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Tag: shootings

Senate Advances Bipartisan Breakthrough Legislation On Gun Safety

Washington (AFP) - The United States Senate advanced a bipartisan bill late Thursday addressing the epidemic of gun violence convulsing the country, approving a narrow package of new firearms restrictions and billions of dollars in mental health and school security funding.

The reforms -- which are almost certain to be rubber-stamped by the House of Representatives on Friday -- fall short of the demands of gun safety advocates and President Joe Biden, but have been hailed as a life-saving breakthrough after almost 30 years of inaction by Congress.

"This bipartisan legislation will help protect Americans," Biden said in a statement shortly after the Senate vote. "Kids in schools and communities will be safer because of it."

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was backed by all 50 Democratic senators and 15 Republicans, includes enhanced background checks for buyers under the age of 21, $11 billion in funding for mental health and $2 billion for school safety programs.

It also provides funding to incentivize states to implement "red flag" laws to remove firearms from people considered a threat.

And it closes the so-called "boyfriend" loophole, under which domestic abusers could avoid a ban on buying firearms if they were not married to or living with their victim.

"Tonight, the United States Senate is doing something many believed was impossible even a few weeks ago: we are passing the first significant gun safety bill in nearly 30 years," Senate Democratic majority leader Chuck Schumer said after the legislation passed.

"The gun safety bill we are passing tonight can be described with three adjectives: bipartisan, common sense, lifesaving."

His Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell said the legislation would make America safer "without making our country one bit less free."

"This is a common-sense package. Its provisions are very, very popular. It contains zero new restrictions, zero new waiting periods, zero mandates and zero bans of any kind for law-abiding gun owners."

The National Rifle Association and most Republicans in both chambers of Congress opposed the bill but it is endorsed by advocacy groups working in policing, domestic violence and mental illness.

The Senate and House are on a two-week recess starting next week but the Democratic-controlled House is expected to approve the Senate's bill with little drama before members leave town on Friday night.

'Historic Day'

The breakthrough is the work of a cross-party group of senators who have been hammering out the details and resolving disputes for weeks.

The lawmakers had been scrambling to finish the negotiations quickly enough to capitalize on the momentum generated by the fatal shooting of 19 children in Uvalde, Texas and of 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, upstate New York, both last month.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who led negotiations for the Democrats, hailed a "historic day."

"This will become the most significant piece of anti-gun-violence legislation Congress has passed in three decades," he said on the Senate floor.

"This bill also has the chance to prove to the weary American public that democracy is not so broken, that it is able to rise to the moment."

The last significant federal gun control legislation was passed in 1994, introducing a national background check system and banning the manufacture for civilian use of assault rifles and large capacity ammunition clips.

But it expired a decade later and there has since been no serious movement on reform, despite rising gun violence.

Biden had pushed for more substantial reforms, including a reinstatement of the ban on assault rifles -- which were used in both the Texas and New York shootings -- and high-capacity magazines.

But the political challenge of legislating in a 50-50 Senate, where most bills require 60 votes to pass, means that more wide-ranging reforms are unrealistic.

"The morning after the tragedy in Uvalde, the United States Senate faced a choice," Schumer added.

"We could surrender to gridlock... Or we could choose to try and forge a bipartisan path forward to pass a real bill, as difficult as that may have seemed to many."

The vote came as a boon for gun safety activists hours after they were dismayed by a Supreme Court ruling that Americans have a fundamental right to carry a handgun in public.

The 6-3 decision struck down a more than century-old New York law that required a person to prove they had a legitimate self-defense need to receive a permit to carry a concealed handgun outside the home.

Fox Hypes Bogus ‘Experts’ And Ineffective Responses To School Shootings

Fox News responded to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, by interviewing experts who pushed controversial, counterproductive models to reduce gun violence in schools. One of these experts advocated for introducing more weapons into schools through arming teachers and staff, a policy firmly rejected by teachers unions and researchers. Another called for increased active shooter response trainings-- a service his company provides -- which have also been found to be ineffective at preventing casualties.

