The Silence of the NRA on the Bryant Heyward Police Shooting is Deafening

© Josh Sager – May 2015

On May 7th, South Carolina police shot a 26-year old black man named Bryant Heyward in the neck outside of his own home—while he survived, he is now permanently paralyzed from the neck down.

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Heyward himself had called the police who shot him, as two armed intruders had broken into his home and shot at him at least twice. After calling the police, Heyward grabbed his brother’s handgun and chased the intruders out of his house. Unfortunately, when the police arrived at the scene, they saw him holding his gun in the doorway and shot him. While they claim to have demanded that he put his gun down twice, this is contradicted by the video of the event and even they admit that he never pointed the gun at them or acted in any way that could reasonably be considered threatening.

Yesterday, a dash-cam video with audio of this shooting was released, revealing that the police shot Heyward after giving him just over 1.1 seconds to drop his gun—in fact, the police shot him while in the middle of demanding that he drop his weapon for the second time.

According to the AASHTO, the average human perception-reaction time is 2.5 seconds (they use this to calculate driver reactions and the acceptable safety standards for our highways). By this accepted standard, the police gave Heyward absolutely no chance to react before shooting him—in effect, their spoken commands were irrelevant because they didn’t even give the recipient enough time to comprehend what they were asking.

While there is no proof that these police officers are overtly racist, they were negligent in this shooting and are part of a pattern of police shooting black men after giving them unreasonable amounts of time to disarm. Two of the most egregious incidents of this kind would be the Tamir Rice shooting, where the police gave a 12-year old with a toy gun less than 2-seconds to drop it before executing him, and the John Crawford III shooting, where the police shot and killed Crawford for carrying a toy gun in a Walmart (which was selling the toy gun) after giving him less than a second to drop it.

We live in a nation filled with guns and, for as long as this is the reality, police officers cannot just shoot any black man carrying a gun because they find him intimidating. Unfortunately, this is an issue that doesn’t appear likely to disappear in the near future and is one that is largely ignored by the usual “pro-gun” advocates.

The NRA’s Silence

Beyond the racial and police-violence concerns raised in this case, there is a very important issue that is almost completely ignored:

Bryant Heyward is a citizen of the United States who legally used a gun to defend his home from intruder who shot at him. While he followed the law and did everything right, he was shot by the police he himself called. His case represents a nexus of circumstances that should make the NRA immediately jump into action and turn him into a 2nd Amendment martyr.

First, his case represents the NRA’s ideal scenario for positive gun ownership, where a “good guy” uses his gun to defend his home and to stop “bad guys” who mean him harm.

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Second, his case demonstrates the NRA’s argument that the police often cannot help anybody, both because these police were incompetent and because the armed gunmen were clearly such a present danger that police couldn’t arrive in time to help.

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Third, his case is an example of the gun rights crowd’s greatest fear, where police officers shoot people who legally exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.

Despite these circumstances, the NRA and “gun-rights” activist base have been absolutely silent on this shooting. I can’t find even a single mention of it by the NRA, nor do I see any movement by the “gun-rights” supporters to rally behind Heyward and help him rebuild his life.

Put simply, I see no reason for this silence by the pro-gun movement on a shooting that so perfectly fits their ideology, other than the race of the victim. If Heyward were white, I have no doubt that this situation would be championed as the demonstration of how gun owners are begin threatened by the evil government and used to solicit donations to fight gun control.

While most pro-gun groups refuse to reveal their membership lists—largely due to a fear of registration and confiscation of their guns–polling on this issue makes it reasonable to assume that they disproportionately represent rural, white, male, and conservative Americans. These are the groups that consistently poll as having the highest levels of support for gun rights, and an anecdotal look at pro-gun rallies tends to back this assumption up.

Given their demographic privilege, the average gun activist may not being able to relate to the dangers a black person faces while walking down the street with a weapon. White open-carry activists can walk down the street with an assault rifle and not get stopped, while black men and boys with toy guns can get executed by police before it is physically possible for them to respond.

