license and registration? It’s either you want my hands in the air or you want my identification.”

The video, some versions of which were reversed, making it appear that Mr. Castile was in the passenger seat, begins with images of Mr. Castile, who appears to be moaning and moving slightly, his left arm and left side bloody. Ms. Reynolds, who uses the name Lavish Reynolds on Facebook, then pans the camera to her face and says matter-of-factly, “They killed my boyfriend.” In the background, one of the officers can be heard shouting: “I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hands up.”

Mr. Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, told CNN that she had taught her son to be extremely cautious when encountering members of law enforcement. “If you get stopped by the police, comply,” Ms. Castile said. “Comply, comply, comply.”

“My son was a law-abiding citizen, and he did nothing wrong,” she said. “He’s no thug.”

She added, “I think he was just black in the wrong place.”


Correction: July 7, 2016

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the beginning of the video shot in Falcon Heights, Minn. It shows the aftermath of the shooting; it does not show the shooting itself.

Matt Furber reported from St. Paul, and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York. Reporting was contributed by Christina Capecchi from St. Paul, Jonah Engel Bromwich and Michael McPhate from New York, Gardiner Harris from Washington and Mitch Smith from Minnesota.

A version of this article appears in print on July 8, 2016,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline:
11 Officers Shot, 4 Fatally, at Rally Against Violence.

After Philando Castile’s Killing,
Obama Calls Police Shootings ‘an American Issue’,
NYT, July 7, 2016,






Alton Sterling Shooting in Baton Rouge

Prompts Justice Dept. Investigation


JULY 6, 2016

The New York Times





BATON ROUGE, La. — The Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation on Wednesday into the fatal shooting of a black man by the Baton Rouge, La., police after a searing video of the encounter, aired repeatedly on television and social media, reignited contentious issues surrounding police killings of African-Americans.

Officials from Gov. John Bel Edwards to the local police and elected officials vowed a complete and transparent investigation and appealed to the city — after a numbing series of high-profile, racially charged incidents elsewhere — to remain calm.

“I have full confidence that this matter will be investigated thoroughly, impartially and professionally,” Mr. Edwards said in announcing the federal takeover of the case. “I have very serious concerns. The video is disturbing, to say the least.”

Urging patience while the investigation takes place, the governor said: “I know that that may be tough for some, but it’s essential that we do that. I know that there are protests going on, but it’s urgent that they remain peaceful.”

Two white officers were arresting Alton B. Sterling, 37, early Tuesday after responding to a call about an armed man. The officers had Mr. Sterling pinned to the ground when at least one of them shot him.

The video of the shooting propelled the case to national attention, like a string of recorded police shootings before it. The shooting has prompted protests here in the Louisiana capital, including a vigil with prayers and gospel music that drew hundreds of people Wednesday night to the storefront where it happened.

C. Denise Marcelle, a state representative who recently announced that she would run for mayor, made impassioned pleas that the crowd remain calm.

“This is not Ferguson,” Ms. Marcelle said. “This is Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”

Sandra Sterling, an aunt who said she had raised Mr. Sterling, also called for peace. “I’m mad,” she said, but added, “I’m not angry enough to hurt nobody.”

LaMont O. Cole, a city councilman, had some of the harshest words for the two police officers. “Those two officers who perpetrated this brutal attack, and then murdered this young man, are cowards,” he said.

The decision to have the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the F.B.I. and the United States attorney’s office in Baton Rouge conduct the investigation was welcomed by a lawyer for Mr. Sterling’s family.

“We’re confident that it won’t be swept under the rug,” said the lawyer, Edmond Jordan, who is also a state representative. “I think people are confident that justice will be pursued.”

Officials identified the officers as Blane Salamoni, who has been with the force for four years, and Howie Lake II, with three years’ experience. Both were placed on administrative leave.

A call to a phone number for Mr. Salamoni was answered by a man who said he was not the officer, but who would not identify himself. “When all the facts come out, they did what they had to do,” the man said, and then hung up.

Mr. Salamoni is the son of Noel Salamoni, a captain in the department who is in charge of special operations.

Local and state officials endorsed the federal takeover of the case. “We feel it is in the best interest of the Baton Rouge Police Department, the city of Baton Rouge and this community for this to happen,” the police chief, Carl Dabadie Jr., said.

In other cities with high-profile deaths of people in police custody, when local law enforcement agencies have kept control of the investigations and prosecution, they have often drawn intense criticism for their handling of the cases.

There are multiple videos that may show the conflict with Mr. Sterling, in addition to the one recorded by a bystander that has been made public, said Lt. Jonny Dunnam, a police spokesman, at a news conference. Mr. Jordan, the family lawyer, called on the police to release the videos, but Lieutenant Dunnam said that for now, the department was providing them only to the federal authorities.

“We have in-car camera video footage, we have body camera video footage and there is video at the store,” Lieutenant Dunnam said. Of the recordings from the body cameras the officers wore, he said: “That footage may not be as good as we hoped for. During the altercation those body cameras came dislodged.”

Chants of "Hands up, Dont shoot", outside of the Triple S store in #BatonRouge #AltonSterling pic.twitter.com/hVCH02idbs
— WWL-TV (@WWLTV) July 6, 2016

At an earlier news conference on Wednesday, family members, elected officials and civic leaders demanded to know why Mr. Sterling had been killed. Some of them, including the local N.A.A.C.P. president, Mike McClanahan, called on Chief Dabadie to resign.

Cameron Sterling, Mr. Sterling’s 15-year-old son, wept uncontrollably as his mother, Quinyetta McMillon, delivered a statement.

“The individuals involved in his murder took away a man with children who depended upon their daddy on a daily basis,” Ms. McMillon said, adding, “As a mother I have now been forced to raise a son who is going to remember what happened to his father.”

On Tuesday, a person called the police to report that a black man in a red shirt selling music CDs outside the Triple S Food Mart had threatened him with a gun, the Police Department said. Two officers confronted Mr. Sterling about 12:35 a.m.

Mr. Sterling had a long criminal history, including convictions for battery and illegal possession of a gun, but it is not clear whether the officers knew any of that as they tried to arrest him.

The graphic cellphone video shot by a bystander, which was released later in the day, shows an officer pushing Mr. Sterling onto the hood of the car and then tackling him to the ground. He is held to the pavement by two officers, and one appears to hold a gun above Mr. Sterling’s chest.

At one point someone on the video can be heard saying, “He’s got a gun! Gun!” and one officer can be seen pulling his weapon. After some shouting, what sound like gunshots can be heard and the camera shifts away, and then there are more apparent gunshots.

A second video of the shooting, filmed by the owner of the store and first posted by the local newspaper, The Advocate, on Wednesday afternoon, showed the shooting from a different angle. It also shows one of the officers taking something out of Mr. Sterling’s pocket after he was shot and was lying on the ground.

Witnesses have said they saw a handgun on the ground next to him. Mr. Jordan, the lawyer, said Mr. Sterling’s relatives were not aware of him owning a gun.

Arthur Reed, the founder of Stop the Killing, the group that released the cellphone video, said he saw a gun only after Mr. Sterling had been fatally shot. The group, a mentoring program for youths, had heard reports on a police scanner about an arrest at the store, and showed up to gather video for potential use in a documentary about urban violence.

Mr. Reed said the group decided to release its video after he heard that the police had accused Mr. Sterling of reaching for a gun.

“He never reached in the video,” Mr. Reed said. “He never did anything.”

William Clark, the coroner of East Baton Rouge Parish, said that Mr. Sterling had died at the scene from gunshot wounds to the chest and back. Lieutenant Dunnam declined to say whether both officers fired their guns, or if either of them used an electric stun device on Mr. Sterling.

Mr. Sterling’s name began trending on Twitter Tuesday night. In a statement on the killing, Hillary Clinton said, ”Something is profoundly wrong when so many Americans have reason to believe that our country doesn’t consider them as precious as others because of the color of their skin.”

By Wednesday evening, the parking lot of the Triple S was jammed with protesters and TV cameras. The protesters, young and old and nearly all African-American, waved signs declaring that black lives matter.

Anthony Anderson, 62, a tour bus driver, and his cousin, David Jones, 60, who is self-employed, said they had had enough.

“I just think it looked like there could have been another way to handle that situation,” Mr. Anderson said of the video. He said that it seemed to him that the police here had long been harassing black people.

The videos made just as little sense to Leroy Tackno, 60, the manager of the Living Waters Outreach Ministry transitional housing center where Mr. Sterling kept a small bedroom for $90 a week. He said that Mr. Sterling had never been any trouble.

“I’m just trying to figure out what did he do,” Mr. Tackno said. “All he did was sell CDs.”


Richard Fausset reported from Baton Rouge, Richard Perez-Pena from New York and Campbell Robertson from New Orleans. Reporting was contributed by Mike McPhate and Jonah Engel Bromwich from New York, Allen Johnson from Baton Rouge and Timothy Williams from Washington. Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

A version of this article appears in print on July 7, 2016,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline:
U.S. Examines Police Killing in Louisiana.

Alton Sterling Shooting in Baton Rouge Prompts Justice Dept. Investigation,
NYT, July 6, 2016,





Texas Woman

Fatally Shoots 2 Daughters

and Is Killed by the Police


JUNE 27, 2016

The New York Times



The small Texas city of Katy was left shaken after a woman fatally shot her two grown daughters and was then killed by a police officer, according to the authorities.

Under different circumstances, in a different era, the story of a shooting and a police confrontation on a street in a small city of 14,000 people might not have drawn much attention, but this one became widely publicized over the weekend thanks in part to the power of social media, where gun violence remains a subject of fierce debate.

Law enforcement said that a deputy from the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office and an officer from nearby Fulshear responded to reports of gunfire at the family’s home in the suburb of Houston on Friday and found the two young women — Taylor Sheats, 22, and Madison Sheats, 17 — lying in the street after having been shot.

Their mother, Christy Sheats, 42, was standing nearby with a gun in her hand, the authorities said.

When the mother refused to drop the weapon, the officer shot her once in the chest, Sheriff Troy E. Nehls said.

On Monday, the sheriff’s office released more details about the shootings, though a motive was not immediately clear. It said Christy Sheats had called a family meeting, and when her husband, Jason Sheats, 45, and their daughters gathered in the living room, the mother opened fire.

The daughters and the father ran out the front door in the 6000 block of Remson Hollow Lane, and Madison Sheats collapsed, the authorities said. Mr. Sheats ran to the end of a cul-de-sac, Taylor Sheats ran into the street, and the mother followed, shooting her.

Christy Sheats went back inside to reload her weapon, returned and shot the older daughter again, according to a witness. Taylor Sheats was taken to a hospital, where she died.

The police found a .38-caliber handgun at the scene, the statement said.

Sheriff Nehls said that crisis intervention teams had been sent to the home more than once in recent years over turmoil that seemed to revolve around the mother.

The statement on Monday said the police had responded to 14 calls to the house since 2012, including for alarms. But the statement added that “legal constraints” prevented the release of any further information, including 911 calls.

This is Madison sheats. We're told she went to seven lakes high school. She was just 17 when she was killed #KHOU pic.twitter.com/2gyiVEEUjb
— Josh Chapin (@JoshChapinKHOU) June 26, 2016

The bloodshed on a quiet middle-class street in the city, which is about 30 miles west of Houston, left neighbors and the victims’ loved ones shattered.

This is Taylor sheats. She was just 22 years old. #khou11 pic.twitter.com/lfg6REg4AV
— Josh Chapin (@JoshChapinKHOU) June 26, 2016

Sheriff Nehls said Sunday that Mr. Sheats was “ having a very difficult time with this.”

“They seemed to be an all-American family,” the sheriff said. “Then you realize that what happens behind closed doors — you just don’t know.”

Catherine Knowles, a friend of Christy Sheats’s, told a local broadcaster, KTRK-TV, that she had seen no indication of any trouble that could have made Ms. Sheats snap. Ms. Sheats spoke proudly of her daughters, Ms. Knowles said.

“This is not the Christy that I know — it’s just not,” Ms. Knowles said. “I thought it was the wrong person. It had to be.”

Taylor Sheats’s Facebook profile says she had studied at Lone Star College at CyFair in Cypress, Tex., and indicated hopes of becoming an artist.

Madison Sheats was to begin her senior year at Seven Lakes High School in Katy this fall.

Texas Woman Fatally Shoots 2 Daughters and Is Killed by the Police,
NYT, June 27, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/28/us/katy-texas shootings.html






New Jersey Woman Charged

After Her Son, 6,

Fatally Shoots His Brother, 4


JUNE 26, 2016

The New York Times



A New Jersey mother was charged with endangering the welfare of a child after her 6-year-old son fatally shot his 4-year-old brother while playing with a gun, the authorities said.

Officials with the Essex County prosecutor’s office said the mother, Itiyanah Spruill, 22, of East Orange, N.J., was arrested on Saturday and was also charged with a weapons violation. Bail was set at $310,000, and she was being held at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark.

East Orange officials said the older boy had been playing with his mother’s gun in the family’s third-floor apartment shortly before 11 a.m. on Saturday when he shot his brother in the head. The younger boy died a few hours later at University Hospital in Newark. Ms. Spruill was home when the shooting occurred, the authorities said.

Thomas S. Fennelly, chief assistant prosecutor, said that the shooting appeared to have been accidental and that the legal ownership of the gun was under investigation.

The brother was released into the custody of a family member, he said.


A version of this article appears in print on June 27, 2016, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Woman Charged After Her Son, 6, Fatally Shoots His Brother, 4.

New Jersey Woman Charged After Her Son, 6, Fatally Shoots His Brother, 4,
NYT, June 26, 2016,






AR-15 Rifles Are Beloved,

Reviled and a Common Element

in Mass Shootings


JUNE 13, 2016

The New York Times



In recent years, the AR-15 has become, simultaneously, one of most beloved and most vilified rifles in the country.

It is no surprise why the gun is so reviled by gun control advocates. Omar Mateen, the gunman in the attack this weekend on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., used a version of the rifle produced by SIG Sauer to kill nearly 50 people.

The military-style weapon has also been the gun of choice in several other mass shootings: at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.; at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.; at a holiday party for county health workers in San Bernardino, Calif.; and at the campus of Umpqua Community College in Oregon.

But the National Rifle Association has taken to calling the AR-15 “America’s rifle.” Though the federal government does not keep track of exactly how many AR-15s are in circulation, experts estimate that there are easily several million in the nation’s rifle racks and gun safes — a huge number, given that the gun, along with other so-called assault weapons, was banned under federal law from 1994 to 2004.

The rifle’s extraordinary popularity can be traced to a number of factors, including the ease of its use, its embodiment of a certain military glamour, and the aggressive marketing of the gun industry.

The weapon was first built in the late 1950s by Eugene M. Stoner, a former Marine and the lead gun designer at the ArmaLite Division of the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation. It was an unusual rifle for the era, made of lightweight plastics and aluminum instead of traditional materials like wood and metals. It also fired a .223-caliber bullet, which was smaller and faster than the typical ammunition at the time.

Partly for those reasons, the Pentagon, under Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, purchased the AR-15 in bulk in the 1960s and, after renaming it the M-16, turned it into the standard issue for American ground troops in Vietnam. Around the same time, a civilian version of the rifle, which unlike its military counterpart could not shoot automatically, also went on sale. Today, dozens of companies produce their own version of the weapon.

“Back in the day, people called it the ‘plastic rifle’ because it felt like a toy,” said Sam Andrews, the owner of Tier One Weapons Systems, a gun engineering company in Eureka, Mo. “But that’s evolved. Now people realize that light can be good.”

