Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Focus On The Real Issue

What is it with the American press, politicians and the rest of us! Why are we able to discuss every aspect of an issue except the core problem or conflict. I am guilty too. On Monday, I chose to focus on Congressman Rush getting kicked out of the House and even turned to my most trusted source, John Stewart on the The Daily Show.

Congressman Bobby Rush in the House

Mr. Stewart actually isn’t as guilty as the rest of us. He makes his living though satire (and does it exceedingly well, I might add). He is permitted to comb any situation and find a humorous angle to highlight. The rest of us shouldn’t.

It sometimes needs a quality journalist or social commentator to remind us of this. Thank you, Gail Collins for reminding us. Her op-ed in the New York Times, More Guns Less Hoodies, was excellent, and though I am going to lift a few choice paragraphs, her article is worth reading right through.

This is not about the right to wear a hoodie. The hoodie is nothing more than a symbol for racial profiling. “Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum,” a hooded Congressman Rush stated before being served a double technical and sent for an early showers.

Ms. Collins: “This is pretty much par for the course. Whenever there is a terrible shooting incident somewhere in America, our politicians talk about everything except whether the tragedy could have been avoided if the gunman had not been allowed to carry a firearm.

“You would think that this would be a great time to address the question of handgun proliferation, but it has hardly come up in Washington at all. This is because most politicians are terrified of the National Rifle Association. Also, the small band of gun control advocates are busy with slightly less sweeping issues, such as their ongoing but still utterly futile effort to make it illegal to sell a weapon to anyone on the terror watch list.”

But there is little discussion about gun control. Ms. Collins has argued gun control in the past and admits to feeling jaded. Many people just accept that there are certain interest groups that are untouchable. They are so well funded, so well organized, that they are simply impervious.

Ms. Collins chooses to highlight the discussion on carrying guns legally between states. If you have a license in one state, you can take it into many others. Ms. Collins concedes that anyone can walk with his gun around Time Square and many other vulnerable sites packed with citizens. In a country that has instituted many laws curbing citizen’s rights in the name of Homeland Security, this is patently absurd.

I am new to the topic of gun law. There is something far deeper in the American psyche that I, as a relative outsider, am having trouble  grappling with. As left as my politics go, I am keenly aware of the danger of terrorism and willing to have some of my rights curbed for what is, ultimately, the protection of my family, community and myself. 

But this is the same reasoning that doesn’t want almost anyone to walk around thinking he has the right to take a life in anything but the clearest scenario of self defense. We have one police force. They are trained and clearly defined by uniform and procedures. They might not be perfect and we might want to demand improvements and more policemen and policewomen on the streets, but this is the nature of democracy.

No one has a right to walk around with a gun and play God. And everyone has a right to walk the streets without fear of fellow man or woman, regardless of a person’s gender, race, or sexual orientation. This is what makes America great, not the false fear that a gun on your hip makes for a safer society.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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4 thoughts on “Focus On The Real Issue

  1. Good post today.

  2. I thought that when you mentioned that we should focus on the real issue that this would be a lesson about trusting politicians ,not assuming that every left wing or right wing journalist has the best interests of the people in mind. I was disappointed that you think the real issue is the right to bear arms.
    We have lost as a society the ability to discriminate between a threat or a friendly encounter. This must be the real focus. Profiling is a standard practice in exercising human judgement. We as a people are divided not bound by the current politicians.I will excuse none of them.We as a people are taught to fear others because of labels and the way they look and act. We respond by profiling. I don’t want to outlaw hoodies but if they become the symbol of violent thuggish behavior and I encounter someone in a hoodie where it doesn’t belong I will react. can’t help it.Politicians and media have taught me this. If I were an African American and was confronted by someone in a white sheet, I would damn well have cause for concern. Why do we not talk about the real issue. Most people don’t trust others outside of their group.
    I could go on and would relish a conversation about how to fix attitude. But, I can only remember what my father taught me. “If you have a job dress the part” That is what society expects. So the ejection of Congressman Rush for dressing like a common gang member or a poor athlete while he spoke to Congress was merely an attempt to stir the racial hate=red pot. His message if it was one of conciliation or a plea for understanding fell on mostly deaf ears.
    I want to make one more point.The shooting of an innocent man is unacceptable.
    Theodore Morrison Homa MD

    • Great response, Theodore. You are right. For me it became an issue of gun control. Racial profiling and the inability for people to trust others outside of their own group, and the ability to distinguish between a threat and friendly interaction are fundamental symbols of how alienated we have become from one another.

      You do well to remind us.

      My only issue with what you write here is that I still applaud Congressman Rush. No one should be profiled whether by the color of his/her skin or the clothes that s/he deserves to wear.

      Thank you for your comment.


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