Compounding this lack of shared experiences, there is also the issue that a lot of gun-rights supporters are simply racist. This racist demographic within the gun-rights group extends well into the leadership of major pro-gun groups.

For example, here is a quote from NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre that pretty much illustrates my point:

“Eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough.”

Wayne LaPierre – 144th Annual Meeting of the NRA

Additionally, Larry Pratt, founder of Gun Owners of America, has a well-documented history of belonging to white-nationalist, extreme militia, and anti-sematic organizations, as well as supporting vigilante death squads in Guatemala to murder leftists/communists.

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With their reaction to this, and other, situations, the pro-gun establishment is demonstrating its biases (implicit or overt) and revealing its double-standard on gun ownership. A significant percentage of this crowd simply cares about the “right” of white conservative men to own guns and have survivalist fantasies about fighting government tyranny, while knocking back beers and shooting small animals—these people don’t care about the rights of black Americans and could care less about police shooting black gun owners. Within this group these is an even more extreme subset who fantasize about shooting black people and who raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to legally defend white shooters who kill black victims.

While I personally, support massive increases in gun control laws, I recognize that everybody must be treated equally in regard to gun rights. No one group can have privilege, just as no one group can face execution of they exercise their “right” to carry any legal weapon they choose.

 

Victory for Grassroots as Fast Track Goes Down in Crucial Senate Vote

‘We know the forces pushing the job-killing TPP won’t stop here, and they should know, neither will we,’ says Democracy for America

by: Deirdre Fulton

According to news reports, a cloture motion to cut off a filibuster and proceed to debate fell short of the 60 votes necessary to pass. (Image: Screenshot)Update (3 pm EDT):In what was immediately heralded as a victory for the grassroots, Senate Democrats on Tuesday stymied President Barack Obama’s corporate-driven trade agenda by voting to prevent the chamber from taking up Fast Track legislation.According to news reports, a cloture motion to cut off a filibuster and proceed to debate fell short of the 60 votes necessary to pass. Sen. Tom Carper, of Delaware, was the only Democrat to vote yes.Civil society groups lauded Tuesday’s outcome and what it could mean for future trade votes.”The Fast Track train went off the rails today,” cheered Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division. “The U.S. Senate vote was supposed to generate momentum for Fast Track in the U.S. House of Representatives, where it’s in deep trouble, with almost every House Democrats and a significant bloc of GOP opposing it.”Still, now is not the time for the grassroots to become complacent, warned Democracy for America executive director Charles Chamberlain in a statement released just after the vote.”While we celebrate today’s failed Fast Track vote for the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership, the hundreds of thousands of grassroots activists who have united behind Senators Warren, Brown and Sanders to defeat the TPP will not rest until it’s dead, buried, and covered with six-inches of concrete,” Chamberlain said. “Today, the army of corporate executives and industry lobbyists who wrote the Trans-Pacific Partnership by and for themselves failed to secure support for the Fast Track legislation they know they need to ram their bad trade deal through Congress.”However, he added, “We know the forces pushing the job-killing TPP won’t stop here, and they should know, neither will we.”Other Fast Track opponents expressed similar sentiments on Twitter:And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has been a vocal opponent of Fast Track and gave a stirring speech on the Senate floor prior to the vote on Tuesday, added: “The Senate vote today was an important first victory in what will be a long battle.””Today was a good step forward,” he said, “but much more needs to be done.”Earlier…