Because of its gas-operated system, Mr. Andrews said, the AR-15 has a fairly gentle recoil. The weapon is also fast and accurate, he added, able to fire, under capable hands, eight rounds in a second.

“The reason it’s so popular,” Mr. Andrews said, “is that if you bring a handgun to a fight where there’s an AR-15 you’re going to lose. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a 240-pound man like me or a 90-pound girl.”

Gun owners say that the AR-15 is used for hunting, sport shooting and self-defense. The rifle is also easily accessorized with custom add-ons like flashlights, infrared scopes and a variety of grips, and is called the Lego set of the gun world. Its owners swap product reviews or share personal hacks on a wide variety of blogs and online bulletin boards.

According to a 2010 survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, AR-15 owners tend on average to have three different versions of the rifle and spend more than $400 per weapon on accessories and special modifications. Though the AR-15 can be bought as cheaply as $600, the average retail price was slightly more than $1,000, the survey found.

This demand has been accompanied — some would say caused — by vigorous mass marketing campaigns by gun manufacturers, which often refer to the AR-15 not as an assault rifle, but as a modern sporting rifle. Groups like the Civilian Marksmanship Program run well-attended target competitions each year that attract scores of military veterans, one of the gun’s chief sales demographics.

“You’ve got lots of returning servicemen who knew the M-16 very well — how to shoot it, clean it, take it apart,” said Jim Scoutten, the executive producer of Shooting USA, a shooting sports television channel. “And when they come back, in many cases they acquire the civilian version.”

The AR-15 is also heavily marketed to younger gun enthusiasts who are attracted to the highly militarized, Special Operations culture that has become increasingly prevalent in action movies and shooter-style video games like “Call of Duty.”

In 2014, the Violence Policy Center, which advocates gun control, did a study of the marketing efforts by the Freedom Group, one of the world’s largest gun manufacturers. It found that many of the company’s advertisements used martial images of men in tactical gear and slogans like “Built to Be as Tough as the Job” and “Bravery on Duty.”

The study quotes an article in Shooting Sports Retailer, a gun industry trade magazine, warning salesmen to be wary of certain first-time buyers. “Many of the new shooters attracted to tactical guns for their first firearms purchase will think that they know guns because they’ve played a lot of first‐person shooter video games,” the article says. “Gamers inspired by ‘Call of Duty’ to purchase their first gun will eventually discover that they have a lot to learn.”

But despite such admonitions, the gun industry has used the popularity of these games to sell its products to “a youthful, aggressive, technologically savvy generation,” said Josh Koskoff, a lawyer representing the families of Newtown, Conn., in a lawsuit against the industry. In researching his suit, Mr. Koskoff said that he found screen shots from “Call of Duty” of AR-15s that bear the names of well-known gun manufacturers.

To Josh Sugarman, the founder of the Violence Policy Center, the manufacturers’ attempts to push the AR-15 among the younger set stem from a stark realization about the future of the industry.

“The traditional gun-buying demographic — white males — is aging and slowly dying off,” Mr. Sugarman said. “So they’re marketing the AR-15 to the next generation as the new, shiny thing.”

AR-15 Rifles Are Beloved,
Reviled and a Common Element in Mass Shootings,
NYT, June 13, 2016,






Omar Mateen,

an ‘Americanized Guy,’

Shows Threat of Lone Terrorists


JUNE 13, 2016

The New York Times





WASHINGTON — When a young American man from coastal Florida drove a truck packed with explosives into a hilltop restaurant in Syria in May 2014, F.B.I. agents scoured his online postings and interviewed his contacts in Florida in a scramble to determine who, if anyone, might try to launch a similar attack inside the United States.

One of the people they spoke to was Omar Mateen, a young security guard from a nearby town who had attended the same mosque as the suicide bomber and had been on a terrorism watch list for incendiary comments he once made to co-workers at a local courthouse. But the F.B.I. soon ended its examination of Mr. Mateen after finding no evidence that he posed a terrorist threat to his community.

That hopeful conclusion was upended in a bloody spasm of violence early Sunday morning when Mr. Mateen fatally shot dozens of people at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., before being killed by police officers who stormed the club to end the standoff. The horrific events at the Pulse nightclub left 49 dead and have left family members, neighbors and federal investigators trying to piece together clues about what might have led Mr. Mateen, 29, to carry out such unspeakable violence.

The government investigation could take months, but an early examination of Mr. Mateen’s life reveals a hatred of gay people and a stew of contradictions. He was a man who could be charming, loved Afghan music and enjoyed dancing, but he was also violently abusive. Family members said he was not overly religious, but he was rigid and conservative in his view that his wife should remain mostly at home. The F.B.I. director said on Monday that Mr. Mateen had once claimed ties to both Al Qaeda and Hezbollah — two radical groups violently opposed to each other.

Investigators now face the question of how much the killings were the act of a deeply disturbed man, as his former wife and others described him, and how much he was driven by religious or political ideology. Whatever drove him to carry out the shootings, his actions highlight the difficulty for the American government in trying to address a new style of terrorism — random acts of violence that may have been at least partly inspired by the Islamic State but were not directed by the group’s leaders.

Unlike Al Qaeda, which favors highly organized and planned operations, the Islamic State has encouraged anyone to take up arms in its name, and uses a sophisticated campaign of social media to inspire future attacks by unstable individuals with little history of embracing radical Islam. President Obama said Monday that there was no evidence that the Islamic State actually directed Sunday’s attack, which would make Mr. Mateen’s case part of a pattern of domestic radicalization.

American officials have said that those under surveillance in the United States for possible ties to the group usually have little terrorism expertise or outside support, which makes thwarting an Islamic State-inspired attack less like stopping a traditional act of terrorism and more like trying to prevent a shooting at a school or movie theater.

The son of Afghan immigrants, Mr. Mateen was born in New York in 1986, moved to Florida with his family in 1991 and spent his early years there in the Port St. Lucie area near the state’s east coast. He made friends as a child at a local mosque, and built friendships during slumber parties and basketball games, and playing video games. He bounced between jobs in high school and college. In court documents connected to a 2006 name change — from Omar Mir Seddique to Omar Mir Seddique Mateen — he said he had held eight jobs in about four years, including work as a grocer and as a salesman at a computer store.

He earned an associate degree in criminal justice technology from Indian River State College in 2006, the year he began working for the Florida Department of Corrections at a facility just west of Port St. Lucie.

He left that job six months later, and within six months he had found work with G4S, a large private security company that has won large government contracts for work both in the United States and abroad. He was assigned to protect at least two properties during his years at the firm: PGA Village, a golf club, and the St. Lucie County Courthouse complex.

Mr. Mateen had a home in Fort Pierce, on the Atlantic Coast. On Monday morning, a reporter told the police that the house’s sliding glass back door was open. Officers went to the home and “discovered the door open, possibly by force, creating suspicion of a burglary,” a police spokesman said. “Detectives will follow up to determine if, in fact, it was a burglary.”

Mr. Mateen met his future wife, Sitora Yusufiy, on MySpace in 2008. Both were on the site looking for love and eventually marriage, and she was drawn to him because of his alluring and funny messages.

During an interview Monday at her home in Boulder, Colo., Ms. Yusufiy said he seemed perfect — American enough for her free spirit and Muslim enough to please her traditional family.

“This man was a simple, Americanized guy that was also from my culture. And, you know, had the same religion,” she said. “So I was like, O.K., this could potentially satisfy my parents.”

She moved to Florida, and they married in a quiet courthouse ceremony in 2009, but the short-lived marriage was marred by violence and isolation, she said. She had no friends or family in Florida, and Mr. Mateen preferred that she stay in the house.

She said he sometimes returned from work angry and agitated, including one night when she fell asleep on the floor waiting for him to return home.

“All I remember is being woken up by a pillow being taken from under my head,” she said. “I hit my head on the ground and then he started pulling my hair.”

“He almost killed me,” she said. “Because he started choking me. And I somehow got out of it and I tried to tackle him.”

She said that Mr. Mateen might have been gay but chose to hide his true identity out of anger and shame. A senior federal law enforcement official said on Monday that the F.B.I. was looking at reports that Mr. Mateen had used a gay dating app, and patrons of Pulse were quoted in news reports as saying that he had visited the club several times.

Ms. Yusufiy said that her ex-husband had told her that he frequented nightclubs before their marriage, but that he did not tell her they were gay clubs.

The couple separated within a year, and in 2011 Mr. Mateen filed for divorce. In the court filing, Mr. Mateen said the marriage was “irretrievably broken.” He did not elaborate.

He came to the F.B.I.’s attention in 2013, when some of his co-workers reported that he had made inflammatory comments claiming connections to overseas terrorists, and saying he hoped that the F.B.I. would raid his family’s home so that he could become a martyr.

The F.B.I. opened an investigation and put Mr. Mateen on a terrorist watch list for nearly a year.

James Comey, the F.B.I. director, said during a news conference on Monday that agents used various methods to investigate Mr. Mateen, including sending an undercover informant who made contact with the suspect, wiretapping his conversations and scrutinizing his personal and financial records.

They also sought help from Saudi intelligence officials to learn more about his trips to the kingdom in 2011 and 2012 for the Umrah, a sacred pilgrimage to Mecca made by Muslims. More than 11,000 Americans make pilgrimages to Mecca each year, and Mr. Comey said the F.B.I. found no “derogatory” information about his trips.

During interviews with F.B.I. agents, according to Mr. Comey, Mr. Mateen said he had made the incendiary remarks “in anger” because his co-workers had ridiculed his Muslim background and he wanted to scare them. The F.B.I. closed its investigation and took him off the terrorist watch list.

But two months later, in July 2014, his name resurfaced in connection with the young man from coastal Florida, Moner Mohammad Abusalha, who had traveled to Syria and carried out the suicide bombing at the hilltop restaurant. During the course of that investigation, F.B.I. agents learned that the two men had attended the same mosque and knew each other “casually,” Mr. Comey said.

The F.B.I. interviewed Mr. Mateen a third time, but determined that his ties to the suicide bomber were not significant. The bureau had no further contact with Mr. Mateen.

Mr. Comey defended the work of his agents, although the bureau’s handling of the case is likely to be the subject of scrutiny and criticism in the coming weeks.
Graphic: What Happened Inside the Orlando Nightclub

Still, cases such as these rankle F.B.I. counterterrorism agents, who believe they draw criticism for any choices they make — either for leaving cases open too long, or for closing cases that don’t seem to have enough evidence.

Don Borelli, a retired F.B.I. counterterrorism supervisor in New York, said there was a danger in criticizing agents who close investigations for lack of evidence.

“Can we allow people’s futures to be affected if there is no proven basis for it? That’s the flip side to all this,” he said.

Sally Yates, the deputy attorney general, told reporters on Monday that the Justice Department might look to adopt new procedures that would alert counterterrorism investigators if someone who had been on a terror watch list tried to buy a gun.

Mr. Mateen bought the two weapons used in the attack just this month, officials said. “One would have liked to have known about it,” Ms. Yates said.

Federal investigators are now left to sift through disparate clues in search of any clear motive for Sunday’s killings.

The Islamic State has tried to turn the bloody event into a propaganda coup, and on Monday the group’s daily news bulletin boasted about the great victory carried out by “our brother, Omar Mateen.”

Mr. Mateen’s father, Seddique Mir Mateen, was unequivocal on Monday that his son had committed an “act of terrorism.” But the elder Mr. Mateen and other family members said they were still puzzled why a young man who had never been particularly religious is now being tied to the Islamic State’s murderous ideology.

They said that at this point they can find no easy explanations.

“Why did he do this?” his father asked. “He was born in America. He went to school in America. He went to college — why did he do that?”

“I am as puzzled as you are.”


Follow Mark Mazzetti @MarkMazzettiNYT, Eric Lichtblau @EricLichtblau and Alan Blinder @alanblinder on Twitter.

Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lichtblau reported from Washington, and Alan Blinder from Port St. Lucie, Fla. Reporting was contributed by Julie Turkewitz from Boulder, Colo.; Mujib Mashal from Fort Pierce, Fla.; Richard A. Oppel Jr. from New York; and Matt Apuzzo from Washington.

A version of this article appears in print on June 14, 2016, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Twice Scrutinized by F.B.I., Orlando Killer Exposes Gaps in Fighting ISIS-Inspired Acts.

Omar Mateen, an ‘Americanized Guy,’ Shows Threat of Lone Terrorists,
NYT, June 13, 2016,






In 6 Hours, 4 Are Killed

in Separate Shootings

in New York City


JUNE 12, 2016

The New York Times



Four people were killed in separate shootings across New York City late Saturday and early Sunday, the police said.

The killings were a reminder of the pockets of violence that exist in the city, even as it has become safer in recent years. Two of the shootings, in the Bronx and in East New York, Brooklyn, happened in police precincts that are among the city’s deadliest.

No arrests had been made in any of the killings as of Sunday evening.

The first shooting was reported shortly after 9:30 p.m. Saturday, near the intersection of East 175th Street and Monroe Avenue in the Mount Hope section of the Bronx, the police said. A man, identified by the police as Marvin Harris, was shot three times in the abdomen, and in an arm and a leg.

Mr. Harris, 32, was taken to Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, where he was pronounced dead, the police said.

The police said that they had suspects, and that it was unclear what prompted the shooting. Police officials said Mr. Harris, who lived about five miles away in the Bronx, had an extensive arrest history.

Less than an hour later, the police were called to the John Adams Houses, a New York City Housing Authority complex on Westchester Avenue in the Bronx, where a 29-year-old woman was found with a single gunshot wound to the torso.

The police said the woman, Jessica White, was with a group of about a dozen people in a courtyard behind one of the buildings when a man wearing a black sweatshirt and a ski mask approached them and opened fire. Ms. White was taken to Lincoln Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Later on Sunday, the police released a photograph from a surveillance camera of a “person of interest” in the killing.

The shooting, which investigators believe was gang related, was the ninth homicide recorded this year in the 40th Precinct, an area of the South Bronx where violence has persisted.

Shortly after 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, the police were called to Rogers Place, near East 163rd Street in the Bronx, where officers found a 31-year-old man who had been pushed from his wheelchair and shot in the head during a dispute, the authorities said. The man, Eric Oliver, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Mr. Oliver had about 30 packets of crack cocaine on him when he was found, police officials said. The police said he had a criminal history. Mr. Oliver was paralyzed in 2006 after he was shot in the lower back.

On Sunday, around 3 a.m., the police were called to Linwood Street, near Hegeman Avenue, in the East New York section of Brooklyn, where they found two men had been shot.

Those two and another man had been sitting on a building’s front stoop when gunshots were fired, and they ran inside. A 22-year-old was shot several times in the lower body and a 32-year-old was shot once in the left hand. Both men were taken to Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center, where the 22-year-old, whose name has not been released, was pronounced dead. The third man was not injured.

The police said that the motivation for the killing was unclear and that they did not have any information about suspects. Investigators found a “large quantity” of marijuana and money inside the home, a police spokesman said. At least 10 other killings have been recorded this year in the 75th Precinct, which covers East New York and is among the city’s most violent, according to police statistics.


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A version of this article appears in print on June 13, 2016,
on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline:
In 6 Hours, 4 Are Killed In Shootings Across City.

In 6 Hours, 4 Are Killed in Separate Shootings in New York City,
NYT, June 12, 2016,






Gunman Claiming Allegiance to ISIS

Kills 50 at Orlando Nightclub


JUNE 12, 2016




ORLANDO, Fla. — A gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State killed 50 people and wounded 53 in a crowded gay nightclub here early Sunday. The gunman, identified as Omar Mateen, had been investigated twice by the F.B.I. for possible connections to terrorism, the bureau said, but no ties could be confirmed.

