Running out of things to say about mass shootings… well, almost

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I tried to write something last night about the Orlando shooting that just left 50 people dead, but I gave up an hour or so into it. I’d sliced my hand open earlier in the day while working on the renovation of 209 Pearl Street, which made it difficult to type. [My right thumb was wrapped up in a bloody rag.] The bigger issue, however, was that I didn’t have anything even remotely new or insightful to say. Everything I wanted to say, I’d already said before.

Had I been smarter, I would have withheld some of the outrage I expressed in the wake of the Sandy Hook and Aurora shootings. I should have known that we’d have another, even bigger mass shooting just around the corner. But I gave you everything I had back then. I tore into the right for blaming such acts on the erosion of religion in American life. I railed against the NRA for suggesting that the answer was to put more guns in our schools. And I praised President Obama for his incremental moves to bring sanity back to the conversation by actually talking openly about the societal costs associated with gun violence and suggesting that we do the unthinkable and lift the federal ban on related research. So, when I sat down to write about yesterday morning’s attack on the nightclub in Orlando, our nation’s most deadly mass shooting in 34 years, it just seemed like I was rehashing the same old stuff.

After taking a moment to mourn the dead, I jumped right into my practiced talking points. I started writing about about the need for better mental health care, and how imperative it is that we close loopholes and expand funding so that we can actually enforce the gun-related laws that we already have on the books. Essentially I started repeating the popular liberal position, assuring any Republicans that might be in the audience that we don’t want to take their weapons, and asking respectfully that they engage in common sense reforms intended to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of terrorists, and those who would use them to do harm… But then it dawned on me, as I was sitting there typing, that I really didn’t wan to post yet another article assuring the gun-loving right we’d never dream of coming for their beloved guns. I’m tired of being respectful toward the far right on gun control, I thought, telling them that they don’t have anything to worry about, and that we don’t care how many assault rifles they have, just so long as they allow us to conduct even the most rudimentary background checks, so that we can keep guns from domestic abusers and known criminals. No, it occurred to me, we were probably beyond the point of being deferential.

Speaking of this reasoned approach to gun control, Obama had a masterful response to an older man during a public appearance on PBS a week or so ago who stood up and essentially asked him why he was coming for the guns of law-abiding Americans. Here, in case you missed it, is the President’s response.

First of all, the notion that I or Hillary or Democrats, or whoever you want to choose, are hell-bent on taking away folks’ guns is just not true — and I don’t care how many times the NRA says it. I’m about to leave office. There have been more guns sold since I’ve been President than just about any time in U.S. history. There are enough guns for every man, woman and child in this country. And at no point have I ever proposed confiscating guns from responsible gun owners. So it’s just not true.

What I have said is precisely what you suggested, which is why don’t we treat this like every other thing that we use? We used to have really bad auto fatality rates. The auto fatality rate has actually dropped precipitously, drastically, since I was a kid. Why is that? We decided we had seatbelt laws. We decided to have manufacturers put airbags in place. We decided to crack down on drunk driving and texting. We decided to redesign roads so that they were less likely to have a car bank. We studied what is causing these fatalities using science and data and evidence, and then we slowly treated it like the public health problem it was, and it got reduced.

We are not allowed to do any of that when it comes to guns because people — if you propose anything, it is suggested that we’re trying to wipe away gun rights and impose tyranny and martial law. Do you know that Congress will not allow the Centers for Disease Control to study gun violence? They’re not allowed to study it because the notion is, is that by studying it, the same way we do with traffic accidents, somehow that’s going to lead to everybody’s gun being confiscated.

When we talked about background checks — if you buy a car, if you want to get a license, first of all, you got to get a license. You have to take a test. People have to know that you know how to drive. You don’t have to do any of that with respect to buying a gun. And we talked about doing effective background checks. It was resisted because the notion was we were going to take your guns away.

I just came from a meeting today in the Situation Room in which I’ve got people who we know have been on ISIL websites, living here in the United States, U.S. citizens, and we’re allowed to put them on the no-fly list when it comes to airlines, but because of the National Rifle Association, I cannot prohibit those people from buying a gun. This is somebody who is a known ISIL sympathizer. And if he wants to walk into a gun store or a gun show right now and buy as many weapons and ammo as he can, nothing is prohibiting him from doing that, even though the FBI knows who that person is.

So, sir, I just have to say respectfully that there is a way for us to have common-sense gun laws. There is a way for us to make sure that lawful, responsible gun owners like yourself are able to use it for sporting, hunting, and protecting yourself. But the only way we’re going to do that is if we don’t have a situation in which anything that is proposed is viewed as some tyrannical destruction of the Second Amendment. And that’s how the issue too often gets framed…

And, for what it’s worth, Obama was absolutely right in what he said. If we ever want to see reform in this country, this is the way we’re going to get there. It just pisses me off that no one in power can tell the complete truth, which is that there’s no place in civilized society for weapons intended to kill one another, especially ones designed to take the lives of dozens of human beings in quick succession.