Progressive opposition to Fast Track, and the dangerous trade deals the authority is designed to promote, continues to mount both on and off Capitol Hill. (Photo: UFCW International Union/flickr/cc)Amid convoluted political machinations and ever-mounting progressive opposition, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on a motion to move forward with Fast Track authority, which would for six years help ram corporate-friendly trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress.The vote is likely to be very close—”a cliffhanger,” according to Politico; “a knife-edge vote,” says Reuters; “a squeaker,” as per the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank.”Today, every United States Senator has a decision to make: will they stand with the overwhelming majority of their constituents who oppose the dangerous secrecy inherent in the Fast Track / Trade Promotion Authority process, or will they bow down to the White House and the incumbent industries who have been spending millions lobbying to protect their power?”—Evan Greer, Fight for the FutureProponents in the Senate must secure 60 votes on Tuesday to begin debate on Fast Track, or Trade Promotion Authority. While the vote is procedural, the Wall Street Journal notes that it “could indicate where members stand” on the authority, so fervently sought by President Barack Obama and his Cabinet, which would pave the way for passage of the 12-nation TPP.Reuters notes, “Failure would send a worrying signal about the level of support for Fast Track, which unions, environmental and consumer groups strongly oppose, as do some conservatives.””Even if the free-traders get the required 60 votes, supporters won’t have momentum going into a vote in the House, where the legislation faces a tougher slog,” Milbank added.As the Washington Post reports, the “vast majority of the 245 House Republicans are expected to support the president, leaving White House officials to find possibly 25 to 30 Democratic votes. According to one Democratic estimate provided Monday, there are just 17 House Democrats so far supporting [Fast Track].”According to news reports, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has pledged to block the trade bill until senators agree to a way forward on highway and surveillance bills, both of which face end-of-the-month deadlines.In addition, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee who negotiated the details of the Fast Track bill introduced last month, has told his colleagues that he will not support starting the debate unless Republicans promise to also move forward with two other trade measures: a customs enforcement bill that would also crack down on currency manipulation and the African Growth and Opportunity Act that provides trade preferences to sub-Saharan African countries.

According to Politico, “Wyden’s vote is being watched closely by both Democrats and Republicans as the pivotal yes or no that will determine whether work on the trade bill can begin now or must wait until June.”

“If Wyden votes no, he may take enough pro-trade Democrats with him to sink Tuesday’s vote,” write Politico journalists Burgess Everett and Manu Raju. “That possibility has boosted the anti-trade faction of the Democratic Party, which is now predicting that without [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell’s intervention the vote on Tuesday will fail.”

The Post reports that Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said he had “no indication” that Republican leaders would agree to combine the various bills in such a way that would pass muster with enough Democrats to proceed.

“I would say, at this point, most Democrats are inclined to vote no unless they know what they’re voting for,” he said.

However, “McConnell faces a delicate calculus,” the Wall Street Journal adds, because placating Senate Democrats by including one or all of the additional provisions “could create opposition among Republicans who support the bill, thus making it harder to line up enough support to ensure passage.”

Of course, such political horse-trading does little to address the fundamental problems with Fast Track or the dangerous trade deals the authority is designed to promote, which progressive groups were quick to underscore on Tuesday.

In a statement, Evan Greer of the digital rights group Fight for the Future declared: “Today, every United States Senator has a decision to make: will they stand with the overwhelming majority of their constituents who oppose the dangerous secrecy inherent in the Fast Track / Trade Promotion Authority process, or will they bow down to the White House and the incumbent industries who have been spending millions lobbying to protect their power?”

Labor groups also escalated their rhetoric. “America is in an abusive relationship with trade-obsessed politicians and corporations,” Leo W. Gerard, United Steelworkers international president, wrote in a blog post published Tuesday. “Despite their long history of battering the U.S. middle class with bad trade deal after bad trade deal, these lawmakers and CEOs contend workers should believe that their new proposal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will be different.”

“Simply put: a vote for Fast Track is a vote to accelerate the inherently environmentally dangerous practice of fracking for natural gas.”
—Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch

And in an interview with Greg Sargent of theWashington Post published Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren continued her verbal sparring with Obama, warning that passing Fast Track would have long-term implications. Because Trade Promotion Authority would apply for six years, for example, the next president could potentially “negotiate a trade deal that undercuts Dodd Frank,” Warren said, referring to the financial reform bill passed in the wake of the Great Recession. 

As for the TPP’s controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision, which she has repeatedly criticized, Warren said it “imposes a financial penalty, which has caused countries to change their regulations…[ISDS mechanisms] never had the authority to override regulations. What they had was the authority to impose a monetary penalty directly against the government and its taxpayers. That’s the point at which governments have backed up and said, ‘we can’t afford this, we’ll just change the law’.”