Mr. Mateen, 29, an American citizen whose parents were from Afghanistan, called 911 and talked about the Islamic State shortly before the massacre at the Pulse nightclub, the worst mass shooting in American history, Ronald Hopper, an assistant agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Tampa Division, said at a news conference. Other federal officials said more explicitly that he had declared allegiance to the group.

“The F.B.I. first became aware of him in 2013 when he made inflammatory comments to co-workers alleging possible terrorist ties,” but could not find any incriminating evidence, Agent Hopper said.

In 2014, the bureau investigated Mr. Mateen again, for possible ties to Moner Mohammad Abusalha, an American who grew up in Florida but went to Syria to fight for an extremist group and detonated a suicide bomb. Agent Hopper said the bureau concluded that the contact between the two men had been minimal, and that Mr. Mateen “did not constitute a substantive threat at that time.”

The suspicions did not prevent Mr. Mateen, who lived in Fort Pierce, Fla., from working as a security guard, or from buying guns. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Mr. Mateen legally bought a long gun and a pistol in the last week or two, though it was not clear whether those were the weapons used in the assault.

Hours after the attack, the Islamic State claimed responsibility in a statement released over an encrypted phone app used by the group. It stated that the attack “was carried out by an Islamic State fighter,” according to a transcript provided by the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks jihadist propaganda.

But officials cautioned that even if Mr. Mateen, who court records show was born in New York and had been married and divorced, had been inspired by the group, there was no indication that it had trained or instructed him, or had any direct connection with him. The pair who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., in December also proclaimed allegiance to the Islamic State, but investigators do not believe they had any contact with the group.

“The F.B.I. is appropriately investigating this as an act of terror,” President Obama said from the White House. He said that the gunman clearly had been ”filled with hatred” and that investigators were seeking to determine any ties to overseas terrorist groups.

“In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another,” he said. “We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united as Americans to protect our people and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.”

As he had after previous mass shootings, the president said the shooting demonstrated again the need for what he called “common sense” gun measures.

“This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school or a house of worship or a movie theater or a nightclub,” Mr. Obama said. “We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. To actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

The killer stormed the Pulse nightclub armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and a handgun at about 2 a.m., while more than 300 people were inside dancing and drinking, John Mina, the Orlando police chief, said. Mr. Mateen shot about one-third of the people in the packed club, mowing down patrons while many others, some of them bleeding, fled down the darkened streets of the surrounding neighborhood.

The result was the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001, and the deadliest attack in the nation’s history on a specifically gay gathering. The F.B.I. set up a hotline for tips.

The gunman holed up inside with dozens of people effectively held hostage, some of them hiding in a restroom frantically calling for help, until about 5 a.m., when a police SWAT team, using an armored vehicle and stun grenades, raided the building and killed him. Officials said 11 law enforcement officers had exchanged fire with the gunman.

In that assault, an officer was wounded, his life saved by a Kevlar helmet that deflected a bullet, and at least 30 people were rescued, Chief Mina said. Some survivors escaped under cover of what the police called two “discretionary explosions.”

The shooting led to an increase in security at gay pride events and gay landmarks in cities around the country, including Washington, New York and Chicago. Law enforcement officials in Santa Monica, Calif., on Sunday confirmed the arrest of a heavily armed man who said he was in the area for West Hollywood’s gay pride parade. The authorities, however, said they did not know of any connection between the arrest and the Orlando shooting.

Some terrorist attacks, like the San Bernardino killings in December, were carried out in the name of Islam by people, some of them born and raised in the West, who were “self-radicalized.”

The Islamic State in particular has encouraged “lone wolf” attacks in the West, a point reinforced recently by a spokesman for the group, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, in his annual speech just before the holy month of Ramadan. In past years, the Islamic State and Al Qaeda ramped up attacks during Ramadan.

“Make it, Allah permitting, a month of hurt on the infidels everywhere,” Mr. Adnani said, according to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group. Noting that some supporters have lamented that they cannot strike at military targets, he took pains to explain why killing civilians in the land of the infidel is not just permitted but encouraged.
A member of the Orange County sheriff’s department at the scene of a shooting in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday. Credit Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Rasha Mubarak, the Orlando regional coordinator of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, released a statement saying: “We condemn this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured. The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence.”

The toll of the dead and injured far exceeded those of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, where 32 people were killed, and the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people were killed.

Pulse, which calls itself “Orlando’s Latin Hotspot,” was holding its weekly “Upscale Latin Saturdays” party with three D.J.s and a midnight show. Witnesses described a scene of chaos and confusion, and some said it was hard at first to realize that the gunshots were not part of the loud, pulsing dance music.

“We were dancing by the hip-hop area when I heard shots, bam, bam, bam, and the only thing I could think of was to duck, but I ran out instead,” said Joel Figueroa, 19, of Orlando, who had been inside. “Everybody was screaming and running toward the front door. I didn’t get to see the shooter.”

He said a friend of his had been shot three times and taken to a hospital.

Ray Rivera, a D.J. at the club, was playing reggae music in the patio area when the shooting started, while Latin music played inside the building.

“I heard shots, so I lower the volume of the music to hear better because I wasn’t sure of what I just heard,” Mr. Rivera said. “I thought it was firecrackers, then I realized that someone is shooting at people in the club.

“I heard like 40 shots coming from the main area of the club,” he continued. “I ran away through a side gate. I saw bodies on the floor, people on the floor everywhere. It was a chaos, everybody trying to get out.”

Mr. Rivera, 42, who has worked at Pulse for years, said: “This is a nice club, decent, people come from all over to dance and have a good time. Young people. A lot of young people were there last night. This is crazy.”

The club posted a message on its Facebook page about 3 a.m.: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”

People streamed out of the club into a chaotic situation with little idea of where to go. “Cops were saying, ‘Go, go, clear the area,’” Christopher Hansen told an Orlando TV station. “You don’t know who’s what and who’s where.”

Witnesses and police officers carried bleeding people down the streets, sometimes loading them into police vehicles for the drive to hospitals rather than waiting for ambulances. The club is three blocks down South Orange Avenue from Orlando Regional Medical Center, the region’s primary trauma center, and two other hospitals also took in victims.

“Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event,” the nightclub’s post said. “Thank you for your thoughts and love.”

The Gay Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Central Florida said it was offering grief counseling to victims and survivors.

Officials at Orlando Regional Medical Center asked members of the families of victims and missing people to gather at the north entrance, where they would be escorted inside.

The slaughter at Pulse occurred a day after the singer Christina Grimmie, a star of YouTube and the reality TV show “The Voice,” was shot down after a concert in Orlando. The police said she had been killed by a St. Petersburg, Fla., man who drove to Orlando with the specific intention to kill Ms. Grimmie. The man, Kevin James Loibl, killed himself moments later.

Chief Mina said Mr. Loibl had traveled to Orlando with two handguns, several loaded magazines and a hunting knife. Police officials were examining his telephone and computer to try to determine a motive.


Lizette Alvarez reported from Orlando, and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York. Reporting was contributed by Wendy Thompson and Les Neuhaus from Orlando; Alan Blinder in Fort Pierce, Fla.; Rukmini Callimachi from Paris; Eric Lichtblau and Eric Schmitt from Washington; and Steve Kenny, Richard A. Oppel Jr., Rick Rojas and Daniel Victor from New York.

Gunman Claiming Allegiance to ISIS Kills 50 at Orlando Nightclub,
NYT, June 12, 2016,






One Week in April,

Four Toddlers

Shot and Killed Themselves


MAY 5, 2016

The New York Times






KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sha’Quille Kornegay, 2 years old, was buried in a pink coffin, her favorite doll by her side and a tiara strategically placed to hide the self-inflicted gunshot wound to her forehead.

She had been napping in bed with her father, Courtenay Block, late last month when she discovered the 9-millimeter handgun he often kept under his pillow in his Kansas City, Mo., home. It was equipped with a laser sight that lit up like the red lights on her cousins’ sneakers. Mr. Block told the police he woke to see Sha’Quille by his bed, bleeding and crying, the gun at her feet. A bullet had pierced her skull.

In a country with more than 30,000 annual gun deaths, the smallest fingers on the trigger belong to children like Sha’Quille.

During a single week in April, four toddlers — Holston, Kiyan, Za’veon and Sha’Quille — shot and killed themselves, and a mother driving through Milwaukee was killed after her 2-year-old apparently picked up a gun that had slid out from under the driver’s seat. It was a brutal stretch, even by the standards of researchers who track these shootings.

These are shooters who need help tying their shoelaces, too young sometimes to even say the word “gun,” killed by their own curiosity.

They accidentally fire a parent’s pistol while playing cops and robbers, while riding in a shopping cart, after finding it in the pocket of the coat their father forgot to wear to work. The gun that killed Sha’Quille last Thursday was pointing up, as if being inspected, when it fired.

They are the most maddening gun deaths in America. Last year, at least 30 people were killed in accidental shootings in which the shooter was 5 or younger, according to Everytown For Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group that tracks these shootings, largely through news reports.

With shootings by preschoolers happening at a pace of about two per week, some of the victims were the youngsters’ parents or siblings, but in many cases the children ended up taking their own lives.

“You can’t call this a tragic accident,” said Jean Peters Baker, the prosecutor of Jackson County, Mo., who is overseeing the criminal case in Sha’Quille’s death. Her office charged Mr. Block, 24, with second-degree murder and child endangerment. “These are really preventable, and we’re not willing to prevent them.”

Gun control advocates say these deaths illustrate lethal gaps in gun safety laws. Some states require locked storage of guns or trigger locks to be sold with handguns. Others leave safety decisions largely to gun owners.

Twenty-seven states have laws that hold adults responsible for letting children have unsupervised access to guns, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, though experts say such measures have, at best, a small effect on reducing gun deaths. Massachusetts is the only state that requires gun owners to store their guns in a locked place, though it has not stopped youngsters there from accidentally killing themselves or other children.

Gun rights groups have long opposed these kinds of laws. They argue that trigger locks can fail, that mandatory storage can put a gun out of reach in an emergency, and that such measures infringe on Second Amendment rights.

“It’s clearly a tragedy, but it’s not something that’s widespread,” said Larry Pratt, a spokesman and former executive director of Gun Owners of America. “To base public policy on occasional mishaps would be a grave mistake.”

In Kansas City, Sha’Quille’s family is trying to come to grips with her death and the murder charge facing Mr. Block. In interviews, several relatives said they did not believe he deserved to be convicted of felony murder, but some questioned his judgment in leaving a loaded gun out while he slept as well as his actions after he discovered that his daughter was grievously wounded.

According to court records, Mr. Block told the police that immediately after the shooting, he went to the bathroom, wrapped the gun in a shirt and put it into a vent in the floor. He then ran outside carrying his dying daughter and yelled for a neighbor to call for help. He was also charged with evidence tampering.

Sha’Quille’s mother, Montorre Kornegay, said that she had recently separated from Mr. Block after more than five years together, but that they remained close. She said he loved the girl, whose first word was “Daddy.” When he called Ms. Kornegay from jail, he told her he was sorry and talked about how much he missed Sha’Quille.

The girl was just 2, but wanted to be older, telling people she was already 5. She would run through the house, playing her own private game of peekaboo, relatives said. In a cacophony of squeaky children at home, relatives could always distinguish Sha’Quille’s low, raspier voice. One day, she’ll be a singer, they told one another.

“What happened was wrong,” Ms. Kornegay said. She said that she did not think Mr. Block deserved to face a murder charge, but that he had behaved irresponsibly. “Why didn’t you stay up and watch her?”

Parents, police officers and neighbors from Georgia to California are asking similar painful questions this week. Here are some of their stories.


‘Stay With Me’

In 2015, there were at least 278 unintentional shootings at the hands of young children and teenagers, according to Everytown’s database. During the week in April when Sha’Quille and the other children died, there were at least five other accidental shootings by children and teenagers. Alysee Defee, 13, was shot in the armpit with a 20-gauge shotgun she had used for turkey hunting in Floyd County, Ind. Zai Deshields, 4, pulled a handgun out of a backpack at her grandmother’s home in Arlington, Tex., and shot her uncle in the leg.

A child who accidentally pulls the trigger is most likely to be 3 years old, the statistics show.

Holston Cole was 3, a boy crackling with energy who would wake before dawn, his pastor said. He loved singing “Jesus Loves Me” and bouncing inside the inflatable castle in his family’s front yard in Dallas, Ga.

About 7 a.m. on April 26, he found a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol in his father’s backpack, according to investigators. The gun fired, and Holston’s panicked father, David, called 911. Even before a dispatcher could speak, Mr. Cole wailed “No, no!” into the phone, according to a redacted recording.

Mr. Cole pleaded for his 3-year-old son to hold on until the ambulance could arrive: “Stay with me, Holston,” he can be heard saying on a 911 tape, his voice full of desperation. “Can you hear me? Daddy loves you. Holston. Holston, please. Please.”

Holston was pronounced dead that morning.

The local authorities have been weighing what can be a difficult decision for prosecutors and the police after these shootings: Whether to charge a stricken parent or family member with a crime. While laws vary among states, experts said decisions about prosecution hinge on the specific details and circumstances of each shooting. What may be criminal neglect in one child’s death may be legally seen as a tragic mistake in another.

Officials with the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office have suggested that they expect Mr. Cole to face, at most, a charge of reckless conduct.

“Anything that we do, criminally speaking, is not going to hold a candle to the pain that this family feels,” said Sgt. Ashley Henson, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office. Sergeant Henson said investigators had sensed early on that the shooting was accidental. “You want to be able to protect your family and take care of your family, but on the same hand, you’ve got to be safe with your weapons,” he said.

Some gun control groups have urged states and district attorneys to prosecute such cases more aggressively, saying that, grief aside, people need to be held responsible for what are easily preventable deaths.

Brent Moxey, the pastor who officiated at Holston’s funeral, said the boy’s father was already haunted. “I think he runs the scenario over and over and over in his mind.” Mr. Moxey said the family — which did not respond to a message left at their home seeking comment — was still asking for privacy.

About 1,000 mourners attended Holston’s funeral on April 30, remembering a boy who loved superheroes and would sometimes wrestle cardboard boxes. The day he died, he spent time alongside his mother, Haley, as she read the Bible, playing with the highlighter pen she used to note passages, Mr. Moxey said.

“This little boy loved to tinker and to play, and he loved to get into things,” Mr. Moxey said, describing the very impulse that probably led to Holston’s death. “He loved to figure out how stuff works.”


A Ringing Purse

In Indianapolis, Kanisha Shelton would stay protectively near her 2-year-old son, Kiyan, watchful of the stray dogs known to roam through the neighborhood.

But on the night of April 20, Ms. Shelton stepped away from the boy, leaving him in the kitchen while she was upstairs. She had placed her purse out of his reach on the kitchen counter, but when her phone started ringing, the boy apparently pushed a chair close to the counter, climbed onto it and reached for the purse, according to an account from a cousin, John Pearson. There was also a .380-caliber Bersa pistol in it.

Just after 9 p.m., Ms. Shelton heard a loud bang and rushed downstairs. There, in the kitchen, she found Kiyan lying on the floor, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the chest. He was rushed to a local children’s hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Ms. Shelton’s mother, who answered her daughter’s cellphone, said the family did not want to speak about the death. No criminal charges have been filed.

The police in Indianapolis said such scenes were becoming more common. “The mother was obviously very shaken up,” Capt. Richard Riddle said. Indeed, on Sunday night, another child, 10 years old, died in what the police say appears to have been another accidental shooting.

