Mass shootings in the U.S.: Rooting out white nationalists and misogynists is necessary

Mental illness keeps being raised as a factor in mass shootings. But we need to stop using mental illness as a scapegoat. 

Mass shootings in the U.S. are a specific phenomenon highly correlated with misogynist violence against women — as fantasy or as reality — and with racism, specifically white nationalism. The majority of mass shooters show one or both of these characteristics. They are not mentally ill; they have deeply warped political and social views that have long festered in our country. They are also not lone wolves, for each has been connected to like-minded groups, whether on the internet, in neo-nazi orgs, or other forums. There is even a forum where the shooters are heroes and wannabe shooters boast that they will have higher kill rates. These forums are also full of white nationalist talk and misogynistic talk.

Mental health care and gun control — as desperately needed as they are — will not adequately address the crisis of mass shootings. Rooting out these white nationalists and misogynists is necessary. Categorizing them as the violent and terrorist organizations that they are and treating them accordingly would be a step in the right direction.

What is stopping us other than our collective reluctance to face the ugly truth?

(Photo Credit: The Atlantic / Joe Penney / Reuters)

Edom Kassaye, Mahlet Fantahun, Zone 9, and the writer’s freedom

On April 25 and 26th, the Ethiopian government arrested nine writers, six of whom are members of Zone 9. In Addis Ababa’s notorious Kaliti prison, Zone 9 is where political prisoners end up. Reeyot Alemu has been there for over 1000 days, for the crime of having written essays and articles critical of the government.

Now, members of Zone 9 sit in Zone 9.

For over 80 days, the nine writers were held without any charges, or better, under “informal accusations”. This past week, they were hastily charged with various forms of terrorism, under the anti-terrorism law passed in 2009.

Freelance journalist Edom Kassaye and blogger Mahlet Fantahun will join Reeyot Alemu in the women’s section of Kaliti. A third woman, Soliana Shimeles, was also charged with terrorism, but she’s outside of the country.

Almost forty years ago, in the throes of the anti-apartheid struggle, Nadine Gordimer asked, “What is a writer’s freedom?” Her answer, in part, was: “A writer needs all … kinds of freedom, built on the basic one of freedom from censorship. He does not ask for shelter from living, but for exposure to it without possibility of evasion. He is fiercely engaged with life on his own terms, and ought to be left to it, if anything is to come of the struggle. Any government, any society – any vision of a future society – that has respect for its writers must set them as free as possible to write in their own various ways, in their own choices of form and language, and according to their own discovery of truth.”

The Zone 9 writers’ slogan, and rallying cry, is “We blog because we care!” What do the writers care about? The truth. The end of censorship, lies, and suppression. The right to write. This week, Ethiopia charged ten writers with the terrorist act of writing, just writing. The rest is fog and mirrors.

In a tribute this week to Nadine Gordimer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o – who knows something about the combination of writing, truth, censorship, lies, imprisonment and exile – wrote:

Dear Nadine Your Name is Hope

You found broken hearts
You put them back together with words
From a pen that flowed ink instead of blood.”

The imprisonment of the nine writers, and charges against ten, is part of an Ethiopian story, as the name “Zone 9” suggests. At the same time, it’s part of a global assault against writing, all writing, under the guise of anti-terrorism. What was once particular to Gordimer’s South Africa or Ngugi’s Kenya or Paolo Freire’s Brazil or Angela Davis’ United States is now a coherent global regime. In that context, thinking of the ten writers charged with terrorism, thinking of Reeyot Alemu and so many other imprisoned writers, it’s time to ask, “Can pens still flow ink instead of blood?” Whose name today is hope?

(Image Credit:

Forty abducted women prisoners haunt New Jersey


In March 2007, forty women were abducted.

The New Jersey Department of Corrections is made up of thirteen centers, facilities and prisons. The Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, EMCF or EMCFW, is the only women’s prison in the state of New Jersey. The New Jersey State Prison, NJSP, is a men’s maximum-security prison.

