It’s time to start profiling white men

There’s a reason Elliot Rodger, the shooter and stabber who murdered six people and injured more than a dozen others at UC Santa Barbara over the weekend, thought himself a victim: he was a white man who didn’t get what he wanted.

That’s a crucial characteristic of this story, a more important profile than perhaps any other, and it’s so consistent you could set your watch to it. Lots of people died? Chances are a white man pulled the trigger. Serial killers, polluters, corporate honchos, Republicans – nearly all are white men.

Discussions of white privilege have been cropping up more and more, even in mainstream news, but its existence is still vehemently denied by – who else – white men. Thankfully, Elliot Rodger wrote a 140-page manifesto and posted numerous YouTube videos that leave virtually no doubt about it: because he was a white man, he simply could not deal with a world in which beautiful women weren’t throwing themselves at his feet.

His videos are a truly bizarre artifact. There aren’t many times in history where a murderer leaves such a complete video diary of what drove him to kill. If it weren’t for the fact that he went ahead and did it, you might not take him seriously at all – in one video, he has to interrupt his monologue to get out of the way of a moving car, and in the final video, his “evil laugh” is so unconvincing it deserves a Razzie.

Apart from one parent’s desperate, refreshing plea that someone in charge confront the issue, the killings haven’t resulted in much renewed focus on the gun debate. It’s a shame – Rodger’s firearms were purchased legally, and likely for the sole purpose of this rampage, so if anything, it’s a textbook example of too-easy gun access leading to death and a case where a “good guy with a gun” would have been ineffectual (it took four armed, trained cops to halt Rodger’s drive-by rampage). But mass shootings are such a banality in the U.S. that many of them don’t even get reported on at all, let alone generate rich, status quo-changing dialogue.

Were it not for his manifestos, Rodger’s spree might also have been just another blip in that sordid litany of American bloodbaths. But those sociopathic declarations demand further analysis. They reveal not just an insane person with broken wiring, but someone who’s been inundated in a world where sex is a commodity to be taken by white men at their whim from passive female bodies.

Elliot Rodger takes the “nice guy” angle to an absurd degree. Google “Nice Guys of OKCupid” sometime – it spotlights the ridiculous profiles of men on dating sites who claim to be nice guys, and who claim to be unable to score a mate because of that handicap. It’s not uncommon – and indeed, Rodger’s videos are littered with it – for such a man to express a sentiment like, “These stupid bitch sluts just can’t see how swell I am.” Rodger took that mentality to a horrifying extreme, and different men’s rights activists (MRAs) have been understanding or even, depending on your reading, supportive.

The problem is definitely not Rodger’s inability to get laid. Women – and it’s embarrassing to even have to say this in a country that’s not an Islamic totalitarianism – have as much right to choose their partners as men. And his romantic issues certainly had nothing to do with his being too nice, which should seem obvious enough in hindsight. His problem had to do with his inability to take “no” for an answer. In this proper context, he isn’t the victim of female rejection, but of an immense sexual pressure that begins in high school, continues well into adulthood, and is reinforced by movies, TV, magazines, music and, especially, advertising. The reason he couldn’t take “no” for an answer is because he lived in a society that preaches female availability and parades cartoonish female caricatures on magazine covers and TV shows with the same sensitivity as a can of Coke or a McRib.

"I really just wanted a Coke... oh, OK, I'll take that one on the middle-right, and uh, two of the bottom-left." (Photo taken from a TED talk by Sam Harris)

“I really just wanted Tic Tacs… oh, OK, I’ll take that one on the middle-right, and uh, two of the bottom-left. Does Megan Fox cost extra?” (Photo taken from a TED talk by Sam Harris)

It is true: if women were more available and more submissive, and Elliot Rodger had been able to get one of his own, the killings last weekend would probably not have happened. So that’s one way to fix the problem. Another, healthier option is to stop marketing sex as an entitlement to men, and to stop reinforcing the view that women exist merely as reflections of their man’s status.

Ultimately, that’s what Rodger couldn’t stand, and he all but says it himself: he’s sick of seeing women riding off with other men and he’s sick of his lonely existence, but more so than that he despises the insult to his social status, his masculinity and his perceived good character that rejection made him feel. Chances are Rodger had occasion to turn down several girls in his lifetime, even if he didn’t know he was doing it. Yet you don’t see conventionally unattractive women engaging in shooting rampages because of the way society rejects them. Whether their motives are personal or political, you only see white men doing that, because they just can’t take “no” for an answer.

There is no injustice, nor even inconvenience, that can be done unto white men without their screaming, “Victim!” And they consistently get away with it. Conservative radio is filled with straight-faced laments about the decline of white man’s rule and the encroachment of rogue elements like women and the poor. They’re men with a bottomless bowl of soup whose righteous indignation is strongest when they’re raging over the desperate masses trying to lap up a little bit of what’s spilled over. Even in the wake of his murdering six people, much media focus has been pinned on the completely innocent woman who spurned Rodger as though she ought to share in the blame. If that doesn’t spell out the absoluteness of white male privilege, it’s hard to know what would.