A 2013 investigation by The New York Times of children killed with firearms found that accidental shootings like these were being vastly undercounted by official tabulations, and were occurring about twice as often as records said.

Dr. Garen J. Wintemute, an emergency physician and a researcher at the University of California, Davis, who studies the public health effects of gun violence, said that nearly everyone — from toddlers to adults — can fail to accurately distinguish toy guns from real guns, loaded guns from unloaded ones.

“That doesn’t stop them from playing with it,” he said.

Mr. Pearson said he sympathized with Ms. Shelton and thought of Kiyan’s death as a tragic accident. “It was up on the counter, so I do think she thought she put the gun away, out of the baby’s reach,” Mr. Pearson said. “She’s going to be in a living hell.”

Essie Jones, who lives across the street, said Ms. Shelton had recently taught Kiyan to ride a small bicycle with training wheels, guiding him on the bike in the driveway. “They’d be up in the yard playing,” she said. “He was very happy.”

In a condolence book online, Dianna Mitchell-Wright, who identified herself as “Auntie,” wrote of her anguish over losing the boy she had nicknamed “My Main Man.”

“All I have are memories,” she said, “and your pictures in my cellphone.”


Anguished Goodbyes

The coffin that held Za’veon was no bigger than a piece of carry-on luggage, and it was so light that two pallbearers easily carried it through the packed St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Bermuda, La.

His full name was Za’veon Amari Williams, but to his family in Natchitoches, the 3-year-old was known as Baby Zee. On April 22, he found a pistol and shot himself in the head, according to Detective John Greely of the Natchitoches Police Department. When paramedics arrived, they found the mother cradling the boy and crying that he was not breathing, according to KSLA News 12.

The police arrested a companion of the mother, Alverious Demars, 22, on charges of negligent homicide and obstruction of justice. Detective Greely said that the police believed that the pistol belonged to Mr. Demars, and that he hid it after the toddler shot himself. The police have not found the weapon.

“As a responsible adult it’s his obligation to secure that — to make sure a child does not get ahold of it,” Detective Greely said, explaining why Mr. Demars had been arrested.

The family declined to speak, but in a Facebook post, the boy’s mother, Destiny Williams, wrote that she had not been able to sleep and was a “useless sad waste.” “I can’t take life,” she wrote. “Why is it so cruel and unrelenting and unforgiving.”

The funerals for these children were filled with a similar anguish.

At the funeral for Baby Zee, the wails and screams grew so loud during a final moment of goodbye that ushers closed the church doors to give the family privacy. In Georgia, Holston’s father tearfully read a letter that reflected on how the family used to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” At the Kansas City funeral for Sha’Quille, family members crumpled as they looked into the coffin, shaking with tears or kissing her.

The day after Sha’Quille was buried, her maternal grandmother, Pamala Kornegay, reflected on the girl who was missing from the cluster of grandchildren who sat coloring on her living room floor. Ms. Kornegay said she was not angry with Sha’Quille’s father.

“We’re just upset,” she said. “It was careless. It could have been prevented.” So senseless, she said, because Mr. Block had loved his daughter so dearly.

“He would take a bullet for her,” she said.


Jack Healy reported from Kansas City; Julie Bosman from Chicago; Alan Blinder from Dallas, Ga.; and Julie Turkewitz from Denver. Mitch Smith contributed reporting from Chicago; Ian Lovett from Wilseyville, Calif.; Jack Begg from New York; and Nathan Magner from Bermuda, La.

A version of this article appears in print on May 6, 2016, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Guns in Tiny Hands: In a Week, Four Toddlers Shoot Themselves.

One Week in April, Four Toddlers Shot and Killed Themselves,
NYT, May 5, 2016,






A Toddler,

a Loose Gun in a Car,

and a Mother Dies


APRIL 27, 2016

The New York Times



No one can know for sure what was in the mind of the person who fired the shot that killed a woman as she drove through Milwaukee on Tuesday. The shooter was 2 years old.

The woman who died on State Highway 175 was Patrice Price, 26, the Milwaukee County sheriff’s office said Wednesday, and the gun was in the hands of her own toddler.

The weapon, which investigators found on the floor of the back seat, was a .40-caliber pistol used by Ms. Price’s boyfriend, a security guard. His gun belt and tactical vest were also in the car, the sheriff’s office said. The local news media reported that the blue Dodge sedan Ms. Price was driving belonged to the boyfriend.

The sheriff’s office, which would not name the boyfriend, said in a statement that the 2-year-old, who was not in a car seat, “retrieved a firearm that slid out from under the driver’s seat and shot through the seat, striking the driver.”

Ms. Price managed to stop the car, but by the time rescue personnel reached her, she was not breathing. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The sheriff’s office did not say whether anyone would face criminal charges.

In tales of gun violence, accidents involving curious children and weapons seem especially tragic, but they are not especially unusual. Most often, they involve guns left unsecured by the child’s parents.

In the seven days that ended Tuesday, in addition to the death of Ms. Price, a 3-year-old in Georgia, a 3-year-old in Louisiana, a 2-year-old in Missouri and a 2-year-old in Indiana fatally shot themselves; a 4-year-old in Texas shot and wounded a family member; a 16-year-old in California killed a 14-year-old friend in a shooting that officials called accidental; a 15-year-old in Texas accidentally shot and wounded a 16-year-old friend; and a 13-year-old in Indiana accidentally shot and wounded herself.

In an episode with striking parallels to the Milwaukee shooting, last month a mother driving in Florida was shot and wounded by her 4-year-old son, who was in the back seat; law enforcement officials said that in that case, too, the gun had been stashed under the driver’s seat, and then slid backward. The woman, Jamie Gilt, had operated a pro-gun Facebook page on which she said her children knew how to shoot, and “even my 4-year-old gets jacked up to target shoot the .22.”

Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control group, says that since the start of 2015, at least 342 people in the United States have been accidentally shot by people under age 18.

When Ms. Price, a mother of three, was fatally shot in Milwaukee, her mother and her 1-year-old child were also in the car.

“Now I don’t have her no more,” her father, Andre Price, told WISN, a local television station. “I got a knot in my chest.”


A version of this article appears in print on April 28, 2016,
on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: A Toddler, a Loose Gun in a Car, and a Mother Is Shot to Death.

A Toddler, a Loose Gun in a Car, and a Mother Dies,
NYT, April 27, 2016,






Six Are Dead After Shootings

in Georgia Community


APRIL 23, 2016

The New York Times




A 51-year-old man shot and killed five people in the unincorporated East Georgia community of Appling on Friday night, officials said, before fatally turning a gun on himself in his garage.

Capt. Andy Shedd of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office said the suspect, Wayne Hawes, lived in the neighborhood, about 25 miles west of Augusta, where he carried out the shootings at two houses, killing three adults in one of them and two in the other.

Relatives said one of the victims, Reba Dent, was Mr. Hawes’s mother-in-law, and Vernon Collins, the Columbia County coroner, said Mr. Hawes’s wife was in protective custody on Friday night.

The shootings occurred about 35 minutes apart, Capt. Shedd said.

The captain said the police were called to 3162 Johnson Drive about a shooting at 7:54 p.m. He said two victims were declared dead at the scene; a third died at a hospital. One man and two women were killed, he said.

Mr. Collins said the man who was shot was also found with his throat slit.

At 8:32 p.m., the police were called to a shooting at 5581 Washington Road, about half a mile away from the scene of the first shooting.

At that second site, a woman and a man were found dead of gunshot wounds, he said.

Mr. Collins and Harriett Garrison, the county’s deputy coroner, identified the five victims. Ms. Dent, 87, was found at the scene of the first shooting, as were Roosevelt Burns, 75, and Trequila Clark, 31. Ms. Clark was discovered alive but wounded, and was taken to a hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Discovered at the second scene were the bodies of Shelley Williams, 63, and his wife, Lizzie Williams, 60. Each died from a single gunshot wound to the neck. They were sitting on a sofa when they were killed, Ms. Garrison said.

Sheriff’s deputies found Mr. Hawes’s body in his house about midnight. He died of what appeared to be a single gunshot wound to the head and had apparently tried, and failed, to set the house on fire, Capt. Shedd said.

A resident of the neighborhood, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the gunman was still being sought at the time of the interview, said she was home with her mother when they heard four gunshots in the first shooting.

“My mother was like, ‘That’s a whole bunch of shooting,’ ” the resident said.

At first, she said, they thought it was someone hunting in the woods.

“We just kind of peeked out,” she said, adding that they saw a man leave from the victims’ home in a car. “After we saw him go off, we were like, ‘That’s not right.’ ”

Then, she said, another resident — a relative of the victims — who had gone to the house to investigate started screaming, “Call 911! Call 911!” she said.

The resident said she entered the home with the relative and could see two people in chairs were already dead and another person was slumped over and bleeding profusely.

She said the road late on Friday was teeming with police officers, some of them with assault rifles.

The location where three of the victims were shot is set amid a cluster of small one- and two-bedroom clapboard homes in a historically African-American neighborhood called King Villa.

The other home, where the second shooting occurred, is on a high embankment.

A woman named Tonya Dent was leaving the house on the embankment Friday night. She appeared sad but calm and offered scant detail, though she did say, “A husband and wife were killed here.”

She also said that all five victims were members of her extended family.

“All I know is my family’s gone,” she said.

On Friday night, a group of about 30 people stood in the yard, apparently gathered in prayer, illuminated by a single streetlamp and the flickering blue lights from sheriff’s cruisers.


Richard Fausset contributed reporting from Atlanta.

Six Are Dead After Shootings in Georgia Community,
NYT, April 23, 2016,






Minneapolis Officers

in Jamar Clark Shooting

Will Not Face Charges


MARCH 30, 2016

The New York Times



Two Minneapolis police officers will not face state criminal charges in the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man, the prosecutor in Hennepin County said Wednesday. The announcement upset activists who had called for the officers to be prosecuted, and provided new details about the events leading up to the shooting.

Mr. Clark’s death prompted weeks of heated, sometimes tense demonstrations, and raised broad questions about racial disparities in Minnesota. Protests started almost immediately after Mr. Clark, 24, was shot on Nov. 15 as officers responded to a report of an assault.

The police said at the time that Mr. Clark was a suspect in the assault and that he had tried to interfere with paramedics treating the woman who was hurt. Some neighbors who say they witnessed the incident claim Mr. Clark was handcuffed when he was shot, contradicting the police account.

In announcing his decision, Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County attorney, said that witnesses had given conflicting accounts about the handcuffs. The evidence, he said, suggested that Mr. Clark had tried to gain control over one officer’s gun and that he had not been handcuffed when shot.

“Forensic evidence and video evidence both support the belief that Clark was not handcuffed at any time through the altercation,” said Mr. Freeman, whose office posted a trove of investigative documents online.

He said the evidence did not support criminal charges. “These officers did not have a chance to withdraw or to negotiate,” he said.

Activists said they believed the officers involved in the shooting, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, should face criminal charges, and were clearly unsatisfied Wednesday with Mr. Freeman’s explanation.

The prosector briefly took questions after his announcement, including from community members and activists. Some told him he had relied too heavily on the police officers’ accounts and not enough on those of neighbors who witnessed the shooting.

“If the city burns, it’s on your hands,” one woman told Mr. Freeman at the news conference.

After the shooting in November, which was investigated by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, activists occupied an area outside a police precinct for more than two weeks, sometimes clashing with officers. On one night, a group of outsiders came to the precinct and shot five people during a protest.

Activists also demanded the release of video that showed parts of the encounter, and Mr. Freeman played some of it at the news conference. One video showed Mr. Clark just outside an ambulance that was carrying the woman who had been hurt. Another showed an officer taking Mr. Clark to the ground.

Many protesters had requested that Mr. Freeman not convene a grand jury to consider charges, citing fatal police shootings in Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo., where grand jurors decided not to indict officers. This month, Mr. Freeman said he would stop presenting police shooting cases to grand jurors, as had been past practice, in an effort for greater transparency.

“I concluded that the accountability and transparency limitations of a grand jury are too high a hurdle to overcome,” Mr. Freeman said at the time. He said he would decide whether to bring charges in the Clark case, “and I will do it as fairly as I can.”

As Minneapolis waited for a decision on charges to be announced, city officials prepared for the possibility of more protests. The police chief, Janee Harteau, posted a YouTube video this month warning that the police “will not tolerate acts of violence against anyone, and that includes acts of violence against our officers.” The video included footage of a firebomb being hurled toward officers and vandalism to the police station, and was denounced by some activists as unfair and inflammatory.

In a statement after the video’s release, Mayor Betsy Hodges expressed “regret” that some of the images “do not reflect that the large majority of the people who protested at the Fourth Precinct last fall did so peacefully.”

“In Minneapolis, we value First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful protest,” Ms. Hodges said in that statement, adding that she had spoken to Chief Harteau about her concerns. “As mayor, I intend to honor those values.”

A separate federal civil rights investigation into Mr. Clark’s death is continuing, a spokesman for the United States attorney in Minnesota said this week. The spokesman, Ben Petok, declined to offer a timeline on when that investigation might finish.

Minneapolis Officers in Jamar Clark Shooting Will Not Face Charges,
NYT, March 30, 2016,






Mother and Son Killed and Third Person

Injured in Staten Island Shooting


MARCH 24, 2016

The New York Times



A gunman killed a mother and her son and injured another person in a shooting outside a public-housing project on Staten Island on Thursday evening, the police said.

The gunman opened fire around 6 p.m., striking the mother, 47, in the head and her 21-year-old son in the face. Both were taken to Richmond University Medical Center, where they were pronounced dead, the authorities said.

A 22-year-old man was shot in his left leg, the police said, and was taken to Richmond University Medical Center, where he was in critical but stable condition.

The shooting took place outside the Mariner’s Harbor Houses, a public-housing project in the Mariners Harbor neighborhood, the authorities said. The project is made up of 22 buildings, sprawling across more than 21 acres, that house about 1,700 people, according to the New York City Housing Authority.

John Anthony, a Staten Island resident who was at the houses on Thursday and said he visited friends there several times a week, described it as a quiet neighborhood where violent crime and gunfire were rare.

Maria Villegas, 56, said she had lived in the complex for 20 years and knew both of the victims, whose names were not released by the police on Thursday night because their next of kin had not been notified.

She said the mother “was always talking about her kids” and described the son as an amateur mechanic who just last week helped figure out why her steering wheel was shaking.

“They were good people,” she said. “They did not deserve this.”

Ms. Villegas was in her kitchen when she heard gunfire, she said, and came outside a short while later to find “a whole lot of cops.”

She said she felt “an emptiness inside” when she learned that the victims were her friends. “You see somebody today, and tomorrow they are just gone,” she said.

The police said that the gunman was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, and that he fled the scene in a dark-colored Hyundai Accent.

Melinda Santana, 40, who has lived in the complex for eight years, said she knew the man who was killed. She described him as a “jokester.”

About his death, she said: “I can’t even give you a word for it. It’s just like wow.”

No one was in custody in connection with the shooting on Thursday night.


Bryan Anselm and Jason Grant contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on March 25, 2016,
on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline:
Two Are Killed and One Is Injured in Staten Island Shooting.

Mother and Son Killed and Third Person
Injured in Staten Island Shooting,
NYT, March 24, 2016,






Series of Errors

Allowed Shooting Suspect,

in U.S. Illegally, to Remain


MARCH 9, 2016

The New York Times




KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A Mexican man who stands accused of murdering five people and was captured Wednesday was in the country illegally and should have been jailed or deported last year, federal immigration officials said, but three times in less than a year, he was arrested and allowed to go free because of procedural errors.

Pablo A. Serrano-Vitorino, 40, who was caught after a manhunt across two states, had a felony conviction on his record, had been deported once before and had returned to the United States illegally.

