A Tale of Two Shootings
Updated: Mar 24, 2021
Last week, a man walked into massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia, opened fire and killed 8 people, 6 of whom were Asian-American women. Vice President Kamala Harris was quick to turn the Atlanta shooting into a racial issue. Standing of foreign soil, she told the Irish Prime Minister that the Atlanta shooting “speaks to a larger issue” referring to “violence”, but then, she quickly pivoted and tied the motivation of the shooter to anti-Asian racism when she referred to the, “increasing level of hate crime against our Asian-American brothers and sisters.” Even though, the motivation had yet to be determined, V.P. Harris assumed the motivation simply by looking at the race of the shooter and the victims. She went on to say, “Racism is real in America... Xenophobia is real in America... Asian Americans have been attacked and scapegoated.” She very adeptly, yet falsely linked the shooting to an anti-Asian sentiment stemming from Covid-19.
Joe Biden also tied anti-Asian racism to the shooting in Atlanta when he said, “Whatever the motivation, we know this: Too many Asian-Americans have been walking up and down the streets and worrying, waking up each morning of the past year feeling their safety and the safety of their loved ones is at stake… They've been attacked, blamed, scapegoated and harassed,” Even though he admitted to not knowing the motive of the shooting, Biden irresponsibly attached a racial component to the shooting.
Biden and Harris’ words were thrown back in America’s face by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, “Vice President Harris was telling the truth about the United States. In recent years, hate crimes and racism against Asians have been on the rise in the United States, and many tragedies have taken place.” And at last week’s summit with China in Alaska, Chinese diplomat, Yang Jiechi, used that forum to lecture America on human rights, “We hope that the United States will do better on human rights,” while also claiming that black people are being “slaughtered” in the United States. Our leaders constant need to view our country through the lens of race, and to paint the United States as racist, has caused the United States to cede the moral high ground to one of the worst human rights violators in the world, China.
After all this damage was done, the FBI has determined that the motivation of the Atlanta shooting was not racial. The shooter was an emotionally disturbed sex addict, and he saw the massage parlors as temptations he wanted to eliminate. As with many of these types of shooters, mental illness played a large role into why he committed this violent act.
In his attempt to tie the shooting to anti-Asian sentiment stemming from the origin of Covid-19, Joe Biden said, “They’re warning again what we’ve always known: Words have consequences.” Too bad, he did not temper his words accordingly. Kamala Harris paralleled anti-Asian sentiment to anti-Muslim sentiment following the 9/11 attacks, “People who are perceived as Muslim know what it was like to live in our country after 9/11.” Using the experiences of Muslim-Americans, Harris made the point that it is wrong for people to impugn an entire race or religion for the evil acts of a few members of that race and religion, except when you are assailing the entire white race for the crime committed by one white person.
On Monday, a man walked into a Boulder, Colorado grocery store, opened fire and killed 10 people. Kamala Harris’ niece, Meena Harris followed her aunt’s lead by quickly using that incident to condemn an entire race and gender when she twitted, “violent white men are the biggest terrorist threat to our country.” She just as quickly deleted her tweet after finding out that the mass shooting was actually committed by a Middle Eastern Muslim immigrant, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa.
Would she have deleted her tweet if the shooting had in fact been committed by a white man? Of course not. The tweet would have been true in her mind, because the shooting would have validated her prejudices. This is called confirmation bias; the “tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one's prior beliefs or values”. We use confirmation bias far too often in this country, especially in reaction to these types of tragedies. The desire to conflate the incident committed by one person onto that person’s entire race in order to confirm our prejudices about that race. Would tweeting, “violent Middle Eastern Muslims are the biggest terrorist threat to our country,” as a response to the Boulder shooting be appropriate? Of course not. That would be another example of confirmation bias that promotes racism.
How many people were happy when they found out the Atlanta shooter was white? How may were upset? How many people were happy or disappointed when the Colorado shooter turned out to be a Middle Eastern Muslim? Should it really matter what the race of the person committing this type of crime is? Why does race become such a focus when discussing these incidents? Why is race continually injected into issues where it is clear that race is not the issue? These reactions are all a result for our need for conformation bias.
Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa’s brother, Ali, claimed that Ahmad “exhibited signs of paranoid mental illness” and was “very anti-social.” Both shooters were dealing with mental illness and emotional issues. That was their connection. Not their race, not their skin color, not their gender, but their mental illness. So, politicians focusing on the race and not on mental illness of these shooters are doing nothing to prevent the next one of these crimes from happening.
Only a rare percentage of the population commits violent crimes. In 2019, there were 366 violent crimes per 100,000 people which is 0.3% of the population, meaning for every 273 people you meet, 1 is potentially a violent criminal. Even though that is number is too high, it is too low when trying to conflate violent acts of individual people onto entire races or entire groups.
There is an even rarer percent of the population who commit mass shootings. In the United States since 1982 there have been 121 mass shootings which means 0.000037% of the population committed mass shootings over the last 40 years. One mass shooting is one too many, but to use 121 incidents over 40 years in a country of 330 million people to make claims about and disparage entire segments of the population, is not only factually wrong, but racially divisive.
If we are going divide people, we should divide them between those who commit violent crimes and those who don’t. And what we would find is that a very small percent (less than 1%) of white people, black people, Hispanics, Asians, Middle Eastern people, Muslims commit violent crimes; and the vast majority (more than 99%) of white people, black people, Hispanics, Asians, Middle Eastern people, Muslims do not commit violent crimes. So, all this racial posturing and finger pointing that we have seen from our leaders over the last week, provides zero insight into the causes and the nature of the violent crimes committed, but gives tremendous clarity into the true nature of those who want to exploit the violence and suffering to expand their own power.
It will only be when we stop viewing the world, and every incident through the lens of race that we as a country will be able to break down the barriers that divide us, and can come together on the things that unite us; such as belief in our Constitution, love of country, love of family, our common humanity and our desire for goodness. Those are, and will always be vitally more important than our pigmentation.
Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He is a frequent contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.