Spectators and mourners gather at one of Rodger's murder sites.

Spectators and mourners gather at one of Rodger’s murder sites.

Elliot Rodger fits the profile of the mass murderer to a tee. Were he and his mass-murdering kin anything other than white men, there’d be serious discussions on the poorness of white male culture, white men’s absence of strong role models, and so on. The struggle to keep these kinds of mass killings from happening in the future has to be waged on multiple fronts, including reformation of gun laws. But as with all criminals, it’s important to address what’s going wrong inside these men’s minds, and a critical look at society’s coarse attitudes concerning sex, privilege and masculinity is a good place to start.

In Albuquerque, citizens seek protection from the protectors

If you move through city streets fearful of being assaulted, you better keep one eye on the police – especially if you live in Albuquerque.

Since 2010, police have killed 25 people in New Mexico’s largest city. For every 20 people murdered there, police kill an additional three. Put another way, in Albuquerque, you’re approximately 15 percent as likely to die at the hands of a police officer as you are a common thug or a spurned lover.

Hostility between the Albuquerque Police Department and the citizens has been boiling over for months, and it reached a peak following the release in March of a disturbing video that showed police killing an unarmed, mentally ill homeless man named James Boyd. Mounting protests in the wake of this spate of killings led to a tense confrontation between the city’s government and its population on May 5. Protestors commandeered a meeting at the Albuquerque city hall, calling for a citizen’s arrest of the chief of police and issuing demands.

Media coverage has been limited. Several outlets ran a tedious story with the headline, “What’s Next for Troubled Albuquerque Police?”, as though the real story is the APD’s struggle to move on from their public scrutiny and not the citizens’ outrage over the deaths of their friends and loved ones. “Angry protesters… shout[ed] at council members and caus[ed] such a ruckus that the panel’s president adjourned the meeting,” the story said. Notice that vivid descriptions of the activists’ misbehavior are plentiful, but for police, the language is more reserved and cautious, even as the story describes their lawless executions.

Worse still, the L.A. Times had this to say: “The council had tried to meet Monday, but adjourned early when rowdy protesters took over the meeting – sitting in council members’ chairs and even eating their Girl Scout cookies.” It’s stunning that a news outlet would even mention sitting in chairs and eating Girl Scout cookies when the discussion is supposed to be on deadly, excessive police force.

Albuquerque may be an extreme case of the law spiraling out of control, but it is far from unique. Heart-wrenching statistics about wrong-door raids and petty crimes being met with deadly violence tell a tale the media won’t touch: excessive police force is a systemic problem, not the result of a few bad eggs. It is routine; daily; even hourly. It runs the gamut from the absurd – a whole team of officers detained a female jogger for jaywalking in February – to the outright hideous, as in the cases of James Boyd, Robert Saylor and countless others.

A symbolic casket bearing the names of people killed by APD was carried to police headquarters. Photo by Luke Montavon, The Jackalope.

A symbolic casket bearing the names of people killed by APD was carried to police headquarters. Photo by Luke Montavon, The Jackalope.

Despite this, and even as more and more of the general population awakens to the reality of routine police cruelty, city officials, congressmen, judges and the U.S. President can say nothing critical of law enforcement without paying an enormous political cost. It’s somewhat mysterious why: on paper, there’s almost nothing in America failing as spectacularly as law enforcement.

Even as the crime rate declines, the use of paramilitary tactics by police escalates. No matter how badly they screw up, there are a plethora of defenses for police to choose from, including the standby, “It’s a dangerous job.” Statistically, being a police officer is far from the deadliest job in America, but a certain degree of risk is entailed. Yet it’s precisely for the assumption of that risk that police are held in such high esteem in the first place. By dressing police up like storm troopers and letting them shoot at anyone who might or might not be holding something that might be a weapon, we take nearly all their risk away and assume it ourselves.

As Radley Balko demonstrates in his crucial “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” both the Pentagon and private defense contractors capitalize on departments’ soaring federal funds, inundating them with unneeded weaponry. Thus, you get perverse statistics like this, from Balko’s book: in 2010 in Johnston, RI, population 28,769, the police department received $4.1 million in surplus military gear from the Pentagon, including 30 M-16s, nearly 10 million rounds of ammunition, a “sniper targeting calculator,” 44 bayonets, 12 Humvees and 23 snow blowers. With so many toys and so little crime, it’s no wonder that police use excessive force on every superficial offense, from low-level drug possessions to barbering without a license.

Protesters occupy APD headquarters in March to protest the death of James Boyd.

