United States: Uvalde school shooting exposes violent gun culture, endemic racism

Gun Rights

The mass shooting of 19 children and 2 teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 has brought the issue of assault weapons and gun culture in the United States to the world’s attention again.

It has also exposed the racism endemic in the response by police and officials to the violence and victims’ pleas for help.

What happened?

Mexican-American, Salvador Rolando Ramos, entered Robb Elementary School on May 24. Ten days earlier, he turned 18, the legal age to purchase a “long rifle” in Texas. He went to a gun shop and bought two AR-15 rifles (on May 17 and May 20) and thousands of rounds of ammunition. He posted photos of the rifles on social media.

The children Ramos murdered were 7‒10 years old. Many other students were wounded when the police failed to act to stop his rampage. Most victims were Mexican-American. Uvalde has a population of less than 16,000 people, and is closer to the Mexican border than the large nearby city of San Antonio.

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It is unusual for a mass shooter in the US to be Latino. In most cases, it is a white man. In some cases, it is a self-proclaimed white supremacist —as occurred in El Paso, Texas in 2019 and Buffalo, New York, two weeks ago.

Before his rampage, Ramos shot his grandmother, who survived and called the police, which meant authorities knew who the shooter was. Ramos drove his grandmother’s ute to the school, where he crashed it, before taking a rifle and ammunition and climbing over the school fence.

The police arrived quickly but refused to act, despite receiving repeated emergency calls from teachers and students pleading for them to intervene.

Finally, after getting a key from the janitor to open the classroom door, a Border Patrol tactical unit led an assault and killed Ramos. It took roughly an hour and half from the time of his arrival at the school.

Police failures and misinformation

Immediately following the shooting, local police and politicians, including Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbot, spread misinformation and lies about what had occurred.

The timeline of events was constantly altered until the truth finally came out. The state police now say the local police were wrong not to enter the school immediately, as state guidelines mandate they should.

Abbot said he was misled, after initially praising the police for saving lives.

Why did it take 90 minutes for the cops to act? A group of police were in the hallway outside the classroom for more than 40 minutes, yet did not breach the door.

Why did Texas police put their lives first, over that of the children?

Police regularly shoot and kill innocent Brown and Black people over minor incidents, claiming “fear for their lives” as justification.

Yet, when it mattered most, the police were afraid to move, even though they knew Ramos was acting alone.

Why were the parents and family members of the students confronted by police when they demanded action in front of the school?

According to journalists, a mother was handcuffed by a US Marshall and a father pepper sprayed and tasered by police as he tried to climb the school fence.

Parents were upset that the police were doing nothing. They also had to insist that immigration police not seek out and deport victims’ undocumented family members.

Why was there no Spanish language translation at the press conferences?

The real reason for this criminal incompetence was that the students and community are mostly low income, working class and Latino.

Police inaction, and the disrespect and indifference shown to the community were acts of criminal negligence. Lives could have been saved in the first 15 minutes if police had charged into the classroom.

Democrats and gun-control advocates say the only issue is easy access to AR-15s, ignoring the obvious racism.

Abbot rejected any mention of guns and declared that more resources are needed for mental health. Last year, Texas cut funding for mental health services.

Republicans double down

The Republican’s national response was total defence of the police and the “right” to carry military-style weapons.

Yet, the majority of Americans support some gun regulations like universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

Just three days after the massacre, the National Rifle Association (NRA) held its annual convention in Texas.

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz spoke at the convention, held in Houston on May 27, repeating the NRA lie that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.

Former president, Donald Trump also spoke, repeating the claim.

Ironically, the Secret Service prevented anyone attending Trump’s speech from carrying a gun in an “open carry” state.

Cruz’s (and the NRA’s) solution to mass shootings is to denounce “woke” culture and bring back “Christian values” to public schools.

He says schools should be “hardened” with a single entrance and an armed police officer stationed at the door — turning them into jails.

Cruz is not alone. The Republican Party is in lockstep with the NRA — the face of gun manufacturers — which gives pro-gun candidates millions of dollars in campaign funding.

Gun interests have also captured the Supreme Court and it will likely overturn modest gun regulations in states such as New York and California.

For now, the NRA has won the ideological war on guns and its narrow interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution now prevails.

The amendment reads: A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Until the NRA/Republican Party’s recent interpretation, it meant that the central government had the primary power to regulate guns. It was never meant to protect an individual’s right to bear any type of weapon.

While President Joe Biden and the Democrats have offered prayers and called for common sense” gun regulations, the White House has taken no serious action on the issue, despite Democrats being in control of Congress and the presidency.

Mass shootings more common

The Uvalde shooting is one of at least 24 acts of gun violence on schools so far this year, in which at least 28 people have been killed, according to the Washington Post‘s data. There have been more than 200 mass shootings in the country this year.

Why is the figure so high in the US? In a revealing exchange at a vigil in Uvalde between Ted Cruz and a British Sky News journalist, the journalist asked: “Why does this only happen in your country? … Why only in America? Why is this American exceptionalism so awful?”

As Cruz attempted to walk away, the journalist said he just wanted “to understand why you do not think that guns are the problem”.

Cruz angrily shouted back that people all over the world want to live in the US because it is the “freest, most prosperous, safest country on Earth”.

Incredible. Mass shootings have occurred in other industrialised countries, but only in the US is it seen as unpatriotic to call for gun control.

There are more than 450 million guns in the country for a population of 330 million. We are all less safe, but especially Brown and Black people, because of systemic racism.

Black people have been subjected to gun laws in the past, particularly when civil rights and Black Power movements were on the rise in the 1960s.

In California, such a law was enacted by conservative pro-gun governor and later president, Ronald Reagan. The NRA backed Reagan’s gun restrictions in 1967, which targeted the Black Panther Party and Black radicals.

How the police react to legal gun ownership by African Americans and Latinos is not the same as how it responds to whites. Racial bias and racism are not accidental. The data shows that on every social level — education, health care, jobs, arrests and incarceration — Brown and Black people get the worst treatment.

What next?

We may never know why an 18-year-old Latino man decided to kill twenty-one people. But as Gustavo Arellano, wrote in the Los Ángeles Times on May 25: “The tragedy in Uvalde disproves what white supremacists say about Latinos and other minorities. We’re not unassimilable; we all become part of the United States.

“What Ramos did — stemming from a pathology found almost nowhere else on Earth — is as American as apple pie.”

The true sign of hope for positive change is what the parents and family members at the school did by challenging the police and elected politicians. They have refused to go quietly. They demand accountability.

Their actions are inspiring thousands to protest outside the NRA convention and walk out of schools across the country to demand “common sense” gun laws, accountability for police criminal negligence and proper treatment of victims’ families and communities of colour.

Within days of the massacre, 4000 workers at the San Francisco-based Salesforce signed a petition demanding the company end ties with the NRA.

Everyone must know the full truth of the Uvalde massacre. Until then, we must do what we can in solidarity with the victims of gun violence.

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