Yes, I understand that the Constitution says you have a right to be armed as part of a well-regulated militia, but… let’s be honest… the world we live in has changed quite a bit over the past 240-some years. We no longer live in a world where individuals armed with muskets can fight back physically against the government. That horse, as they say, has left the barn. And no matter how may AK47s you might have, you’re not going to fend off a government with surveillance drones, armored assault vehicles, and bombs designed to wipe out hardened subterranean bunkers. If you think I’m wrong, ask the folks in Waco.

I’m not saying that I’d like to eliminate every weapon in America. I just don’t see why it’s not even on the table as an option. It bothers me that it’s just taken for granted that no one in elected office can say, “What if we got rid of every assault rifle in America?” Again, I’m not saying that I’d necessarily suggest this course of action. It just bothers me that, when we’re assessing potential paths forward, it’s not even an option. It’s like if you were a 800-pound man, suffering from diabetes, and approaching certain death, and your doctor couldn’t even say, “Well, you might want to consider giving up pop,” because everyone knows you love the fuck out of your pop, and you’d start screaming your fucking ahead off if anyone even suggested that you cut down to a single six pack a day.

Again, I have no idea what the answer is… I just think that we should try to get beyond politics for a minute and put everything on the table, from arming every kindergartener, to melting down every gun ever made.

One more thing. If I’d written this yesterday, I likely would have mentioned that it had been reported that the killer, Omar Mateen, was a radical Muslim who once flew into a rage having seen two men kissing. Well, according to reports coming out today, Mateen’s feelings concerning homosexuality may have been a bit more complicated. The LA Times is reporting that the 29 year old Mateen was a user the gay chat and dating app Jack’d, and had spent time at this very Orlando LGBT nightclub prior to yesterday’s attack.

One wonders how many men are driven into fundamentalism because they live in cultures where they can’t be themselves. I don’t want to make excuses for Mateen, but it’s not difficult to see how a young gay man growing up in a fundamentalist household might be more inclined to gravitate toward jihad rather than face the reality that he’s gay.

OK, remember how I said that yesterday I didn’t have any new ideas? Well, that was yesterday… And now I’ve got two new thoughts on how we make this planet of ours a better place.

1. We radically change America. We institute a minimum income for everyone, we offer free healthcare, and we get the money out of politics, so that the government actually works for the people. All we ask in return is that you not be a douche, and give up your weapons. And, if you don’t like that, we pay for you to move to a new country that we’ve established in the former state of Texas, which has huge walls all the way around it, and operates under the libertarian principles of Ayn Rand.

2. We create a tropical paradise for anyone who feels like he or she needs to escape fundamentalism and be themselves, and we market the hell out of it globally. We make sure that everyone knows that all they need to do is call a toll-free number anywhere in the world, and we’ll whisk them away in the dead of night and give them an opportunity to start over again. And, yes, I know that all jihadists aren’t closeted gay men who would have jumped at a chance to live on a fabulous island away from their fundamentalist neighbors, but how cool would it be if we could deter 10% of jihadists just by turning GITMO into a giant, sunny “no judgment” zone where people could feel as though their best option on any given day isn’t mass murder to glorify a god they think hates them, but a peach daiquiri and a sunset dolphin watching tour?

Posted in Civil Liberties, Ideas, Other, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 47 Comments

Totally Quotable Arlo

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The reality apparently just set in on Arlo this morning that I’m going to be telling him to do things every day, and that he’s expected to actually listen.

[If you’ve got a few extra minutes, check out our Totally Quotable Arlo archive.]

Posted in Mark's Life, Special Projects | 7 Comments

We can do better for our children suffering from mental illness

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Over the past year or so, a friend of mine in Ann Arbor has had to spend quite a bit of time in the emergency room with her son due to various physical and mental issues he’s had to deal with, and the experience has given her some insight into how differently we treat children dealing with psychiatric emergencies from their counterparts suffering from other medical conditions. What follows is the letter which she just recently sent to the leadership of the University of Michigan Hospital in hopes of initiating a dialogue about the way we treat children suffering from mental illness.

Dear Leaders of the University of Michigan,

Last night I took my 11-year-old son to the emergency room at Mott Children’s Hospital. We were treated so well, I was amazed. We were immediately taken back to a room where he was made comfortable on a bed with a choice of age-appropriate movies to watch and an attentive staff specializing in children who made sure that he felt taken care of (he’s completely fine, by the way).