What’s happening in Albuquerque is truly inspiring. It deserves to be a much bigger news story than it is. As the indictments pour forth on the APD, including a Department of Justice report that documented a pattern of excessive force and poor training, citizens are taking action to ensure that police don’t weasel their way out of the criticism with a few meaningless press conferences and payouts. The city appears to be listening, with Mayor Richard Berry promising changes even before the DOJ issues its recommendations.

Police departments across the nation are rampant with guns and tanks and narrow on compassion and empathy. It’s time to overhaul their militarization and warrior mentality. Law enforcement should be an ally to the people, not the people’s most feared adversary. If change can happen in Albuquerque, it can happen anywhere – we just have to have the courage to demand it.

The Donald Sterling case highlights a shameful hypocrisy

No one can talk about LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling without getting a foul taste in their mouth. The man exudes all the qualities that have derailed civilized society; he is a bitter, bigoted billionaire who feels entitled to anything and everything.

It’s certainly one of the most bizarre cases of public foot-in-mouth that I know of. What it essentially boils down to is a rich, white man arguing with his half-black girlfriend – a transparent gold digger who pretends to wish she could agree with him – about her, in his view, improper decision to post pictures of herself commiserating with black men on social media. In the course of the argument, he outs himself as incredibly racist, saying such surreal things as, “You’re supposed to be a delicate, white girl,” and talking about all the generous gifts he showers his black athletes with.

The whole exchange is a fascinating lens into the wild world of America’s privileged. Imagine stepping behind the scenes of Rome around the time of its collapse, with all the decadence, debauchery and immorality that accompanies it. Sterling regards Stiviano as a status symbol, which is why he’s so offended that she posts pictures online that he thinks cast him in a bad light.

But there’s still something fishy about the reaction to his vile comments. Not in the disgust that just about everyone has expressed, which is understandable, but in the official reactions.

The NBA owners club is a private enterprise, with rules and stipulations that are privately administered. Sterling isn’t in any legal trouble. Yet many people are still worried about his being punished for something he said in private. If legal action were being brought, it’d be tantamount to convicting Sterling of thoughtcrime.

In most cases, I’d be inclined to agree. But Sterling’s case is exceptional. He’s one of the most open racists the media has had the chance to enjoy in recent years; perhaps only Michael Richards generated more heat in the last decade and I’d argue his comments – though far more violent – were actually more innocent, given circumstances and setting. It sends a chill down the spine to know that “owner” is the relationship Sterling has to his mostly-minority basketball team. Knowing what we now know about him, banning him from the NBA ought to be almost a given.

What makes the decision fishy, though, is the NBA’s suddenly giving a shit. As has been consistently pointed out, Sterling’s record of racism extends much further into his past than the incident with girlfriend V. Stiviano. It’s essentially a badly guarded NBA secret, and numerous news outlets have pointed out his official record of discriminating against minorities in his real estate enterprise. Yet now that it’s out in the open, his former friends – who surely knew all along – must vote to remove him from his position.

One must ask whether that’s truly an honorable thing. If these people had no problem with Sterling’s views and, more importantly, his actions when they were slightly less public, why do they have such an issue with them now? It’s damage control, plain and simple: it’s got nothing to do with correcting Sterling’s sins or the NBA ownership evolving on an important moral issue.

Sterling’s own candid comments reveal the staunch racism embedded in the culture of the white, wealthy, ownership class. The whole reason he launched his tirade against Stiviano at all is that his friends were taunting him for her posting pictures with various black athletes. Sterling’s friends said, in essence, “Ha, ha, Don, we saw your girlfriend with Magic Johnson. Do you think she’s fucking him? You know what they say about black penises!” Sterling takes this up with Stiviano, asking, “Why do you have to take pictures with those people and embarrass me like that?” Once those comments are made public, the same type of people harassing Sterling in the first place, leading him to his incoherent, outraged babbling, are now saying, “We are shocked and offended at Don’s comments and want him out of the NBA.” It’s the very definition of hypocrisy, and yet athletes and commentators alike are applauding it.

This is certainly not an attempt to cast Sterling as some kind of victim, as a handful of fringe commentators on the right have. He absolutely deserves all that is coming to him. This article isn’t to argue with that: it’s to say he probably deserves far more, and there are probably far more people out there who do, as well.

I am rarely impressed by the apologies of public figures, nor by reprimands that the wealthy institute among themselves. The league wants to fine Sterling a meager $2.5 million and force him to sell a team that’s worth many times more than that? The poor guy; that really ought to learn him.

America’s billionaires are impervious. Slapping them on the wrist for saying something naughty is totally ineffectual in terms of combating the systemic roots of their incredible, kingly privilege. Donald Sterling is little different from the oil executive who receives a huge severance for wiping out an ecosystem or the banker who gets a bailout when his predatory lending schemes lead to his bankruptcy.