In November 2014, he was convicted of a misdemeanor drunken driving in Coffey County, Kan., but Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which did not know he was in the country, has no record that the local authorities notified the agency, said Gillian Christensen, the press secretary for the agency. Some law enforcement agencies do not routinely notify the agency of possible undocumented immigrants unless they are charged with felonies.

Last June, Mr. Serrano-Vitorino was arrested here on a domestic battery charge, and the police notified the immigration agency but did not send his fingerprints, Ms. Christensen said. In that situation, she said, the agency first verifies people’s identities in person before asking the police to hold them for possible deportation. But Mr. Serrano-Vitorino was released before that could happen.

And in September, the agency received more news of Mr. Serrano-Vitorino, when he went to court in Overland Park, Kan., to pay a fine for driving without a license. In that case, the agency did ask that he be detained, sending a request to the local sheriff’s office. But immigration officials said the sheriff’s office could not act on the request because it did not have him in custody. Once again, he went free.

Jerome A. Gorman, the district attorney of Wyandotte County, which includes this city, said Wednesday that he would like to talk with the agency about what happened. “We can’t go on this way,” he said, “and something needs to be corrected so the system works properly.”

Studies have shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born people, and the Obama administration has increased deportations to record levels. But Donald J. Trump has made the threat posed by immigrants a theme of his presidential campaign, saying that many people coming from Mexico are rapists, murderers and drug dealers. He has promised to deport all undocumented immigrants and build a wall on the border with Mexico.

Some high-profile cases have fed the concerns over immigrants, particularly the killing last July of a young woman on a pier in San Francisco by a man who had been deported to Mexico multiple times.

In 2002, when Mr. Serrano-Vitorino was not in custody, a court ordered him deported. The next year, he was convicted in California of making a terrorist threat and sent to prison. He was sent back to Mexico in 2004 when he was released.

When he returned to the United States is unclear, but he had been living for some time in this area. Most recently, he lived in a small house on a cul-de-sac in a working-class, mostly white neighborhood. Officials said he lived with a woman and her three children, one of whom was also his.

Michael L. Capps, 41, had lived for several years in the house next door to Mr. Serrano-Vitorino.

Late Monday, the police responded to a report of gunshots at Mr. Capps’s home. They found four men dead or dying: Mr. Capps; Jeremy D. Waters, 36; Clint E. Harter, 27; and Austin L. Harter, 29. All four had been shot with a rifle, and no other weapons were involved, Mr. Gorman said.

The hunt for Mr. Serrano-Vitorino included several agencies from Kansas and Missouri, and nearly 100 officers. On Tuesday morning, it shifted to rural Montgomery County, Mo., 170 miles east of here, when Mr. Serrano’s truck was spotted, abandoned on Interstate 70. Minutes later came a report of a shooting nearby: Randy J. Nordman, 49, had been killed at home by an intruder.

Later that day, “a citizen had called in and notified us that while he was in that area, a subject approached him with a gun,” said Sgt. Scott White of the Missouri Highway Patrol.

At 12:18 a.m. on Wednesday, they found Mr. Serrano-Vitorino in a ditch, with a rifle nearby, and he was arrested without incident, Sergeant White said.

He has been charged with the four killings in Kansas and the one in Missouri, and is being held in Montgomery County. Mr. Gorman said it had not yet been decided where he would be prosecuted first.

Traci Angel reported from Kansas City, and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York. Julia Preston contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on March 10, 2016, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Errors Led to Releases of Murder Suspect in U.S. Illegally.

Series of Errors Allowed Shooting Suspect, in U.S. Illegally, to Remain,
NYT, MARCH 9, 2016






Police: Virginia Officer

Fatally Shot Day After Swearing-In


FEB. 28, 2016

4:51 A.M. E.S.T.

The New York Times



WOODBRIDGE, Va. — A police officer was fatally shot a day after being sworn in, and two of her colleagues were wounded while responding to a reported argument at a northern Virginia home, authorities said.

A county official said a civilian woman was also killed in the domestic dispute Saturday.

Officers received a call around 5:30 Saturday evening in Woodbridge, about 30 miles southwest of the nation's capital, about a "verbal argument," Sgt. Jonathan Perok, spokesman of the Prince William County Police Department, said. It's not clear how the altercation between the suspect and police began, but the suspect, a military serviceman, is in custody and was not injured, he said. The condition of the other two officers is not known.

The department announced on its Facebook page that Officer Ashley Guindon had died from the injuries she sustained in the shooting.

A picture of Guindon was posted to the department's Twitter page on Friday with a tweet that read, "Welcome Officers Steven Kendall & Ashley Guindon who were sworn in today & begin their shifts this weekend. Be Safe!" It is not known if the other officer in the tweet was involved in the shooting incident.

Guindon had been a county police officer a few years ago and had left and returned to the force, Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Saturday night. He said he did not know the exact dates of when she started and left.

Another woman was killed in the domestic call and was dead before police arrived, Stewart said, but police declined to confirm that information. Stewart also said there was a child in the house during the incident who was not harmed.

Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney Paul Ebert told The AP Saturday night that he has authorized a capital murder charge, along with other counts, against the suspect, who has not been identified.

At Inova Fairfax Hospital, where the three officers were flown by helicopter after the shooting, more than 100 patrol cars lined the roads outside early Sunday morning to stand vigil and escort Guindon's body to the medical examiner.

The shooting occurred in the Lake Ridge neighborhood, on a curving street with $500,000 suburban houses with brick and siding exteriors, manicured lawns and two-car garages about a five-minute drive from the county office building.

Until Saturday evening, the big news in the police department was the planned retirement of Chief Steve Hudson, who announced two weeks ago that he will step down at the end of March, and officers' plans to do a "polar bear" plunge on Saturday morning to raise money for Special Olympics.

Police said the incident is under investigation.

Police: Virginia Officer Fatally Shot Day After Swearing-In,
NYT, FEB. 28, 2016,






Gunman Kills 3 at Kansas Factory

Before Dying in Shootout


FEB. 25, 2016





NEWTON, Kan. — Three people were killed at a manufacturing plant in Hesston, Kan., on Thursday by a man who had driven through at least two towns shooting a gun out of his car window, the police said.

The gunman was killed in a gunfight with a police officer inside the factory, the authorities said.

T. Walton, the sheriff of Harvey County, told reporters that the shootings occurred around 5 p.m. at the factory and on the roads between Hesston and Newton, Kan., where the gunman lived. The factory is owned by Excel Industries, a company that makes riding mowers and other lawn care equipment.

Sheriff Walton said that four people, including the gunman, had been killed at the factory and that 14 others were injured, 10 of them critically. The gunman, who worked at the plant, shot three more people as he drove to the factory, including a man whose car he stole on the way there. He shot a woman in the parking lot at the factory before entering the building and opening fire.

All of the victims were shot with an assault rifle, the sheriff said, but a handgun was also found on the gunman after he was killed.

“The shooter was actively firing on any target that came across his sights,” Sheriff Walton said, adding that he appeared to pick his targets at “random.”

Paul Mullet, the chief executive of Excel Industries, said that the gunman was an employee of the company. He said the plant would be shut down during the investigation.

The name of the gunman was not released, and no motive was given.

Sheriff Walton said there were at least two other crime scenes in Newton, where the police were positioned outside the gunman’s mobile home late Thursday.

He said that the officers wanted to search the home, but that the gunman’s roommate was inside and refused to let them enter.

But late Thursday, Lt. Bryan Hall, a spokesman for the Newton Police Department, said that there had been no standoff and that no one was inside the home. He said that SWAT officers were brought in to secure the house as a precaution, and the police were waiting to obtain a search warrant.

Sheriff Walton said the F.B.I., the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were aiding the investigation.

“It is a large, large crime scene, and there are many different crime scenes involved,” he said.

The shooting erupted during the factory’s second shift, the sheriff said, when more than 150 people would have been at work. Fifteen ambulances and two helicopters transported the injured to Newton Medical Center, and two hospitals in Wichita, Via Christi Saint Francis Hospital and Wesley Medical Center, he said.

Speaking by telephone from his hospital bed, Jesus Fierros, 25, said he was inside the plant when the shooting began. He ran, then felt a burst of pain in his right leg.

“I just heard the gunshots and I just took off running,” he said. “I heard people saying someone was shooting, and then I got shot in the leg and everyone started helping me.”

He said he never saw the gunman. “At that moment I wasn’t thinking,” he added. “I was just running, getting as far away as possible.”

Another employee, Marty Pierce, told KAKE-TV, a local ABC affiliate, that the gunman “started spraying everyone” with bullets in the assembly area near the paint department.

“I thought it was a fire or an explosion — I didn’t know someone was shooting, but then our robot operator decided to go look down the hallway and he got shot,” Mr. Pierce said.

He said he fled to the parking lot while shots continued to ring out in the plant. Nicole Goodwin, the wife of a factory supervisor, spoke to reporters while she waited outside the plant for her husband, who she said called her after the shooting to say he was unharmed.

“I got a phone call saying they got put on lockdown because some random guy came in with an AK-47 and started shooting,” she told the ABC affiliate.

“I’m just worried about everybody that I know here,” she said.

Chris Mueller, another relative interviewed outside the factory, said that he was told that the gunman arrived during break time and opened fire.

“He shot a lady in the parking lot, then shot at people in the lobby,” Mr. Mueller said.

Sheriff Walton said that the woman shot in the parking lot was in critical condition.

In the Hesston area, north of Wichita, some said the shooter had hit the region at its heart: The Excel plant is not just the gunman’s former workplace, but a community hub, employing hundreds of people in a central Kansas town with a population of fewer than 4,000.

At Excel, brothers work side by side, spouses pass one another on breaks, and fathers and sons clock in and out together. “Lots of families work there,” said Josh Chase, a former plant employee whose brother, cousin and other relatives work at the factory.

“They are pretty shook up,” he said. “My cousin that works there, his wife’s cousin works there as well, and was shot in the head. And my brother won’t talk to anyone.”


John Eligon reported from Newton, Kan., Liam Stack from New York and Julie Turkewitz from Denver.

A version of this article appears in print on February 26, 2016, on page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: Three People Killed by Gunman at a Manufacturing Plant in Kansas.

Gunman Kills 3 at Kansas Factory Before Dying in Shootout,
NYT, FEB. 25, 2016,






Kalamazoo Searches for Motive

in Spree That Killed 6


FEB. 21, 2016

The New York Times





KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The shootings came out of nowhere, one after the other, and with no apparent connection.

A woman was shot multiple times as she stood in the parking lot of her suburban townhouse complex here in Kalamazoo County. A few miles away, and a few hours later on Saturday night, a man and his teenage son were killed outside a balloon-lined car dealership near a strip of fast-food restaurants. Minutes after that, along an interstate highway just outside Kalamazoo, four women were shot to death, and a teenage girl was gravely injured, as they sat in their cars outside a Cracker Barrel restaurant.

The authorities said a single gunman, Jason B. Dalton, a driver for Uber, was responsible for the night of terror, and investigators were looking into reports that he was ferrying his passengers before the attacks began and perhaps even in between some of the shootings.

One customer said Mr. Dalton took him on a harrowing ride around 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, less than two hours before the shootings. Another said Mr. Dalton agreed to provide her a ride late Saturday, after the attacks were over.
Flowers placed at the foot of a tree near a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Kalamazoo, Mich., one of three sites of a series of shootings that left six people dead and two injured late Saturday. Credit Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

The explosion of violence here left the authorities trying to piece together what might have prompted someone to roam in search of victims.

In all, six people were killed and two injured at three shooting scenes across Kalamazoo County, in southwest Michigan between Detroit and Chicago. The victims ranged in age from 14 to 74.

Mr. Dalton, 45, a former insurance company employee, was arrested without incident in the parking lot of a downtown Kalamazoo bar about six hours after the rampage began.

“There’s this sense of loss, there’s this anger, there’s fear, there’s all these emotions,” Jeffrey Getting, the Kalamazoo County prosecutor, said at a news conference early on Sunday. “You put on top of that: How do you go and tell the families of these victims that they weren’t targeted for any reason than they were there to be a target?”

Over the past year, the country has experienced a series of mass shootings — including ones at a church in Charleston, S.C.; at a community college in Oregon; and at a county government gathering in San Bernardino, Calif., which was later declared an act of terrorism. President Obama has repeatedly called for the nation to take steps to curb gun violence and carry out stricter background checks.

The authorities here did not immediately provide a motive for the rampage. “There is some information out there about what was happening” in the suspect’s life, Mr. Getting said. “You know, of course, it doesn’t come anywhere near to explain what he’s done.”

Mr. Dalton, who was in custody on Sunday and was expected to face formal charges as early as Monday, had no criminal record. Neighbors described him as quiet and polite, though he caught their attention when he occasionally shot a gun out the back door of the house he shared with his wife and two children. He had worked for Progressive Insurance until mid-2011.

According to one passenger, he started working as an Uber driver recently. The passenger, Sara Reynolds, 25, said Mr. Dalton drove her and a friend to a movie theater on Feb. 14 so they could see “Deadpool.”

In an interview, Ms. Reynolds recounted how Mr. Dalton had told her that he and his son had also seen the movie. But he also told Ms. Reynolds, unsolicited, that he was a new driver for Uber and that he had quickly picked up poor marks.

“He had just started doing Uber as a driver a day or two ago and that he had already gotten some bad reviews, which was a little weird, so I asked him about it,” Ms. Reynolds said. “And he said it was just drunk kids and his car messing up a little bit.”

“I could tell that he didn’t really want to talk about it anymore,” said Ms. Reynolds, who described Mr. Dalton as “a little shy and awkward, but he was pretty normal for the most part.” Ms. Reynolds said she had no complaints about his driving that night.

An Uber official who declined to be identified because of the continuing investigation said Mr. Dalton had passed a company background check.

Joe Sullivan, the chief security officer for Uber, said the company was “reaching out to police to help with their investigation in any way that we can.”

“Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the victims of this devastating crime and those recovering from injuries,” Mr. Sullivan said.

Another Uber passenger, Matt Mellen, said in an interview with WWMT-TV that a driver who appeared to be Mr. Dalton picked him up late Saturday afternoon, and that the man had driven erratically, speeding through the streets, ignoring a stop sign and swerving through traffic.

“He wouldn’t stop,” Mr. Mellen said. “He just kind of kept looking at me like, ‘Don’t you want to get to your friend’s house?’ and I’m like, ‘I want to get there alive.’ ” Mr. Mellen said he had left the vehicle as quickly as he could.

He later told his fiancée what had happened, and she posted a warning on Facebook around 5:30 p.m. Saturday and said they had called 911. He said he also contacted Uber about the ride.

Shortly before 6 p.m., in a quiet suburban community northeast of Kalamazoo, shots rang out. James George, 17, said he had looked out the window to see a vehicle speeding away and a woman, wounded, sitting in the parking lot of the development. At least five bullet holes peppered the side of one rental townhouse. The woman, whom the authorities did not publicly identify, remained hospitalized on Sunday evening.

About four hours later, at a Seelye Ford and Kia car dealership in Kalamazoo, there were more shots. Tyler Smith and his father, Richard Smith, 53, were killed, the authorities said.

Then, in a matter of minutes, five others were shot as they sat in two cars — parked beside each other — at a Cracker Barrel in an isolated area near an exit ramp from an interstate highway. Bullet holes were left in a windshield and the car windows.

Four women died of multiple gunshot wounds, the medical examiner’s office said. They were identified as Mary Jo Nye, 60; Dorothy Brown, 74; Barbara Hawthorne, 68; and Mary Lou Nye, 62. A 14-year-old girl, part of the group, was in critical condition at a hospital.

