Uvalde Mass Shooting Exposes the Violence of Gun Culture and Endemic Racism

By Malik Miah

The horrific mass shooting of nineteen children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 has brought the issue of guns, particularly weapons of war like the AR-15 rifle, and mass shootings to the world’s attention.

It has also exposed the endemic racism in how the police and state elected officials responded to the violence and pleas for help.

A memorial for the Robb Elementary School victims outside of Little Coyotes Day Care Center in Uvalde, Texas. Since Wednesday, another eight people have been killed and 45 injured in mass shootings. Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

What happened?

A Mexican-American man, Salvador Rolando Ramos, entered Robb Elementary School on May 24. Ten days earlier he turned eighteen, the legal age to purchase a long rifle in Texas. His first action was to go to a gun shop. He bought two AR-15 rifles (one on May 17, second on May 20) and thousands of rounds of ammunition. He posted photos of the rifles on several web sites.

The children murdered were seven to ten years old. Most were Latino, Mexican Americans, in a town of less than 16,000 people that is closer to the Mexican border than the largest nearby city of San Antonio. Many other students were wounded as the police failed to act.

It is unusual that a mass shooting is done by a Latino. In most cases, it is a white man.

In some cases, it is a self-proclaimed white supremacist as occurred in El Paso, Texas in 2019 and Buffalo, New York, two weeks ago.

Ramos shot his grandmother first, who survived and called 911. The police knew who the shooter was. Ramos took his grandmother’s pick-up truck, crashed at the school, took one rife with ammunition and climbed over the fence. He was seen with his rifle before entering the school.

The police were there quickly but refused to act even though they received repeated 911 calls from teachers and students pleading for them to intervene.

Finally, a Border Patrol tactical unit, after getting a key from the janitor to open the classroom door, led the assault and killed the shooter. It took roughly an hour and half from the time of Ramos’ arrival at the school.

Police failures and misinformation

At first local law enforcement and state Republican politicians, including Texas Governor Greg Abbot, spread misinformation and lies about what actually occurred.

The timeline of the whole event was constantly modified until the truth came out. The state police now say the city police were wrong not to enter the school immediately as state guidelines mandate.

Abbot said he was misled. The governor had initially praised the police as saving lives.

Why did it take 90 minutes? Nineteen police had been “stacked” in the hallway of the classroom for over 40 minutes. But no breach.

Why did the branches of police in Texas put their lives first over the children? Police regularly shoot and kill innocent Brown and Black people over minor incidents claiming “fear for their lives” as justification.

Yet when it mattered most, the police were afraid to act even though they knew it was a single shooter.

Why were the parents and family members of the students confronted by the police officers when they demanded action in front of the school? Reporters said a mother was handcuffed by a U.S. Marshall and a father pepper sprayed and tasered by police as he tried to climb the school fence.

Parents were upset that the police were doing nothing. They also insisted that immigration police not seek out and deport family members since many Latinos have mixed families (legal and undocumented).

Why was there no Spanish language translation at press conferences? Residents called out to the governor for “Spanish, Spanish.”

The real reason for this criminal incompetence was because the school and community populations are mostly low income, working class and Latino.

The bottom line is clear: police inaction, officials disrespect and indifference to the Latino community were acts of criminal negligence. Lives could have been saved in the first 15 minutes if police had charged into the classroom.

Democrats and gun control advocates say the only issue is easy access to AR-15s, ignoring the obvious racism.

Abbot rejects mention of guns and declared more resources are needed for mental health. Last year the state cut funding for mental health services.

Elected Republicans double down

The response of Republicans nationally with their “conservative Christian values” was total defence of the police and the “right” to carry military style guns. Yet a majority of Americans support some regulations like universal background checks and banning assault weapons.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas spoke at the NRA annual convention in Houston May 27, three days after the massacre.

He repeated the NRA lie that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

The former president, Donald Trump, also spoke and repeated that false claim.

In an ironic twist, the Secret Service prevented anyone attending Trump’s speech from carrying a gun in an open carry state.

What is Cruz’s (and the NRA’s) solution to mass shootings? It is denouncing “woke” culture and bringing back Christian values to public schools. He says schools should be “hardened” with a single entrance and an armed police officer stationed at the door – turning the schools into jails.

Cruz is not alone. The Republican Party is in lockstep with the NRA, the face of gun manufacturers, which gives pro-gun candidates millions of dollars for election campaigns.