As news out of Uvalde was still developing, Fox News’ Jesse Watters invited Laura Carno -- the executive director of FASTER Colorado, which advocates for arming school staff -- on his show, where she compared arming teachers and other school personnel to arming pilots. “We all feel really comfortable with the armed pilot program, where some pilots are armed on some flights,” Carno said. “We don't know which ones, and we feel pretty good about that. It's a very similar kind of thing to armed school staff programs.”

Whatever the relative merits of arming pilots, it’s patently obvious that a classroom is fundamentally different from a locked and sealed cockpit. There is a litany of examples of guns being mishandled in schools, both by on-grounds cops — known as security resource officers — as well as teachers and staff, according to the Giffords Law Center. The center also found that an overwhelming percentage of students, teachers, and parents oppose arming school staff.

Both major teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), also oppose the idea. There’s also a strong argument to be made that Black and Latino students would be put at increased risk with the introduction of more guns, as they are the students who are more likely to be punished than white students for the same behavior.

Watters also invited Chad Ayers, vice president of the Proactive Response Group, to discuss the shooting. Proactive provides active shooter response trainings to “workplaces, religious establishments, and schools,” which it calls “the true first line of defense.” Ayers used the occasion to suggest students are not doing enough to identify “early warning signs” to stop such shootings, arguing that “kids are afraid of being the school snitch.”

“We have to do a better job training,” Ayers added, implicitly advocating for more active shooter response trainings. “Showing a 5-minute video at the beginning of the school year to the teachers is not getting the job done.”

A recent study conducted by Everytown, an anti-gun violence organization, alongside the AFT and NEA, “concluded that there is almost no research affirming the value of active shooter drills for preventing school shootings or protecting the school community when shootings do occur.”

Other research has found that “anxiety, stress, and depression increased by 39–42% following the drills.” This study concluded that the findings, “paired with the lack of strong evidence that drills save lives, suggests that proactive school safety strategies may be both more effective, and less detrimental to mental health, than drills.” The nation’s largest for-profit active shooter training provider, ALICE Training Institute, regularly overstated its program’s efficacy, according to an investigation from The Trace.

Although there’s little evidence to show that active shooter response trainings are effective, there’s plenty of incentives for cops and former cops to push them as the primary response. The school safety industry was reportedly a $2.7 billion market in 2018, with some training programs running as high as $56,000 for the initial round and $25,000 for training renewals.

Fox News has a history of advocating flawed responses to school shootings. In 2015, a Fox & Friends segment demonstrated how students should rush a shooter, without making it clear that such an action should only be taken as a last resort.

Fox News wasn’t the only example of right-wing media pushing these flawed responses. Fox News competitor Newsmax interviewed at least one active shooter response trainer as well, and conservative pundit Erick Erickson endorsed FASTER in a tweet.

The United States accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, even though it has about five percent of the global population. In 2019, the United States spent $123 billion on police. More guns and more funding to law enforcement and their private contractor partners is not the answer. Effective measures, such as early intervention, decreasing access to guns, and increasing the number of counselors and mental health professionals in schools, would likely do far more to reduce gun violence at school than doubling down on security theater.

In the longer term, the most effective way to reduce this kind of violence is to take aim at the root, which would mean radically lessening the number of guns on the streets, including those carried by police officers.

But don’t expect to hear any of that on Fox News.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Gunfire At Florida Zombicon Event Leaves One Dead, Five Hurt

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) – Gunfire erupted at a Florida festival that attracts thousands of people dressed in zombie costumes, killing one person, injuring five others and sending crowds of frightened people rushing for cover, local media and authorities said on Sunday.

The News-Press newspaper, citing police, reported that Expavious Tyrell Taylor, 20, of Okeechobee was killed in the shooting shortly before midnight on Saturday at Florida Zombicon in downtown Fort Myers. The event was expected to draw 20,000 adults and children.