These two prisons are night-and-day different. EMCFW has programs for survivors of domestic violence, parenting skills programs, and family unity programs, which include greater opportunity for family visits and contacts. EMCFW offers free phone calls to family members. A phone call from NJSP costs $25. Before March 2007, the difference between the two prisons was clear and stark. And then night and day were one:

In March 2007, approximately forty women, the majority of whom were classified as medium-security prisoners, had excellent disciplinary records, and/or held paraprofessional job assignments for months or years while at EMCF, were abruptly transferred to a maximum-security housing unit in NJSP. No notices, hearings, or other procedures preceded these transfers. …

“The mass transfers of women occurred on two separate occasions. On each occasion, women held at EMCF were locked in their cells without explanation. A convoy of trucks arrived and guards in full riot gear carrying batons, mace, and other weapons descended on the women’s quarters and took women from their rooms. Each woman was taken to a separate room and stripped naked while guards, including male guards, observed her and filmed her with a video camera. When the strip searches were complete, the women were handcuffed and shackled, then loaded onto a bus and taken to NJSP.

“During these chaotic and terrifying transfers, women panicked in their cells and wept hysterically. Because many of the women held at EMCF have experienced sexual and physical abuse by men prior to and in some cases during their incarceration, they were extremely frightened by the procedures employed during the transfers and the prospect of transfer to a men’s prison. Nursing and psychiatric staff had to be called to attend to the panic-stricken women, and many women were medicated or received increased dosages of medication. NJDOC has informed the women that their placement in NJSP is permanent.”

The conditions in the New Jersey State Prison were bad for men, and worse for women. The women were confined to their housing units and prohibited from moving about the prison. Their cell windows were painted over, leaving them in perpetual semi-darkness.

The women were denied psychiatric counseling and medication in their unit. If they requested psychiatric care, they were threatened with, and sometimes sent to, “Unit 1GG”, a “stabilization unit” famous for its degree of filth, danger and degradation. Women were denied access to adequate medical care. Medical examinations, such as they were, were conducted in the open area of the housing unit, in the presence of guards, including male guards.

Women were denied legal access, especially access to the prison’s library. Women were denied access to educational programs. They couldn’t get decent work, couldn’t exercise, and couldn’t take care of their personal hygiene. And throughout, women were denied any privacy.

The women found themselves in practical lockdown and almost complete isolation.

Why? What had these women done to deserve this? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Forty women were treated, dragged about, as forty sacks of nothing.

Kathleen Jones, Sylvia Flynn, Helen Ewell and Lakesha Jones had been model prisoners. Through the ACLU, these four women sued the State “on behalf of themselves and all individuals similarly situated.” They charged the State with “violations of their due process and equal protection rights, their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and their right to privacy.” They protested the “restrictive, inhumane, and physically and psychologically damaging conditions”. Finally they noted, “The Department’s ill-considered measure is also symptomatic of its general failure to plan for the women in its custody.”

In the first week of September 2008, nine months later, the forty women were returned to the not great conditions of the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women. Then, for another year and a half, the women fought to make the State accountable for its actions. Last week, the women won. It was a victory “for civil rights, justice and common sense.”

What happened in New Jersey? The State now says EMCFW was overcrowded, and so it moved 40 women. What system of reason moves 40 women model prisoners into an all male supermax holding 1800 some prisoners? There were other prisons in the state, and there were other options. Model women prisoners could have been given early release. No one sought an alternative, because women prisoners counted for and as nothing.

There was no mass transfer in March of 2007. There was abduction. In the middle of the night, groups of men, armed to the teeth, faces covered, rounded up forty unarmed women. The women were stripped naked, prodded, shackled, and carted off to parts unknown, where they were then abused. What is that called? Call it terrorism.

Kathleen Jones and daughter

Sylvia Flynn


(Photo Credit: Jerry McCrea/Star-Ledger) (Photo Credit: ACLU)

Scatterlings: “Shoot to kill”

At this time four years ago, New Orleans residents of color were being hunted like animals by white citizens and National Guardsmen alike as the waters of Katrina receded…

…and now ZA has its own “shoot to kill” policy. On the anniversary of 9/11, it really makes me wonder about how “we” define terrorism. Brutality by the state = law and order, mean to protect “football fans [that] could become easy targets during next year’s World Cup“. The low income (or no income) citizens of South Africa, of course, are always easy targets in the state’s shooting range. Oh wait, did I say citizens? Turns out “those who use illegal weapons would lose their normal rights as citizens“. Is this not terrorism?

It certainly is terrifying, and there are so many more layers yet: the resources being allotted to “security” and construction for this event instead of towards economic justice, the high rates of crime seen as unacceptable for Western tourists but the price of admission for South Africans…and where is the speech at an ANC dinner, the huge push of resources, regarding violence against women and rape?

(Photo Credit: The Telegraph / AFP)