Friday, July 15, 2016

Elusive Proof in Pulse Shootings Serves Caution


Wow.  This is awkward.

According to the FBI, so far there is no solid evidence that the guy who shot up Orlando's Pulse nightclub was targeting gays.

Back in June, when Omar Mateen slaughtered 49 people in America's worst gun-related attack, all of us - you, me, the police, self-described former gay lovers of Mateen's, the FBI, and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch - presumed it was a hate crime against gays.

It seemed so obvious.  A Muslim guy shoots up a club catering to people whose sexuality is technically, in Islamic law, punishable by death.  His first wife says she suspected he had gay tendencies himself.  Pulse patrons insist he frequented the place.  The entire narrative constructed for the world via the media was one of hatred towards gays.

And to be sure, the FBI hasn't proven that Mateen didn't hate gays.  They simply haven't found any actual proof that he did.  And without proof, obviously, a motive is hard to prove.

After all, people saying they've slept with somebody isn't proof.  People saying they've seen somebody posting entries on gay dating apps isn't proof, either.  The FBI says they've checked out Mateen's personal technology devices and found no evidence of him scrubbing gay links off of them.  And of the websites and apps Mateen could have used to connect with other gay men, as in all social media, it's common for users to delete posts and accounts, so it doesn't mean much if Mateen did.

His first wife's suspicions?  That's not proof.  It wasn't part of their divorce paperwork, so if she didn't bring it up then, why bring it up now?

And the FBI can't find any survivors of Mateen's massacre who will testify that he was cursing gays and uttering hate speech against them as he shot Pulse's patrons.

Again, all this isn't to say that Mateen didn't intend for this to be a hate crime.  Shucks, maybe Mateen intended for it to be a hate crime against Muslims, since the narrative adopted by so many of us has become distinctly tilted against that religion and its lack of politically-correct tolerance or Christian compassion.

But what we do know is that we all rushed to a pretty big judgment that, over a month later, cannot be proven by any credible evidence.  We don't know why Mateen did what he did, except that he seemed to calculate that the more innocent people he killed, the more evil his notoriety would be.  And that was an accurate calculation on his part.

Still, don't you think that if he was planning such an atrocity, he'd want us to know why?

Or was he so off-the-wall berserk he didn't care?

Weird, huh?

Actually, it seems things that used to be weird to us are becoming less so.  As our nation continues to lurch from one crisis to another, and our society convulses with angst over racism, gay marriage, gun control, extremist politics, xenophobia, America's unprecedented marginalization of Christianity, and a host of other issues, it's easy for us to forget that what we think we see happening around is may not be what's actually happening.

We focus on narratives that seem the most plausible to us, but the things that seem the most plausible to us often are filtered through our own personal worldview lenses that have been crafted by our personality, ethnicity, intelligence, and emotions.

For example, blacks generally believe they are targets for police oppression, if not brutality.  Whites generally believe blacks are exaggerating the whole cop thing.  Meanwhile, there are over 300 years of tortured racial divisions here in America that have created two distinct worlds - black marginalization and white privilege - that we've only just begun to deconstruct as a country.

America's Civil War officially ended in 1865, but public education wasn't officially desegregated until 1954.  "Separate but equal" Jim Crow laws didn't end until 1965.  And racism is but one way we all - whether black, white, brown, blue, green, fuchsia, whatever - look at the reality we think we see without learning the facts.  We don't wait for investigations of cop shootings to be concluded.  We're often confused and frustrated by trials as they're argued in courts of law.

Part of the problem is that, regardless of our skin color, we're increasingly impatient and easily entertained - two characteristics of us humanoids that have been egregiously exploited by our rapacious media industry.

Most of us remember the song, "Dirty Laundry," released by Don Henley in 1982.  It's a song mocking the commoditization of the news by America's mainstream media.  The lyrics were as true then as they are today.  Here are just a few:

I make my living off the evening news (which has morphed into today's 24/7 social media cycle)
Just give me something-something I can use (for ratings or click-throughs to sell commercials or web advertising)...

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blond (only attractive reporters still get on-air time, even in our supposedly egalitarian media industry)
She can tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It's interesting when people die (even though so many people get murdered these days, you'd think we'd be jaded to it all by now)

Can we film the operation (or the police chase, or the shooting, or the riot)?
Is the head dead yet?  (after all, the race to be first with the news means accuracy is expendable)
You know, the boys in the newsroom got a running bet (and the politicians have their spin already calculated)
Get the widow on the set!  (and milk it for all it's worth, because angst sells)

You don't really need to find out what's going on (soundbites and tweeted memes are all people want)
You don't really want to know just how far it's gone...
When it's said and done we haven't told you a thing (but you'll be convinced that we have).


In today's era of seemingly endless turmoil, both here at home in America and around the world, it's easy to let the media tell us how to view what is happening.  Facts often become shrouded by opinions and emotions.  Truth seems to be relative to the person processing its application to their own life, family, aspirations, and fears.  

Even the sources from which we each choose to access the news can themselves be choices we make based on our worldview - a worldview that may not be accurate.  We Americans consider ourselves fortunate to have so many sources for news and information, at least compared with people in more oppressed countries.  But we can't let our own biases be a substitute for objectivity, especially when we live in a country where there are so few penalties for inaccuracies in the news.

Yet there are penalties, of course, for interpreting the facts inaccurately.  Those penalties, however, are often subtle, and only become noticeable after a long time of accumulating, one biased report after another, one misguided conclusion after another, one exaggeration or one omission after another, like a dripping faucet.

As it is, today's news from the FBI that there seems to be no proof Omar Mateen was brutally homophobic will likely be glossed over by many of us.  Indeed, a gay activist in Orlando has already dismissed the notion that homophobia was not a primary factor in the Pulse tragedy, calling it "nonsense."  In her mind, and in the minds of many, if gays were killed, and a gun was used, that's enough to justify not only more hate laws, but more gun-control laws as well.

Doesn't it seem that sometimes, our knees are jerking so much, it's surprising we can ever walk in a straight line?

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