The flurry of gunfire that sent crowds of people scurrying for safety was caught on cell phone video and posted on the website of WFTX, the Fox news affiliate in the area.

“We started running because we saw a horde of people running and we heard two really loud bangs,” an unidentified man told the station in a video.

Four people were taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, Victor Medico, a spokesman of the Fort Myers Police Department, said to the News-Press. A sixth person was shot but refused medical attention, the newspaper reported.

The shooter remained at large on Sunday morning, the newspaper reported.

The annual event, staged about two weeks before Halloween, brings zombie-themed activities, including music and performance artists, to the streets of Fort Myers, according to its website.

Event organizers said on Facebook they were “deeply saddened by the news of what happened within the footprint of our event”.

It comes during a month in which communities across the United States are celebrating the Halloween holiday, including many popular events for adults offering spooky thrills celebrating zombies, or fictional horror-movie characters popularized by George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” and other films in the genre.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein and Brendan O’Brien, editing by Gareth Jones)

Image: “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), via Wikimedia

Social Workers Join The ER Team To Treat Crime Victims’ Psychological Wounds

By Annie Sweeney, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Daveon Williams remembers all of it.

The seven shots. His friend hiding in a nearby alley. The shooter crouching behind a car, still coming for him. The paramedics who arrived and cut off his shirt and jacket in the grassy field. He remembers that he felt scared, but thought it was a good sign he could talk. Then there were the doctors who rushed him into surgery after he arrived at Stroger Hospital’s Cook County Trauma and Burn Unit. And, finally, he recalls waking up.

“Really I was just happy. I was happy to be alive,” said Williams, 20, who was shot three times in the abdomen and leg. “I was pretty scared, but once I came out of surgery, I was just happy with joy.”

In the days and weeks after his June 14 shooting, as Williams’ physical wounds healed and his joy yielded to more complex feelings, he was attended to by a lower-profile team at Stroger Hospital: social workers who have now been embedded into the trauma unit to provide real-time mental and emotional care for Chicago’s violent crime victims.

The social workers have a desk in the ER, type up medical notes, and do rounds in an effort to treat patients for the stress that is a byproduct of Chicago’s violence.

In the worst cases, they find post-traumatic stress disorder — long recognized in war veterans and sexual assault survivors but increasingly a concern in people exposed to daily, more routine violence who, without help, are at risk for anxiety and other illnesses.

Social worker Andrew Wheeler worked with Williams through his hospital stay.

“So how’ve you been, man? You tired of being here yet,” Wheeler asked as he walked into Williams’ room for a chat. Over the next 20 minutes, the two talked about some dreams Williams had been having, his wondering why he survived such a close call and Wheeler’s hope that the young man — who turned 20 the day he was shot — would look beyond what he lost in the shooting.

“It’s equally important to focus on our future,” Wheeler said. “So there’s two sides to it. It’s good to pay attention to your pain and suffering, right? But there’s a whole other side, that you can grow. … You just turned 20, man. You’ve got a lot of living to do.”

On a recent morning, Wheeler sat in the trauma break room at a conference table — a carton of 2 percent milk and a roll left behind from someone’s breakfast — with his boss, Carol Reese, to discuss the patient load that morning.

The litany of pain was long: A man was shot just under his arm, and his family — some of them in law enforcement — were at the hospital and open to speaking. Another gunshot victim was struggling because he couldn’t drink liquids. Three falls. A third gunshot victim, this one shot in the jaw. A severely burned woman set afire in a domestic attack. Another burn victim who lost much of her face after a cutting agent exploded while she was packaging dope. A suicide attempt. And a teenager who had just found out he killed someone in a drunken driving crash.

Some 5,300 patients stream through Stroger’s trauma and burn unit annually, each coping with massive injuries suffered in a variety of ways.

Three years ago, doctors and social workers at Stroger surveyed these patients and their family members and found that 42 percent — well above the national average — screened positive for PTSD. Gunshot victims were more likely than those who suffered falls or crashes to screen positive.