In a nearby mobile home park, Chris Juenemann said she had been watching television when she heard five bangs, which she immediately recognized as gunshots. “It was just so loud,” she said.

Ms. Juenemann, whose family has lived there for 17 years, said that the restaurant was always busy, and that serious crime was rare. She said dozens of emergency vehicles soon arrived.

More than two hours later, Mr. Dalton was arrested. Officers from the Department of Public Safety and deputies from the Kalamazoo Sheriff’s Department spotted the suspect’s car in downtown Kalamazoo Sunday morning and pulled him over and arrested him, the authorities said. No shots were fired.

A semiautomatic handgun was found in his vehicle, and the authorities said it appeared to match the evidence from the shootings. Investigators said Mr. Dalton had been in touch with more than one person over the course of the evening, and they were examining his cellphone for more evidence.

“We are very confident that we have the right person in custody,” said Mr. Getting, the prosecutor.

In the rural area outside the city where Mr. Dalton lived, police searched his brown, one-story home on Sunday morning. Sally Pardo, a retired nurse who lived across the street from him and his family, said she and her husband had always thought of Mr. Dalton as a “nice guy” who worked on cars in his spare time. But he used guns in a troubling manner and sometimes sounded a little paranoid, she said.

“He periodically shot his gun out the back door,” Ms. Pardo said. “He would shoot randomly into the air.”

James Block, 53, who said he had lived next door to Mr. Dalton for about 15 years, said he was “well-mannered” and pleasant. Mr. Block noted that Mr. Dalton bought a guard dog about a year ago after an apparent burglary, and said he had spoken of concerns about people passing through his backyard.

Less than an hour after the shootings ended, Mr. Dalton agreed to pick up a couple at a local pub, according to Carmen Morren, who said she and her boyfriend had agreed to the ride around 11 p.m.

Minutes before the pickup, though, the couple — unaware of the shootings — happened to change their plans and rode with a different Uber driver.

“By the grace of God, we ended up canceling the Uber that we had,” said Ms. Morren, who provided a screenshot that showed Mr. Dalton had been the driver for a trip that had been scrapped. “We lucked out on that one.”


Mitch Smith reported from Kalamazoo, Monica Davey from Chicago, and Alan Blinder from Atlanta. Reporting was contributed by Julie Bosman from Chicago, and Mike Isaac, Liam Stack and Eli Rosenberg from New York. Susan Beachy and Kitty Bennett contributed research.

A version of this article appears in print on February 22, 2016, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Random Shots on a Deadly Night for Kalamazoo.

Kalamazoo Searches for Motive in Spree That Killed 6,
FEB. 21, 2016, NYT,






Obama’s Lofty Plans

on Gun Violence

Amount to Little Action


FEB. 7, 2016

The New York Times




WASHINGTON — The centerpiece of a plan for stemming gun violence that President Obama announced last month largely amounts to this: an updated web page and 10,000 pamphlets that federal agents will give out at gun shows.

In a tearful display of anger and sadness in the East Room of the White House, Mr. Obama ordered steps intended to limit gun violence and vowed to clamp down on what he called widespread evasion of a federal law requiring gun dealers to obtain licenses.

But few concrete actions have been put in motion by law enforcement agencies to aggressively carry out the gun dealer initiative, despite the lofty expectations that Mr. Obama and top aides set.

Obama administration officials said they had no specific plans to increase investigations, arrests or prosecutions of gun sellers who do not comply with the law. No task forces have been assembled. No agents or prosecutors have been specifically reassigned to such cases. And no funding has been reallocated to accelerate gun sale investigations in Washington or at the offices of the 93 United States attorneys.

The absence of aggressive enforcement is a reminder of the limits of Mr. Obama’s executive authority, even as he repeatedly asserts the power of the Oval Office to get things done in the face of inaction by a Republican Congress.

Even the National Rifle Association, which fights anything it perceives as a threat to gun rights, has not sued to block Mr. Obama’s actions, and gun groups profess little reason for concern. “Nothing, from what we can see, has changed,” said Mike Bazinet, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry group.

Administration officials say that with Congress unwilling to take any legislative action, the White House’s plan goes as far as Mr. Obama can to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people with mental illnesses.

“The actions the president announced last month represent the maximum the administration can do under the current law,” said Eric Schultz, the deputy White House press secretary, “namely increasing mental health treatment and reporting, improving public safety, managing the future of gun safety technology and, of course, enhancing the background check system.”

Mr. Obama has been under pressure from gun control advocates to confront gun violence since he failed to convince Congress to approve universal background checks in 2013. The highly stage-managed announcement in January gave him the chance to demonstrate what he called the “fierce urgency” to respond to mass shootings.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch told reporters on the day Mr. Obama announced the plan that the government was “ramping up our enforcement efforts, particularly online” and “will be looking” for unlicensed gun dealers.

But turning promises into action is often difficult — a political reality that Mr. Obama and his aides know all too well — especially in the face of a sluggish bureaucracy and a determined, partisan opposition in Congress. The president’s attempts to sidestep lawmakers on immigration have been tied in courts for more than a year, and he faces fights on executive orders to expand gay rights, establish a minimum wage for federal contractors and combat climate change.

The most visible sign of the president’s initiative to license more gun dealers is the printing of 10,000 pamphlets clarifying what qualifies a gun seller as a dealer. Officials plan to hand out the pamphlets at gun shows, weekend flea markets and elsewhere. They say they hope the “education campaign,” as it is called, will prompt more gun sellers to register as dealers, who then must conduct background checks. The same information has been updated on the website of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The new guidance says that there is no “bright line” for determining whether someone should register as a dealer, but that a number of factors — such as selling even a small number of new firearms in their original packaging, making a profit and selling regularly at gun shows or online — could qualify.

Sally Quillian Yates, the deputy attorney general, said the A.T.F.’s new guidance would put people who sold guns regularly “on notice” that they must register as dealers and conduct background checks. She said it should also lead to more successful prosecutions of unregistered gun dealers who are flouting the law.

But gun control advocates say they want more than just notification. Jonas Oransky, counsel at Everytown for Gun Safety, said the A.T.F. should not expect that arrests and prosecutions would happen “without extra energy behind it by them,” but added, “We’re giving them some time to figure out how best to do this.”

Some experts are skeptical that the president’s actions will have much effect, even if they are carried out fully.

“This is a very modest plan,” said Joe Vince, a former administrator at the A.T.F. who now teaches criminal justice. “I don’t think the president had much more authority than to do what he did.”

White House officials said it was too early to judge the effect of the president’s measures. And they said the effort to register more gun dealers was just one piece of his initiative. Other elements would tighten rules on gun purchases by corporations and more quickly identify lost or stolen guns.

The president also sought to improve the F.B.I.’s ability to identify prohibited gun buyers by hiring more background check examiners and by collecting more criminal and mental health information from states.

But a number of the elements that Mr. Obama took credit for last month were already underway before he directed the administration to develop new gun measures in the wake of mass shootings in California and Oregon in the fall.

The F.B.I., for example, has already received funding for an additional 230 examiners in the next two years to handle the growing requests for background checks.

The president is wary of creating any appearance that he is sending in armies of federal agents to take away people’s guns.

“Our No. 1 goal here is not to slap the cuffs on people for not being registered,” Ms. Yates, the deputy attorney general, said. “We believe there are a lot of folks out there who want to comply with the law.”

Mr. Obama’s lawyers have cautioned against seeming to create new gun laws by fiat. The most the president can do, they have said, is to direct better enforcement of the laws that exist.

The bulk of the new responsibilities outlined by Mr. Obama will fall to the A.T.F., an agency that has suffered from chronic underfunding and understaffing, years of scandals, and distrust from Republicans and gun rights groups. Mr. Obama plans to request tens of millions of dollars from Congress for additional A.T.F. agents, but Republicans are hesitant to approve it.

The A.T.F. has been without a confirmed director since April; the White House has blamed a backlog of confirmations in the Republican-controlled Senate. Michael Bouchard, a former assistant director at the A.T.F., faulted Mr. Obama for not nominating anyone to the job as part of his plan.

“How could you say that all this stuff about guns is so important, but you don’t think it’s important enough to name a nominee to run the agency?” Mr. Bouchard asked. “This would have been a great time for it.”

A.T.F. officials said that the agency had not named anyone to oversee the plan or set up new committees to run it. Brian Garner, a special agent and spokesman for the agency, said: “We’ve not at any point said we’re going to do any big rollout. Right now, we’re going to work the cases with the resources we have and do the best job we can.”

Supporters of the plan said they had been assured that it would be enforced aggressively.

“It was significant; it was bold,” said Maura Healey, the Massachusetts state attorney general. “It takes time for the directive to be implemented.”
Correction: February 8, 2016

An earlier version of this article misstated the title for Jonas Oransky, a gun control advocate. He is a counsel, he is not the chief counsel.

Obama’s Lofty Plans on Gun Violence Amount to Little Action,
NYT, FEB. 7, 2016,






On the Beat of Black Lives

and Bloodshed


JAN. 28, 2016

The New York Times



IN my early years as a police reporter, I often pulled up to a crime scene minutes before the homicide detectives arrived. Too many times to count I’d find a young black man my age or younger dead with a halo of blood or brain matter splashed on the pavement. Often there were shell casings sprinkled around freshly fallen bodies.

Some were killed over turf, some out of revenge. Many were victims of the deadly grind of the drug trade. Others were killed by the police. A high number were innocent people caught in crossfire, many of them children.

I learned to identify family members by the level of grief they’d show. Inconsolable wailing, unsteady feet, breathless delirium — a mother or sister. Angry, with balled fists and tears — a brother or close cousin. Girlfriends often ran in after the police had arrived, and the crime scene was set, clawing at the police tape. The best friends and homeboys stayed close but not too close, trading whispers before leaving the scene on clouds of three or four people at a time, vengeance bubbling up in their minds. The fathers always seemed stoic, either numbed by the pain or resigned to the way young black male life was so easily lost. They, too, had been young black men once.

In many of their faces I’d seen the faces of my own family, people I loved and who loved me. I saw my own mother’s tears and could imagine my older brother and his boys with guns tucked into their waistbands, ready to squeeze off shots had I been the one with a bloody halo.

Over more than a dozen years I’ve evolved from a run-and-gun street reporter in Philadelphia and New Orleans to a national reporter flying across the country to cover social justice issues, high-profile incidents of shootings by police officers and the growing Black Lives Matter movement. But no matter the cause of the bloodshed I continue to chronicle, the tool of the garden-variety thug and beat cop alike remains essentially the same. The gun.

The toll of gun violence in our most beleaguered, depleted communities is great. And we’ve recently arrived at yet another moment when the issue of guns has been thrust into the national political dialogue. President Obama just weeks ago rolled out executive actions aimed at, among other things, closing the so-called gun show loophole and the flow of illegal weapons to people who shouldn’t have them. What followed was much what you’d expect from the partisan debate over guns. Conservatives rebuffed calls to make it the slightest bit more difficult to buy firearms. Many liberals said the president’s actions didn’t go far enough.

As politicians tangle over how best to manage the country’s obscenely huge and growing arsenal of privately owned guns, the rat-a-tat of gun violence continues to bleed us all.

For those of us keeping tabs on the impact of guns in black and brown communities, there is no solace. This exhausting dance between black death and black scribe is as much a performance in journalism as it is a perpetual act of catharsis.

My family has experienced its own measure of gun death. In the mid-1970s, a couple of years before I was born, a disgruntled prospective tenant murdered my grandfather over a $160 security deposit. Decades later a young woman put a bullet in the back of my stepbrother’s head. Years later, two cousins, brothers, would be touched by the plague: One was shot down and the other is serving a long prison sentence for a separate incident, a botched robbery turned murder.

An act of gun violence is central to the story of how I came to be, too. In 1924 my maternal grandmother’s family joined the Great Migration north from Georgia after a white gunman killed her older brother. He was just 12 years old. The family eventually landed in New Jersey, but violence followed. In 1951 another of my grandmother’s brothers, this one younger, was shot and killed by a New Jersey State Trooper. He was just 17. Years later, when my grandfather was killed he left behind eight children, including my mother.

Many times when I sat with victims’ families and slowly drew out their stories and their tears, I have to believe, they saw me as one of their own. They often shooed away white reporters, but shared with me intimate memories of their loved ones. They dug up old yearbook photos and rattled off their dead boy’s — they were almost always boys — hopes and dreams. They didn’t shy away from their shortcomings, criminal or otherwise.

Years ago, in Philadelphia, I met a 19-year-old named Kevin Johnson who weeks earlier had been paralyzed by a bullet to his spine. A group of teenagers had pressed a gun to the back of his neck and demanded the basketball jersey off his back. He refused and one of them pulled the trigger. The day I met him he’d just started talking again and his family had smuggled me into his hospital room. Medical tubes and wires snaked from his body, tangling his lanky, limp brown frame.

“God wouldn’t give me anything I couldn’t handle,” Kevin told me. “I’m going to try and live a regular life.”

His mother and I traded a look over his hospital bed, knowing his life would be anything but regular. A few years later, under the weight of catastrophic injury and medical complications, Kevin’s body finally gave in.

I like to tell myself that I’ve served as a conduit for the last whispers of lives lost too soon. That I am capturing, in a crucial way, the sad mundanity of American gun violence. But sometimes, it seems I’m little more than a peddler of pain. A cog in a much broader story that seems to give short shrift to black death and too little scrutiny to a gun industry that profits while so many perish.

My days glued to a police scanner are long behind me. The fever of chasing gunfire and sirens has broken. I’ve mostly traded covering individual tragedies for covering a movement that wants those individual tragedies to actually lead to some form of positive change. It feels as much like a natural progression as it does a sort of masochistic calling.

There are more than 300 million guns in America. Almost as many guns as there are Americans. And each year about 11,000 people are killed by guns wielded by others. An additional 20,000 or so use guns to take their own lives. While gun violence has fallen since the bad old days of the late 1980s and early ’90s, far too many people — in poor black communities in particular — remain trapped and traumatized by violence.

Last month, I was in Chicago, where through the first two weeks of the year, according to the Chicago police, homicides are up 113 percent and shootings are up nearly 200 percent from the same period last year.

I met a woman whose 20-year-old daughter was killed a couple of years ago, trapped in the crossfire of a gang shootout. She held her daughter’s funeral on what would have been the girl’s 21st birthday. There have been no arrests in her daughter’s case. Investigators haven’t given her any updates and they’ve all but stopped answering her incessant phone calls, she said.

“She just lost her life for nothing,” the woman told me, cradling a heavy gold urn filled with her daughter’s ashes. “I take her with me everywhere I go, because before she was killed we spent every minute together. I’m going to keep carrying her with me until her death makes sense.”

As that mother waits for closure, the bodies of the 90 or so people who are killed each day by guns in this country will continue to pile up. Whether we’re carrying them in an urn or not, the burden of their weight belongs to all of us.


Trymaine Lee is a national reporter at MSNBC, a fellow at the New American Foundation and is at work on “Million Dollar Bullets,” a book about gun violence in America.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on January 31, 2016, on page SR2 of the New York edition with the headline: Black Lives and Bloodshed.

On the Beat of Black Lives and Bloodshed,
NYT, JAN. 28, 2016,






Some Inconvenient Gun Facts for Liberals


JAN. 16, 2016

The New York Times

Nicholas Kristof


FOR those of us who argue in favor of gun safety laws, there are a few inconvenient facts.

We liberals are sometimes glib about equating guns and danger. In fact, it’s complicated: The number of guns in America has increased by more than 50 percent since 1993, and in that same period the gun homicide rate in the United States has dropped by half.