I was amazed because, over the last few years, we have been regulars at the hospital’s psychiatric emergency unit. My son has autism spectrum disorder and major depressive disorder, a combination that makes him vulnerable to pervasive suicidal thoughts and plans. For him, and for our family, this is a very serious matter of life and death. He is an extremely vulnerable child.

The care we received at Mott was such a stark contrast to the treatment that we’ve received in the psychiatric ER. I looked around and wondered, with all of the room in this beautiful hospital, why has there never been a place for my child? When I think about it, I can’t help but cry. Where is the loving atmosphere for children with mental illnesses, who are in such desperate need of comfort?

As you may or may not know, there is no separate waiting room for children in psychiatric emergency. They wait in the same room as everyone else, which of course includes adults with mental illness, who can be scary and unpredictable. I have been afraid to go to the bathroom because I didn’t want to leave my son alone, and have had to wait until a staff member was available to watch him.

When you arrive you can expect to be there for days. In the waiting room. Days. This is because there aren’t enough beds to go around in the state, and you are at the mercy of this bed lottery. Even if you are offered a bed in a facility somewhere, hopefully you are experienced with the system enough to know what some of these other facilities are like, because there are places your child could end up that will make him worse than when he came in. Places where a child with suicidal depression is treated like a criminal, where you are only allowed to visit your child for an hour three days a week. These poor babies. So hopefully you know enough to speak up and advocate for your child. I have literally cried with relief when I was told there was a bed available for him at the University of Michigan. It is more important than winning the lottery.

While you are waiting, there is nowhere for you or your child to sleep. You sleep in a chair in the brightly-lit waiting room while he sleeps on a pile of blankets on the floor, where people have to step around him. Around two a.m., if there is space available, the staff might kindly move you to one of the side rooms, where your child can at least sleep in a reclining chair. By your second night there, you are so exhausted that this seems like a stroke of luck. At this point you may have been in this hospital waiting room for more than 48 hours.

You can tell the seasoned veterans to the ER because they show up with bags of stuff for their kids: pillows, toothbrushes, changes of clothes.

If you are a parent who is fortunate enough to have a partner or family in the area, you have someone to bring you food. If not, hopefully the nurses will bend the rules and order extra food on your child’s tray for you to eat. You may end up with nothing to eat for days.

Most of the staff are very kind and helpful. But some are not. Some treat you like this is not real, like you aren’t in a painful and desperate situation, and your child is a behavioral problem. They are not specialists in helping children. Once we were lucky enough to have a child life specialist visit us. We had been sleeping in the ER for three days. I was so grateful that someone finally treated my son like a sick child, and not as a problem. I didn’t realize that this is something that parents at Mott can just expect.

I know that you can’t fix everything in a day. But there are some important changes you can make that would help families tremendously. Open Mott to children with mental illness. Give them their own waiting room, far from adults who could scare them. Give them their own room to wait in, with a bed, where they can feel comfortable during what will inevitably be a long wait. Provide staff who specialize in pediatric care, who will lovingly and knowledgeably treat these most vulnerable of children. Provide support for families, who are exhausted and scared for their children’s safety and lives.

Please help break the stigma of mental illness and treat these children with the same love and care as all of the other children who come through your doors.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Health, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Discussing the prospect of Ann Arbor – Detroit rail, rummaging through the utopian toolbox with Nick Tobier, and hanging out with musician Chris Buhalis… on this weekend’s episode of the Saturday Six Pack

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Guess what, America? The Saturday Six Pack, after a month-long hiatus… which, contrary to what you may have heard, was not imposed by the FCC… is going to be back on the air this weekend. So, if you’ve missed my sexy mumbling voice, punctuated by fits of intense coughing, you only have a few more days left to wait. At 6:00 PM this Saturday evening, I’ll be back on AM 1700, talking with people much brighter than I am about things that, in a perfect world, would matter to everyone.

We’ll kick the show off with a rousing discussion about the regional transit master plan just released by the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan (RTA), which, among other things, calls for a Detroit-Ann Arbor rail line with a stop in Ypsilanti, and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) between Ann Arbor and Ypsi. Joining us for the segment will be Ben Stupka from the RTA, Gillian Ream Gainsley from the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AATA), and Megan Owens from Transit Riders United. For those of you who haven’t been following the news, here’s a map of the proposed rail and rapid bus lines that will be constructed over the coming years, assuming, of course, that those of us who live in southeast Michigan choose to vote in favor of the proposed transit millage, which is expected to cost the average homeowner approximately $95 per year.

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[For a larger version of the proposed service map, click here.]