Those kinds of numbers led hospital officials to create the Patient & Family Support Services Team, which includes Wheeler and Reese, a chaplain and also a licensed clinical social worker, and up to three part-time interns to assist with the caseload.

Reese said the social workers operate under a version of the “golden hour” rule that ER doctors follow, which says that the right treatment within the hour after a traumatic injury provides the best chance to avert death.

Similarly, if people are counseled as soon as possible after experiencing the trauma, warned about symptoms and assured they can handle it, they have a good chance at coping, she said. If not, people walk around hyper-aroused, vigilant, jumpy, and agitated, all of which perpetuates a cycle of violent responses or leads to self-medication, she said.

“People are resilient,” Reese said, explaining why immediate counseling works best.

Exposure to violence is hardly a new phenomenon in Chicago or any big city. But Reese said it has been historically hard for some to cope for a few reasons: There is a stigma about seeking help; services for PTSD are lacking in some neighborhoods; a strong support network is needed to face it all. Considering how those same neighborhoods in Chicago tend to be battered by high levels of crime, there is reason to worry that entire communities are under stress.

“The system that is supposed to provide a safe space is compromised,” Reese said.

Stroger’s new approach is part of a broader partnership forged more than a year ago with La Rabida Children’s Hospital and Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago to reach out to perhaps the most fragile victims of violence: the countless children exposed either as victims, witnesses, or through injuries to family members. That project is modeled after Healing Hurt People in Philadelphia, which offers follow-up care to child victims of violence after they are discharged from the hospital.

So far, 120 families locally have been referred for follow-up care, a chance to meet with counselors and talk about how to cope with the violence they’ve experienced before it spirals into other trouble or violence, said Bradley Stolbach, an associate professor in pediatrics at the Pritzker School of Medicine at the U. of C. who is helping coordinate the program.

Stolbach said many of the children are open to talking about how to cope, recalling how a child recently dropped his head onto a table during a session and said he was having a flashback.

“Right in that moment there is an opportunity to say, ‘OK, that’s normal. You are not going crazy.’ We talked about how to breathe and to actually practice it,” he said.

This so-called trauma-based approach — with children or adults — is part of a growing awareness of how much of a setback constant exposure to violence can be, experts say.

“I think people recognize these communities as being stressed and blighted, but I don’t think they looked at the hard implications it has on the person and how it impacts how they move in society, just how they navigate,” said Dr. Theodore Corbin, the medical director of Healing Hurt People. “Some of the people we … work with, they don’t want to walk to school a certain way because they (are) frightened of what might happen to them. So you take it a step further — they don’t go to school.”

And certainly many victims of violence who arrive in any ER are themselves caught up in street violence. So treating their trauma is also seen as a way to reduce more violence on the street.

Photo: Chicago Tribune/MCT/John J. Kim

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Data On Police Shootings Is Hard To Find

By Michael Doyle, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., has exposed what the Justice Department doesn’t know about police use of force.

Federal officials don’t know how many police shootings take place annually. They don’t know how many citizens complaints get filed each year. And, despite a 1994 congressional order, they don’t tally annually the incidents of “excessive force” by police.

Many reasons account for the lack of comprehensive data, including the complexity of the reporting task. The absence of facts, though, can hinder efforts to diagnose and solve.

“That’s a clear, clear problem,” Matthew Hickman, associate professor of criminal justice at Seattle University, said in an interview Wednesday. “When it comes to use of force, we have almost nothing.”

Deadspin, an online sports news site, underscored the data shortcomings Wednesday by initiating what it bills as a crowd-sourced database of police shootings. Within the first five hours, data concerning 135 shooting incidents from the last several years had been entered.

But even when begun enthusiastically, data-collection ventures can fizzle over time. The International Association of Chiefs of Police, for instance, at one point maintained a police shooting database. It has not been updated since 2001, the association said Wednesday.