Meanwhile, in the House, environmental and public health groups are condemning Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) for coming out in support of Fast Track in a joint op-ed with Wyden published last month in The Oregonian. On Tuesday, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace began running television advertisements in Portland, Ore. and Washington, D.C. blasting Blumenauer as “wrong on trade.”

The groups point to provisions in the TPP and other so-called “free trade” deals that would require the Department of Energy to automatically approve natural gas exports to countries included in the pact—which they say would lead to more fracking around the U.S.

“Simply put: a vote for Fast Track is a vote to accelerate the inherently environmentally dangerous practice of fracking for natural gas,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. In helping pass the measure through the House Ways and Means Committee, she continued, “Rep. Blumenauer voted to give foreign oil and gas companies powerful new trade litigation tools to go after the growing grassroots movement to ban fracking in statehouses, county seats and municipalities across the country.”

Source: Victory for Grassroots as Fast Track Goes Down in Crucial Senate Vote | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

GOP Helps Predatory Lenders Target Troops

© Josh Sager – May 2015

The Republican Party loves to call itself patriotic, pro-military, and pro-troop, but their actions rarely match up with this rhetoric. Unfortunately, this has been made extremely clear during the last few weeks, as GOP politicians are currently trying to help payday lenders and banks exploit our troops with predatory lending practices.

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In 2006, a law was passed that would allow the Dept. of Defense to restrict banks and payday lenders from applying exploitative interests rates when lending to troops. This was necessitated by the fact that lenders were giving short term loans with annual interest rates well into the hundreds of percents, trapping thousands of active-duty soldiers in endless cycles of debt. In order to support their families, soldiers would be forced to take out loans, which would balloon and require them to take out even more loans to keep afloat.

If you need a better understanding of the problems behind payday lending schemes, you should watch John Oliver’s segment on the subject, as it was the clearest and most concise summary of the issue I have encountered:

Last year, the DOD finalized its rules restricting exploitative lending practices aimed at active-duty soldiers, and are now trying to get them implemented. Unfortunately, during the last two weeks, the Republican majority in the Congress has voted twice to delay this implementation process and potentially kill the reforms entirely.

Currently, an amendment to the NDAA that stalls these protections is being finalized by Representative Stivers (R-OH) and will shortly be voted on. It is expected to pass and will be included in this year’s NDAA. As Obama is unlikely to veto the NDAA over this provision (defunding the entire military), it appears as though the Republican sellouts will be successful in stopping these protections and enabling continued abuse by unethical lenders.

In effect, the Congressional Republicans are trying to make it easier for legalized loan-sharks to ruin the lives of the people who we send to protect our nation. They may claim to love the troops, but have shown through their actions that they clearly love the banksters who pay them campaign contributions far more.

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While I certainly don’t support many of the choices made by our military’s leaders (ex. invading Iraq) or even the conduct of many of our troops (ex. Abu Ghraib), I find it amazing that anybody can justify the exploitation of soldiers to turn a profit. Our soldiers put themselves into harm’s way, ostensibly in order to serve their country, risk life and limb on a regular basis, and are paid a frankly-pathetic wage for their efforts (ex. the starting salary for an E1 Army Private is $18,378 per year).

Because they are often away from home and make such low wages, soldiers often are forced to borrow money just to support their families. If this weren’t shameful enough for our country, we have allowed predatory lenders to live in this niche and use the desperation of soldiers to force them to accept usurious interest rates. Just to complete this injustice, we then have politicians who take money from the lenders in order to facilitate their crimes and who also take money from the military-industrial complex in exchange for starting even more wars.

This multi-faceted collage of greed illustrates just how immoral and corrupt our politics have become in recent years. We have elected corporate sellouts who are willing to aid and abet the exploitation of even those who protect our nation if it will fill their pockets with campaign donations. Any politician to support payday lenders over soldiers should have to answer for their vote come election time—conservative pro-military groups in particular should hold these politicians to account for voting in favor of corporate cronyism and exploitation rather than the best interests of citizens.