Then there are the policies that liberals fought for, starting with the assault weapons ban. A 113-page study found no clear indication that it reduced shooting deaths for the 10 years it was in effect. That’s because the ban was poorly drafted, and because even before the ban, assault weapons accounted for only 2 percent of guns used in crimes.

Move on to open-carry and conceal-carry laws: With some 13 million Americans now licensed to pack a concealed gun, many liberals expected gun battles to be erupting all around us. In fact, the most rigorous analysis suggests that all these gun permits caused neither a drop in crime (as conservatives had predicted) nor a spike in killings (as liberals had expected). Liberals were closer to the truth, for the increase in carrying loaded guns does appear to have led to more aggravated assaults with guns, but the fears were overblown.

One of the puzzles of American politics is that most voters want gun regulation, but Congress resists. One poll found that 74 percent even of N.R.A. members favor universal background checks to acquire a gun. Likewise, the latest New York Times poll found that 62 percent of Americans approved of President Obama’s executive actions on guns this month.

So why does nothing get done? One reason is that liberals often inadvertently antagonize gun owners and empower the National Rifle Association by coming across as supercilious, condescending and spectacularly uninformed about the guns they propose to regulate. A classic of gun ignorance: New York passed a law three years ago banning gun magazines holding more than seven bullets — without realizing that for most guns there is no such thing as a magazine for seven bullets or less.

And every time liberals speak blithely about banning guns, they boost the N.R.A. Let’s also banish the term “gun control”: the better expression is “gun safety.”

Yet this, too, must be said: Americans are absolutely right to be outraged at the toll of guns. Just since 1970, more Americans have died from guns than all the Americans who died in wars going back to the American Revolution (about 1.45 million vs. 1.4 million). That gun toll includes suicides, murders and accidents, and these days it amounts to 92 bodies a day.

We spend billions of dollars tackling terrorism, which killed 229 Americans worldwide from 2005 through 2014, according to the State Department. In the same 10 years, including suicides, some 310,000 Americans died from guns.

So of course we should try to reduce this carnage. But we need a new strategy, a public health approach that treats guns as we do cars — taking evidence-based steps to make them safer. That seems to be what President Obama is trying to do.

Research suggests that the most important practical step would be to keep guns away from high-risk individuals, such as criminals, those who abuse alcohol, or those who beat up their domestic partners.

That means universal background checks before somebody acquires a gun. New Harvard research confirms a long-ago finding that 40 percent of firearms in the United States are acquired without a background check. That’s crazy. Why empower criminals to arm themselves?

Some evidence supports steps that seem common sense. More than 10 percent of murders in the United States, for example, are by intimate partners. The riskiest moment is often after a violent breakup when a woman has won a restraining order against her ex. Prohibiting the subjects of those restraining orders from possessing a gun reduces these murders by 10 percent, one study found.

“If you can keep a gun from someone at that moment of threat, that is very important,” notes Daniel W. Webster, a gun safety expert at Johns Hopkins University who has pioneered research on keeping guns from high-risk individuals.

Some public health approaches to reducing gun violence have nothing to do with guns. Researchers find that a nonprofit called Cure Violence, which works with gangs, curbs gun deaths. An initiative called Fast Track supports high-risk children and reduces delinquency and adult crime.

In short, let’s get smarter. Let’s make America’s gun battles less ideological and more driven by evidence of what works. If the left can drop the sanctimony, and the right can drop the obstructionism, if instead of wrestling with each other we can grapple with the evidence, we can save thousands of lives a year.


I invite you to sign up for my free, twice-weekly newsletter. When you do, you’ll receive an email about my columns as they’re published and other occasional commentary. Sign up here.

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A version of this op-ed appears in print on January 17, 2016, on page SR11 of the New York edition with the headline: Some Inconvenient Gun Facts for Liberals.

Some Inconvenient Gun Facts for Liberals,
NYT, JAN 16, 2016,






Keep Guns Away From Abusers


JAN. 16, 2016

The New York Times



While the gun violence debate often focuses on mass shootings of strangers, hundreds of Americans are fatally shot every year by spouses or partners. In 2013, 61 percent of women killed with guns were killed by husbands, ex-husbands or boyfriends. And in 57 percent of shootings in which four or more people were killed, one of the victims was the shooter’s partner or family member, according to an analysis by the group Everytown for Gun Safety.

Yet shortcomings in federal and state law allow many domestic abusers to have access to firearms, even after courts have determined that the abusers pose a threat to their partners.

Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of any felony, or of misdemeanor domestic violence against a spouse, from owning a gun. People subject to a domestic violence restraining order issued after a hearing (not a temporary order issued before a hearing can take place) are also prohibited from owning guns. But people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors against partners with whom they never lived are not prohibited from owning guns under federal law, nor are those convicted of misdemeanor stalking. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representatives Debbie Dingell and Robert Dold have introduced bills to close these loopholes, but the bills have gained little traction.

While a background check should prevent anyone prohibited from purchasing a firearm from doing so, federal law does not require private sellers to perform background checks. The results can be deadly: In 2012, a Wisconsin man subject to a domestic violence restraining order purchased a gun from a seller on the website ArmsList.com and used it to kill his wife, two other women and himself. In her request for the restraining order, his wife had written, “His threats terrorize my every waking moment.”

An effort to expand background-check requirements to include all online and gun show sales failed in the Senate last month. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia require background checks on all handgun sales. Between 2008 and 2012, states that required background checks on private sales had 46 percent fewer gun homicides of women by partners, adjusted for population, than states with no such requirement.

But checks on new gun sales are only part of the solution; states and the federal government should also require that abusers surrender guns they already have. Currently, 15 states require people under domestic violence restraining orders to turn in their guns, and 10 states require those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors to do so. But even in states with gun surrender laws on the books, enforcement is uneven.

Some states, like California and Connecticut, allow police to confiscate guns from someone who is determined by a court to be a threat to a partner, even if a domestic violence restraining order is not in place.

State and federal lawmakers need to follow the example of states that have closed loopholes and enacted surrender laws to prevent the dangerous from possessing deadly weapons.

A version of this editorial appears in print on January 17, 2016, on page SR10 of the New York edition with the headline: Keep Guns Away From Abusers.

Keep Guns Away From Abusers,
NYT, JAN. 16, 2016,






Gun Control and White Terror


JAN. 7, 2016

The New York Times

Charles M. Blow


On Tuesday, in an emotionally charged speech, President Obama announced a series of relatively modest executive orders to aid in preventing guns from getting into the wrong hands.

The proposal would expand background checks through a clarification of existing regulations, increase funding for mental health care, and promote the development of smart guns.

The speech itself accomplished more than the executive actions are likely to accomplish. Viewed in political terms, the president injected this issue more firmly into the national debate as only a president can. Because a sitting president, even an exiting one, is always in the next presidential race: Other candidates are either running, at least in part, against his legacy or to extend it.

But there is one point that I was aching to hear articulated that wasn’t covered in the president’s speech, and is rarely mentioned in discussions about gun regulations: How our response to gun regulations is not now, nor has ever been, wholly ideological but is also ethnocentric and class-based.

I firmly believe that part of the current intransigence is because those gun homicides disproportionately affect poor minorities. (Gun suicides disproportionately affect white people.) Indeed, the only time that national figures seem to get fully engaged is in the wake of mass shootings that involve white people, either as shooters or victims.

Indeed, you have to explore the history of gun regulations to fully appreciate its racial dimensions.

In 2011, Adam Winkler spoke about his book “Gun Fight,” and the origins of gun control, saying, according to The Wall Street Journal:

“It was a constant pressure among white racists to keep guns out of the hands of African-Americans, because they would rise up and revolt.”

He continued:

“The KKK began as a gun-control organization. Before the Civil War, blacks were never allowed to own guns. During the Civil War, blacks kept guns for the first time — either they served in the Union army and they were allowed to keep their guns, or they buy guns on the open market where for the first time there’s hundreds of thousands of guns flooding the marketplace after the war ends. So they arm up because they know who they’re dealing with in the South. White racists do things like pass laws to disarm them, but that’s not really going to work. So they form these racist posses all over the South to go out at night in large groups to terrorize blacks and take those guns away. If blacks were disarmed, they couldn’t fight back.”

It was about white terror.

After Prohibition and the Depression gave rise to gangsters and outlaws who posed a threat to white America’s sense of safety, the Firearms Act of 1934 was passed. As the gun law expert Robert Spitzer, of the State University of New York at Cortland, told NPR in 2013, the law required machine gun owners to pay a hefty tax, be fingerprinted and be listed on a national registry; as a result, sales of machine guns plummeted.

America was again stirred to action on gun control when, in 1967, armed members of the Black Panthers entered a largely white place of power — the California State Legislature. As The Times’s film critic A. O. Scott noted in his review of Stanley Nelson’s fascinating documentary “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution”:

“When a group of Panthers demonstrated at the Statehouse in Sacramento carrying loaded rifles and shotguns, the organization drew national news attention and (at least temporarily) rallied many political conservatives, including Gov. Ronald Reagan, to the cause of gun control.”

Reagan said of the Panthers’ action at the time:

“I don’t think that loaded guns is the way to solve a problem that should be solved between people of good will. And anyone who would approve of this kind of demonstration must be out of their mind.”

(This episode stands in stark contrast to the armed white men now occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.)

In response to the Panthers, the California legislature passed and Reagan signed the Mulford Act, which banned the open carry of firearms in the state. The N.R.A. supported the measure. The bill’s author, Don Mulford, said at the time, “We’ve got to protect society from nuts with guns.”

Edward Wyckoff Williams even claimed in The Root in 2013 that “the NRA actually helped craft similar legislation in states across the country.”

The year after the Mulford Act, the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed.

Once again, white terror.

In recent decades, as the N.R.A.’s political power has grown, it has also taken on more of an absolutist position against any new regulations and politicians largely have bowed to the group’s stance.

Two notable exceptions were the 1993 Brady Bill requiring background checks for gun purchase and the assault weapons ban of 1994 — which has since expired — both of which were signed by Bill Clinton.

But in addition to the N.R.A.’s influence, the face of homicides is becoming increasingly black and poor — two groups we have traditionally marginalized and ignored.

As Richard V. Reeves and Sarah Holmes of the Brookings Institution pointed out last month, 77 percent of white gun deaths are suicides while 82 percent of black gun deaths are homicides.

But even then, it’s not the whole of the black population at risk of these homicides.

As William J. Wilson, also of Brookings, wrote last month:

“Segregation by income amplifies segregation by race, leaving low-income blacks clustered in neighborhoods that feature disadvantages along several dimensions, including exposure to violent crime. As a result, the divide within the black community has widened sharply. In 1978, poor blacks aged twelve and over were only marginally more likely than affluent blacks to be violent crime victims — around forty-five and thirty-eight per 1000 individuals respectively. However, by 2008, poor blacks were far more likely to be violent crime victims — about seventy-five per 1000 — while affluent blacks were far less likely to be victims of violent crime — about twenty-three per 1000, according to Hochschild and Weaver.”

There is now precious little political will to further inhibit the largely white gun-buying population — according to the Pew Research Center, whites are twice as likely as blacks or Hispanics to have a gun in the home — in order to help reduce the scourge of homicides among poor black people, particularly when the shooters are often black themselves. These killings are simply attributed to racial culture rather than to the complicated interplay between poverty, crime and gun culture.

And, since the federal government wouldn’t do enough to deal with this problem, local municipalities have employed other methods to get guns — many of them illegal — out of the hands of criminals. But those efforts, such as New York City’s morally indefensible racial dragnet program called stop-and-frisk, did as much damage as good in the black communities.

Lawmakers refused to act, and local politicians and police departments overreacted. Poor black people were caught in the middle.

That, alas, is less about a response to white terror, than a nonresponse to black pain.

Gun Control and White Terror,
NYT, JAN. 7, 2016,






Guns, Tears and Republicans


JAN. 7, 2016

The New York Times

Nicholas Kristof


President Obama shed tears on Tuesday as he called for new gun safety measures, and some critics perceived weakness or wimpishness. Really? On the contrary, we should all be in tears that 225,000 Americans have already died of gun violence in his seven years in office.

The shame is not a president weeping a bit, but that he has not been able to prevent roughly as many people dying of guns in America on his watch as have been killed in the Syrian civil war (where estimates range from fewer than 200,000 to more than 300,000). Yes, the American gun toll includes suicides and, yes, Syria is a smaller country, but it’s worth a cry that a “peaceful” America during Obama’s tenure has lost roughly as many lives to gunfire as Syria has in civil war.

Ted Cruz responded to the president’s executive actions with a web page showing a scowling Obama in a helmet, looking like a jackbooted thug staging a home invasion, with the warning, “Obama wants your guns.” Chris Christie protested that Obama was behaving like a “petulant child.” Jeb Bush decried Obama’s “gun-grabbing agenda.” Donald Trump warned that Obama was moving toward banning guns. The upshot of all this scaremongering will be more Americans rushing out to buy firearms.

Look, let’s acknowledge that liberals have not handled gun issues well over the years. Liberals often antagonize gun owners by coming across as patronizing or insulting — as well as spectacularly unknowledgeable about the guns they seek to regulate. But on the basic question of whether more guns create more safety or more risk, the evidence seems clear: Most gun owners use firearms responsibly, but with more guns there are more tragedies.

Exclude guns and the U.S. has a rate for many violent crimes similar to that of other rich countries. But because we have 300 million guns sloshing around, some in the hands of high-risk individuals, we have a gun homicide rate that is about 20 times that of Australia (which cracked down on guns after a mass shooting there).

Gun advocates say criminals will always have guns, so regulations make no difference. But increasingly we have evidence that this is wrong.

The states with the most restrictive gun laws have the lowest gun death rates (including suicides). Take Massachusetts and New York, which have some of the tightest gun restrictions in America; they have three or four gun deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year. At the other extreme, two of the states with the most permissive gun regulations are Alaska and Louisiana, and both have gun death rates about five times as high: more than 19 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Republican presidential candidates should look at the natural experiment that occurred when Missouri eased restrictions on buying handguns. The result was a 25 percent rise in the firearm homicide rate, according to a study in the Journal of Urban Health.

In contrast, Connecticut tightened regulations on buying handguns, and gun homicides there fell by 40 percent, according to the American Journal of Public Health.

This is not to say that regulations always work, or that fixing the problem is simple. Daniel W. Webster of Johns Hopkins University cites research that keeping guns from people with past convictions for domestic violence doesn’t make much of a difference. But blocking access to guns by people subject to current domestic violence restraining orders does reduce killings of intimate partners.

We need an evidence-driven public health approach, modeled on our highly successful regulation of cars to reduce auto deaths. That’s the approach the Obama executive actions pursue. Republicans have said for years that we should focus on enforcing existing laws. That’s what Obama is doing.

Likewise, Obama is pushing to investigate the feasibility of smart guns that operate with a fingerprint or a PIN. This may or may not work, but it’s worth a try in a nation where perhaps 300,000 guns are stolen annually. A toddler in America shoots someone on average once a week because guns are so easy to pick up and fire. If our cellphones can be made to work only with a PIN, it’s crazy that anyone can use a stolen assault rifle.

There’s no magic wand to solve gun violence in America, but neither is it immutable fate that 32,000 Americans die from firearms each year. We know from the experience of states like Connecticut and Missouri that sensible regulations save lives. And why wouldn’t we want to keep guns from men subject to domestic violence restraining orders if the result is fewer women murdered by jilted boyfriends?