“We need data to make decisions,” Alex R. Piquero, professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas, said in an interview Wednesday. “Data should be the underpinning for everything we do.”

Lawmakers recognized the need for reliable information in 1994, when they passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. As part of the 354-page package, Congress ordered that “the attorney general shall, through appropriate means, acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.”

The 1994 law further directed the Justice Department to “publish an annual summary of the data acquired” concerning excessive force. The provision was inserted by senators, records show. At the time, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee was Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, now the vice president of the United States.

The excessive force report requirement was one of a number of report obligations imposed on the Justice Department under the 1994 law. It left some key questions unanswered, including the definition of excessive force, even as it forced shorthanded researchers to manage with limited resources.

“The incidence of wrongful use of force by police is unknown. Research is critically needed,” the Bureau of Justice Statistics acknowledged in 1999, adding that “current indicators of excessive force, such as civilian complaints and civil lawsuits, are all critically flawed.”

Nonetheless, the annual reports required by Congress in the 1994 law were never produced.

“It was 20 years ago, can you believe it?” exclaimed Hickman of Seattle University, who formerly worked for the Bureau of Justice Statistics. “Two decades, and this is where we are.”

Even a fully funded, highly motivated research effort would face challenges. Piquero of the University of Texas at Dallas noted that “there’s a lot of variability” in what might be counted as excessive force, which would then have to be assessed in upward of 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Instead, researchers have sporadically tried in various ways to take a stab at police use of force. Surveys, which necessarily are incomplete, have been one tool.

Every three years, for instance, a “police-public contact survey” questions upward of 60,000 individuals. The surveys typically find about 1.5 percent of those who had encountered police reported that force had been used or threatened against them.

The last survey was done in 2011, but it only included respondents who could speak English.

A similar time lag and data gap afflicts efforts to track citizen complaints about excessive force. The most recent publicly available Bureau of Justice Statistics study of citizen complaints dates back to 2006, covering information collected in 2002. At the time, the survey identified 26,556 citizen complaints about use of force.

The survey only captured information from about 5 percent of law enforcement agencies nationwide, although these were the largest agencies, accounting for 59 percent of the nation’s sworn officers. Because it has fewer than 100 sworn officers, the Ferguson Police Department was not included in the survey.

A Justice Department spokesperson could not be reached Wednesday to discuss the data collection efforts.

The FBI publishes annual tallies of justifiable homicides by law enforcement personnel, which jumped from 378 in 2008 to 410 in 2012. This database is incomplete, though, because it relies on self-reporting by law enforcement agencies and does not cover non-fatal shootings.

“We have to start getting involved with this,” Piquero said. “Data is the foundation.”

AFP Photo/Michael B. Thomas

Nine Dead In Weekend Surge Of Shootings In Chicago

Chicago (AFP) – At least nine people were murdered in Chicago over the Independence Day weekend in an explosion of gun violence branded “simply unacceptable” by its mayor.

There were 50 shootings from suppertime Thursday through midnight Sunday in the third most populous city in the United States, police said, triggering introspection and calls for drastic action.

The Chicago Tribune gave an even higher toll, saying 82 people were shot, 14 fatally, over the July 4 holiday long weekend — including a particularly brutal 13-hour stretch from Sunday afternoon in which four people were killed and 26 wounded.

It also reported that police had shot five people, including two teenagers who died after allegedly failing to obey an order to drop their weapons.

“The number of shootings and murders that took place over the holiday weekend is simply unacceptable,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former chief of staff to President Barack Obama.

He appealed for a greater community effort to “give our young people alternatives to the street,” on top of an effort to find ways to deploy more police officers.

Chicago saw 415 murders last year, more than any other major American city.

Sunday was a particularly bloody day, police said, as Chicago reeled.

“It was yesterday that we lost it,” Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told reporters, questioning whether “a fatigue factor” for officers contributed to the surge in violence. “We’re square-rooting nine ways from Sunday what is it that happened.”

McCarthy also blamed the court system.