Then, once we’re done talking about regional mass transit, we’ll be joined by University of Michigan art professor Nick Tobier, co-author of the Utopia Toolbox: An Incitement to Radical Creativity, a new anthology of amazing projects, thought provoking observations and artistic prompts intended to inspire those interested in doing things like reclaiming public space, facilitating community dialogue and creating positive change.

And, during our final segment, we’ll be talking politics, music and power tools with singer songwriter Chris Buhalis, who will playing songs off his new record, Big Car Town.

I could say more about all of these folks, but you should really just listen this Saturday evening. It’ll be a good time, I promise.

One last thing… Here’s a video that was recently released by the RTA announcing the new master plan referenced above. If you’ve yet to dig into the plan, it’s a pretty good place to start.

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NEVER TUNED IN TO THE SIX PACK BEFORE, HERE ARE THE DETAILS ON HOW TO LISTEN:

Unless you live inside the AM 1700 studio, chances are you won’t be able to pick the show up on your radio. As that’s the case, I’d recommend streaming the show online, which you can do either on the AM1700 website or by way of TuneIn.com.

And for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the show, and need to get caught up, you can listen to the entire archive on iTunes.

Oh, and if you’d like to tell your friends and neighbors about the program, feel free to share the Facebook event listing.

And, here, thanks to AM 1700 senior graphic designer Kate de Fuccio, is this week’s poster, in case any of you want to print copies and leave them at one of your favorite highway rest areas.

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And do call us if you have a chance. We love phone calls. So please copy down this number and slide it into your sock – 734.217.8624 – and call us between 6:00 and 8:00 this Saturday evening. The show is nothing without you.

Posted in Art and Culture, Rail, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Davontae Staford, framed for four murders at the age of 14, is scheduled to return home tomorrow after serving nearly 9 years in prison

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Over the past five years, I’ve written quite a bit on this site about a young man by the name of Davontae Sanford. As you may recall, Davontae, who is developmentally disabled and blind in one eye, was taken into police custody in Detroit at the age of 14 for the murder of four people and eventually sentenced to serve from thirty-seven to ninety years. This, as you might also recall, happened in spite of the fact that he was questioned for hours on end without the presence of his mother or legal council, and signed a typed confession stating that he’d committed the murders with a different weapon than the one which was actually used by the killer. [It’s also worth noting that Davontae was reading at a third grade reading level at the time of his arrest, and that his interview with Detroit detectives was not taped.]

Defense attorney Kim McGinnis described the series of events leading up to his confession like this:

“Davontae saw the police lights after the killings were discovered around the corner from his house, and walked up to the police to find out what was going on. They told him, ‘You know what’s going on,’ and took him downtown. Twenty hours later, he signed a confession which contained only the details that the police already knew at the time.”

So essentially the police typed up the facts of the case as they knew them at the time, and gave them to a learning disabled 14 year old to sign, telling him that, if he did, he could go home… Instead, he went to prison.

And, that’s not the worst of it. Just months after being sent to prison, an imprisoned hit man by the name of Vincent Smothers confessed to having committed the drug-related killings himself. Furthermore, he told authorities Davontae had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Everyone, in other words, has known for years, and beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this young man is innocent, and yet he remained in prison.

In spite of incredible coverage in The New Yorker about Davontae’s case and an interview with the man who actually committed the murders, he remained in prison for nearly nine years… Well, that will all apparently end tomorrow, when Davontae will be released from prison thanks to a court order signed by Wayne County Third Circuit Court Judge Brian Sullivan vacating the conviction and sentence.

How this young man was allowed to stay in prison for nearly nine years is absolutely criminal, and one would hope that, in time, those responsible for his incarceration are themselves brought to justice. A 14 year old boy with a learning disability should never have been questioned without representation. And, once it became known that Vincent Smothers was the true killer, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office should have started fighting to ensure that justice was done. Instead, by all accounts, they fought to keep their conviction from being overturned. Books should be written about this case. And people should go to jail. What happened to this young man should never have happened in America.

And people wonder why young black men are raised to distrust the police…

[Here, for those of you who are interested, are some of our earlier posts on the Davontae Sanford case: The strange case of Davontae Sanford; Davontae Sanford, in prison for murders he almost certainly didn’t commit, finally gets national exposure in The New Yorker; Making the front page of Reddit with my post on Davontae Sanford; Disturbing video surfaces of Davontae Sanford being forcefully subdued by prison guards at the age of 16.]

[note: In the photo above, you’ll notice the scar across Davonte’s ear. If I’m not mistaken, that’s a result of the incident that his mother told us about a few years ago in which Davontae’s head was slammed between a closing cell door and a wall.]

Posted in Civil Liberties, Detroit, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

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