The Republican presidential candidates are on the wrong side of history here. While even Republican voters overwhelmingly say in polls that they favor sensible steps like universal background checks, the Republican candidates are politicizing what should be a public health issue, and they are scaring Americans into buying more guns, which magnifies the problem and causes more carnage.


I invite you to sign up for my free, twice-weekly newsletter. When you do, you’ll receive an email about my columns as they’re published and other occasional commentary. Sign up here.

I also invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook and Google+, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter (@NickKristof).

A version of this op-ed appears in print on January 7, 2016, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Guns, Tears and Republicans.

Guns, Tears and Republicans,
NYT, JAN. 7, 2016,






Barack Obama:

Guns Are Our Shared Responsibility


JAN. 7, 2016

The New York Times



THE epidemic of gun violence in our country is a crisis. Gun deaths and injuries constitute one of the greatest threats to public health and to the safety of the American people. Every year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns. Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang shootouts. Accidents. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost brothers and sisters, or buried their own children. We’re the only advanced nation on earth that sees this kind of mass violence with this frequency.

A national crisis like this demands a national response. Reducing gun violence will be hard. It’s clear that common-sense gun reform won’t happen during this Congress. It won’t happen during my presidency. Still, there are steps we can take now to save lives. And all of us — at every level of government, in the private sector and as citizens — have to do our part.

On Tuesday, I announced new steps I am taking within my legal authority to protect the American people and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people. They include making sure that anybody engaged in the business of selling firearms conducts background checks, expanding access to mental health treatment and improving gun safety technology. These actions won’t prevent every act of violence, or save every life — but if even one life is spared, they will be well worth the effort.

Even as I continue to take every action possible as president, I will also take every action I can as a citizen. I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform. And if the 90 percent of Americans who do support common-sense gun reforms join me, we will elect the leadership we deserve.
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President Obama answered an audience member’s question during a live event with CNN’s Anderson Cooper at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

All of us have a role to play — including gun owners. We need the vast majority of responsible gun owners who grieve with us after every mass shooting, who support common-sense gun safety and who feel that their views are not being properly represented, to stand with us and demand that leaders heed the voices of the people they are supposed to represent.

The gun industry also needs to do its part. And that starts with manufacturers.

As Americans, we hold consumer goods to high standards to keep our families and communities safe. Cars have to meet safety and emissions requirements. Food has to be clean and safe. We will not end the cycle of gun violence until we demand that the gun industry take simple actions to make its products safer as well. If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should also make sure she can’t pull the trigger of a gun.

Yet today, the gun industry is almost entirely unaccountable. Thanks to the gun lobby’s decades of efforts, Congress has blocked our consumer products safety experts from being able to require that firearms have even the most basic safety measures. They’ve made it harder for the government’s public health experts to conduct research on gun violence. They’ve guaranteed that manufacturers enjoy virtual immunity from lawsuits, which means that they can sell lethal products and rarely face consequences. As parents, we wouldn’t put up with this if we were talking about faulty car seats. Why should we tolerate it for products — guns — that kill so many children each year?

At a time when manufacturers are enjoying soaring profits, they should invest in research to make guns smarter and safer, like developing microstamping for ammunition, which can help trace bullets found at crime scenes to specific guns. And like all industries, gun manufacturers owe it to their customers to be better corporate citizens by selling weapons only to responsible actors.

Ultimately, this is about all of us. We are not asked to perform the heroism of 15-year-old Zaevion Dobson from Tennessee, who was killed before Christmas while shielding his friends from gunfire. We are not asked to display the grace of the countless victims’ families who have dedicated themselves to ending this senseless violence. But we must find the courage and the will to mobilize, organize and do what a strong, sensible country does in response to a crisis like this one.

All of us need to demand leaders brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies. All of us need to stand up and protect our fellow citizens. All of us need to demand that governors, mayors and our representatives in Congress do their part.

Change will be hard. It won’t happen overnight. But securing a woman’s right to vote didn’t happen overnight. The liberation of African-Americans didn’t happen overnight. Advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans has taken decades’ worth of work.

Those moments represent American democracy, and the American people, at our best. Meeting this crisis of gun violence will require the same relentless focus, over many years, at every level. If we can meet this moment with that same audacity, we will achieve the change we seek. And we will leave a stronger, safer country to our children.

Barack Obama is president of the United States.

Barack Obama: Guns Are Our Shared Responsibility,
NYT, JAN 7, 2006,






Guns, Anger

and Nonsense in Oregon


JAN. 6, 2016

The New York Times



It is a familiar claim by many Second Amendment defenders — and, during the Obama administration, an increasingly popular one — that unfettered gun rights are necessary to protect American citizens against the threat of a tyrannical government.

In addition to being a misreading of history, the claim is amusing hyperbole to those who have suffered under real-life tyrants. But this week’s armed standoff at a federal wildlife sanctuary in eastern Oregon is showing how far a small, determined band of antigovernment zealots with lots of big guns will go to make their potentially deadly point.

Styling themselves as a militia, the group hijacked a peaceful protest over five-year prison sentences a federal court had imposed on two local ranchers for setting fires on federal land. Led by a man named Ammon Bundy — whose father, Cliven, instigated his own armed confrontation with federal authorities over cattle ranching in Nevada in 2014 — this hyperweaponized posse rolled into town and seized administrative buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday. Mr. Bundy said they are willing to stay for “as long as necessary,” and that “if force is used against us, we would defend ourselves.”

The occupation is the latest outgrowth of a long-running movement by some ranchers and farmers who believe the federal government controls far too much land in Oregon, Nevada and other Western states. Mr. Bundy and his gun-toting comrades argue that a century of federal policies has driven many ranchers into poverty and destroyed the rural economy.

This is mostly nonsense. As part of its congressional mandate to balance commercial and environmental concerns, including conservation, the federal government imposes reasonable rules on how public land can be used for mining, logging and ranching. On the whole Washington has been a benevolent, even generous landlord.

There may be a good argument that the two ranchers in this case, Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven, were punished unreasonably harshly for their crimes. But the way to have this argument is through peaceful means, such as the original protesters were doing, or as the Hammonds themselves chose to do — by reporting to prison and asking President Obama for clemency. Every day, citizens around the country sue or otherwise challenge the government over alleged violations of the law or the Constitution, and they do it without a rifle in their hand.

A democracy cannot function any other way. It thrives on principled disagreement, but it withers in the face of a loaded gun.

Such dangerous behavior also puts law enforcement in an impossible position: respond with force and people may well die; walk away — as Bureau of Land Management officials did with Cliven Bundy — and the extremists are only emboldened. (On Monday, according to The Guardian, federal authorities said they planned to shut off power to the buildings.)

Mr. Bundy and his band of militants have made few friends. Local law enforcement has told them to leave immediately. Many residents, even those who agree that the federal government owns and mismanages too much land, have strongly rejected Mr. Bundy’s gun-happy tactics. The Hammonds’ own lawyer disassociated his clients from the group. And while years of overheated antigovernment statements from right-wing politicians and media figures have helped to fuel exactly this sort of outburst, it is encouraging that many on the right have called for the militants to stand down. When Ted Cruz says you’ve gone too far, it’s worth listening.

The simple message Mr. Bundy and his band must hear is this: If everyone with a gripe against the government responded by threatening federal officials with weapons, America would no longer be a nation governed by the rule of law. Their grievances, like everyone else’s, can be addressed. But not before they put down the guns.

A version of this editorial appears in print on January 7, 2016, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Guns, Anger and Nonsense in Oregon.

Guns, Anger and Nonsense in Oregon,
NYT, JAN. 6, 2016,






Obama’s Action on Guns:

What It Means for Background Checks


JAN. 5, 2016

The New York Times



WASHINGTON — President Obama on Tuesday formally announced executive action on guns in an East Room ceremony.

Q. Will the president’s plan close the loophole that has allowed millions of guns to be purchased without criminal background checks at gun shows and online bazaars?

A. No. Federal law already requires that anyone “engaged in the business” of selling guns must be licensed and must conduct background checks on every purchase. The problem is that many sellers at gun shows and on firearms websites claim to be hobbyists who are exempt from those requirements. People who purchase guns from those sellers are not subject to criminal background checks.

Mr. Obama’s executive action does not expand the existing law. Instead, his administration has now “clarified” that people who claim to be hobbyists may actually be “engaged in the business” of selling firearms if they operate an online gun store, pass out business cards or frequently sell guns in their original packaging. The president’s action also reiterates that there are criminal penalties for violating the law.

Q. So, is the president ordering better enforcement of the existing laws to crack down on people who are selling without the proper licenses and background checks?

A. Yes, to the extent he can. He is asking Congress for funding to hire 200 new agents and investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, though that request may be denied by Republican lawmakers. Mr. Obama says the F.B.I. will increase the number of workers who process the background checks by 50 percent, or 230 people. He says that should reduce delays in a system that receives 63,000 background check requests each day. He also announced the eventual development of a more modern computer system that can process background checks 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The president is also seeking to close a loophole that has allowed people to avoid background checks when they buy and sell certain weapons — machine guns and sawed-off shotguns — by forming corporate entities and trusts to conduct the sales. A new regulation will clarify that those purchases require background checks.

Q. Are there other provisions of the president’s plan that would help keep guns out of the hands of criminals or mentally ill people?

A. Yes. The Social Security Administration will begin looking at how to link mental health records in its system with the criminal background check data. The Department of Health and Human Services is clarifying that health privacy rules do not bar states from reporting mental health records to the background check system. And Mr. Obama is requesting $500 million from Congress to improve basic mental health care.

In addition, Mr. Obama announced that the A.T.F. will spend $4 million to enhance a ballistics database that analysts use to link guns to violent crimes. He ordered the Defense Department, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to sponsor research into gun safety technology. And at Mr. Obama’s direction, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch wrote a letter to state officials to encourage reporting of criminal information to the background check system.


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A version of this article appears in print on January 6, 2016, on page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: What Executive Action Does, and Does Not Do, for Background Checks.

Obama’s Action on Guns: What It Means for Background Checks,
NYT, JAN. 5, 2016,






Tearful Obama

Outlines Steps to Curb Gun Deaths


JAN. 5, 2016

The New York Times




WASHINGTON — As tears streamed down his face, President Obama on Tuesday condemned the gun violence that has reached across the United States and vowed to curb the bloodshed with or without Congress.

“In this room right here, there are a lot of stories. There’s a lot of heartache,” Mr. Obama said in the White House East Room, flanked by relatives of those struck down in mass shootings, including former Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. “There’s a lot of resilience, there’s a lot of strength, but there’s also a lot of pain.”

For all the emotion he showed, Mr. Obama nonetheless faces legal, political and logistical hurdles that are likely to blunt the effect of the plan he laid out.

A number of the executive actions he plans are only suggested “guidance” for federal agencies, not binding regulations. They were framed mostly as clarifying and enforcing existing law, not expanding it. And many of those measures rely on hefty funding increases that a Republican-led Congress is almost certain to reject.

Among other measures, the plan aims to better define who should be licensed as a gun dealer and thus be required to conduct background checks on customers to weed out prohibited buyers.

Even the administration said it was impossible to gauge how big an effect the steps might have, how many new gun sales might be regulated or how many illegal guns might be taken off the streets.

“I don’t think anyone can credibly tell you yet what all this means,” Charles E. James Jr., a former federal gun crimes prosecutor who now represents gun industry clients, said of Mr. Obama’s plan.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch told reporters Monday that she could not say whether the new restrictions would have had any effect in a series of recent mass shootings, including last month’s attack in San Bernardino, Calif., that left 14 dead. But in the massacre of nine people at a South Carolina church in June, the man charged, Dylan Roof, was able to buy a .45-caliber handgun despite admitting to drug use. The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said at the time that a breakdown in the background check system had allowed Mr. Roof to buy the gun.

“Each time this comes up,” Mr. Obama said in his speech, “we are fed the excuse that common-sense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that, or the one before that, so why bother trying. I reject that thinking. We know we can’t stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world. But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence.”

Nearly 21 million gun sales were processed through the background check system in 2014, but some industry analysts say as many as 40 percent more firearms could have been sold through private transactions not subject to background checks. Even the most hopeful advocates say the new plan would affect only thousands of sales.

Proposals that would have the biggest effect have long been shelved by even the most ardent gun control advocates who now see an assault weapons ban or mandatory gun buyback programs like ones in Australia in 1996 and 2003 as political fantasy.

Modest as the new measures may prove to be, the response was unrestrained. Republican presidential candidates and congressional leaders greeted them with peals of protests and angry claims of a “gun grab” that would violate Second Amendment rights. Gun control advocates hailed them as a breakthrough in what has often been a losing battle to toughen firearms restrictions.

The families of gun victims and gun control activists crowded into the White House and watched Mr. Obama break down as he recalled the young children gunned down by an assailant in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

“First graders,” the president said, his eyes drifting off and becoming red with tears. He wiped his face and paused to regain his composure: “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad.”

By taking action, Mr. Obama is purposely stoking a furious political debate that has roiled Congress and spilled over into the presidential campaign. Vowing last year to “politicize” the gun issue after a mass shooting at an Oregon community college, Mr. Obama on Tuesday made good on that promise.

The National Rifle Association, targeted by Mr. Obama in his speech, mocked his tears.

“The American people do not need more emotional, condescending lectures that are completely devoid of facts,” said Chris W. Cox, the group’s top lobbyist.

Republican presidential candidates also raced to condemn Mr. Obama, with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas putting up a web page with a menacing, altered picture of the president in a commando outfit. A caption read “Obama Wants Your Guns” next to a fund-raising appeal.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin posted his opposition on Twitter as the president spoke, saying Mr. Obama’s “words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty.”

But Mr. Obama’s allies were equally intense in their defense.

Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, posted on Twitter from the East Room: “President wiping tears. So am I. One of the most moving things I’ve ever seen.”

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, posted a “thank you” to Mr. Obama for “taking a crucial step forward on gun violence.”

Mr. Obama’s plan is likely to face legal challenges from gun rights groups that accuse him of overstepping his executive authority. A number of critics said they suspected that the president’s push to “clarify” the definition of licensed gun dealers could force even the occasional gun seller to register their transactions.

Shortly before Mr. Obama’s remarks, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released guidance to gun sellers on the criteria that could qualify someone as a gun “dealer” who needs to be licensed and conduct background checks. Those criteria include having a website, using business cards or selling new guns in their original packages.

The 14-page pamphlet, posted on the agency’s website, offers examples to help guide sellers, such as “Bob,” who wants to sell a gun collection that he inherited (he would not need to be licensed) and “Sharon,” who sells guns at flea markets every weekend (she would need to be licensed).

But the administration rejected more aggressive options, such as establishing a defined threshold for the number of gun sales that would qualify someone as a dealer required to conduct background checks.

White House officials were mindful of the legal reversals sustained when the president tried to grant legal immigration status by executive action to five million immigrants in the country illegally, and they said they tried to make the gun plan as safe from legal attacks as possible.

“This is really pretty modest stuff,” said Ladd Everitt, the communications director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, an advocacy group.

Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, who attended Mr. Obama’s speech, said many police organizations had been pushing for more background checks on firearm purchases. While he praised Mr. Obama for taking action, he said more needed to be done.

“If Congress doesn’t allow for legislation, I think he went as far as he could using the bully pulpit,” Mr. Wexler said.

With Congress unwilling to act, many gun control groups have turned to states for changes, with 18 states now imposing some form of background check.


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A version of this article appears in print on January 6, 2016,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline:
Tearful Obama Outlines Steps to Curb Gun Deaths.

Tearful Obama Outlines Steps to Curb Gun Deaths,
NYT, JAN. 5, 2016,



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