Republicans look to the NRA for approval but really no longer need it. If the NRA went out of business, it would not change the positions of the core Republican Party.

That is also true of the Supreme Court with its 6 to 3 far-right majority. Gun interests have captured the Court. The Court will likely overturn modest gun regulations in states like New York and California.

The NRA has in truth won the ideological war over guns and its narrow interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

The infamous amendment is a single line: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Until the new NRA/Republican Party interpretation gained traction in the 1990s, the amendment meant the central government had the primary power to regulate guns. It was never meant to be an individual right to bear any type of weapon.

While President Biden and Democrats have offered prayers and called for “common sense” gun regulations, the White House has taken no serious executive action even with Democrats in control of Congress and the presidency.

Mass shootings more and more common

The Uvalde shooting is one of at least 24 acts of gun violence on K-12 schools so far this year in which at least 28 people have been killed, according to a Washington Post database. There have been over 200 mass shootings in 2022.

The question is: why are there so many mass shootings in the United States? Every country has people with mental health problems, people who play violent video games, and have cultural and ethnic conflicts.

A revealing exchange at a vigil in Uvalde occurred between Ted Cruz and a British Sky News reporter:

“Why does this only happen in your country? …. Why only in America? Why is this American exceptionalism so awful?”

As Cruz attempted to walk away, the reporter said he just wanted “to understand why you do not think that guns are the problem.”

Cruz angrily shouted back that people all over the world want to live here because the United States is the safest and most prosperous country in the world.

Incredible. Mass shootings have occurred in other industrial countries. But only here in the United States is it seen as being unpatriotic to call for gun control.

There are over 450 million guns in the country. There are 330 million residents. We are all less safe but especially Brown and Black people because of systematic, institutional and white unconscious racial bias.

Guns have been regulated in the past particularly as applied to Black people. Laws have been passed when civil rights and Black Power movements were on the rise in the 1960s.

A striking example occurred in California where a law passed by the legislature was signed by conservative pro-gun Governor and later President Ronald Reagan. The NRA backed the gun restrictions Reagan adopted in 1967 when the new law targeted the Black Panther Party and Black radicals.

How the police react to legal gun ownership by African Americans and Latinos is not the same as how it responds to whites. Racial bias, racism, is not accidental. The data shows that on every social level—education, health care, jobs, arrests, and incarceration– Brown and Black people get the worse treatment by society.

Racism is a driving factor in policing and their responses. It is not an accident that Brown and Black communities are treated much differently by white conservative politicians and police forces.

What next?

After Salvador Ramos turned 18 years old and bought an AR-15 with massive amount of ammunition – he posted on the web a photo of his new weapon as he chatted with “friends” around the world.

It is legal in Texas to buy a long gun at 18 even though by federal law you must be 21 years old to buy a handgun from a licensed dealer. Last year Texas made it even easier to buy weapons including concealed guns.

Ramos never said why he was planning to kill children. The day of the shooting, he was online chatting with a 15-year-old girl in Frankfurt, Germany. He told her about his weapons and plans. After he shot his grandmother, he told the girl this and also about his intention to kill children.

His parents and grandparents are working class. Like most of the Mexican American community. He attended the public high school. He also worked a part time job at a Wendy’s.

The conservative media and bloggers immediately falsely claimed Ramos was an “illegal immigrant” and a “transsexual” in hormone treatment according to an Arizona Republican Congressman.

But Ramos was typical, not special. He did not have a criminal record. So far, all things said about the shooter is pure speculation.

We may never know why an 18-year-old Latino man decided to kill twenty-one people. But as Gustavo Arellano, a Los Ángeles Times columnist wrote on May 25, under the headline “Latino-on-Latino Mass Shooting. What Now?”:

“The tragedy in Uvalde disproves what white supremacists say about Latinos and other minorities. We’re not unassimilable; we all become part of the United States.

“What Ramos did – stemming from a pathology found almost nowhere else on Earth – is as American as apple pie.”

The true sign of hope for positive change is what the parents and family members at the school did by challenging the police and elected politicians. They have refused to go quietly. They demand accountability.

Their actions are inspiring thousands to protest outside the NRA convention and across the country to demand “common sense” gun laws, accountability for police criminal negligence and proper treatment of victims’ families and communities of color.

Within days of the massacre four thousand workers at San Francisco-based Salesforce signed a petition demanding the company end ties with the NRA.

Everyone must know the full truth of the Uvalde massacre and do what we can in solidarity with victims of gun violence.

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