“The criminal justice system in the state of Illinois is not devised to reduce gun violence,” he said, calling for tougher gun laws and prosecutions.

In an editorial, the Tribune said flooding the streets with police was not the only solution.

“If Chicago is to conquer this plague of violence in Chicago, the solutions have to come from all of us,” it said. “If you’re a parent or if you know one, that starts with you.”

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan

Albuquerque Police Again Draw Criticism After Fatal Shooting

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

Less than two weeks after federal officials rebuked the Albuquerque Police Department for a rash of unjustified officer-involved shootings, an officer fatally shot a 19-year-old woman suspected of stealing a vehicle before pointing a gun at police, authorities said.

Mary Hawkes became the first person to be killed by Albuquerque police since the U.S. Justice Department released a scathing report that called for a “systematic change” to address what it said was a long-ingrained culture of deadly force in the Police Department.

The woman was the foster daughter of a retired judge, Danny Hawkes, according to a friend of hers, local news media and the Associated Press. Authorities refused to confirm that late Tuesday but set a news conference for Wednesday morning. Danny Hawkes could not be reached for comment.

Police Chief Gorden Eden Jr. made a televised statement after Monday’s shooting, saying the officer fired after Hawkes led police on a foot chase.

“The suspect stopped, turned and pointed a handgun at close range,” Eden said.

Late Tuesday afternoon, police identified Jeremy Dear as the officer involved. Dear has been with the department since November 2007 and is now on administrative leave.

According to court documents, Mary Hawkes had a criminal record, including shoplifting.

But two of her friends, sisters Isabel and Luchrisa Price, said Hawkes had a good heart. Isabel Price identified her as a foster daughter of the retired judge.

“She cared about people,” Luchrisa Price said. “She would even get food and give it to the homeless. She was a wonderful person.”

Hawkes studied welding at a community college and made whatever money she could selling knives and scissors door-to-door, but eventually became homeless, Luchrisa Price said. Hawkes shoplifted food to give to other homeless people, she said.

The sisters described Hawkes as “a good person.”

Luchrisa Price said she and Hawkes dated for about a year and remained friends after their romance ended. Hawkes’ death hit her hard.

“I was pretty devastated,” she said. “I never thought anything like this would happen to her. I think it’s wrong.”

She wasn’t the only one. Hawkes’ shooting sparked a protest, a candlelight vigil and several Facebook posts in her honor.

On Tuesday, Christy Chavez expressed her anger in a post on the “Albuquerque PD in Crisis” Facebook page.

“I went to the crime scene where Mary was killed by APD yesterday. Her blood still fresh on the wall,” Chavez wrote. “This infuriates me to my core. We should not be living in fear of our civil servants! We also should not be discrediting Mary’s life because she was a ‘suspect, a thug, or a troubled teen.’ Something has got to change!”

Monday’s protest was only the latest in a series of demonstrations — one of which turned violent last month — targeting the Albuquerque Police Department. Since 2010, officers have shot 37 people, 23 of them fatally.

Hawkes is the third person in a little more than a month to be shot to death by Albuquerque police.

The federal recommendations came on the heels of a string of deadly officer-involved shootings, including the March 16 killing of a homeless and mentally ill man, James “Abba” Boyd, who was illegally camping in the Sandia Mountains. Boyd had been acting erratically, according to police, and got into an argument with officers before he was shot.

A video of that shooting surfaced last month, touching off protests and prompting calls for better police training, especially on how to deal with the mentally ill.

Friction between police and parts of the community, especially the poor and homeless, has been brewing for years, experts and community leaders have said.

Mayor Richard J. Berry declined to comment on the Hawkes shooting. However, he had called Boyd’s death a “game changer” and introduced a raft of proposed “sweeping changes” to be implemented by the police chief.

Also, federal officials have said they plan to meet with city leaders, community members and police union officials, among others, to discuss the recommendations and come up with a plan of action.

AFP Photo/Scott Olson