Summer shootings pierce the darkness of the American subconscious
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 07:09
The United States witnessed a violent summer as shootings occurred in Alabama, Wisconsin, New York, Colorado and Texas. However, the press coverage and national response varied greatly, with some shootings receiving more attention than others. Media coverage of the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin, for example, was severely inadequate in comparison to that of the movie theater shooting in Colorado. The media tended to conflate the Sikh temple shooting and movie theater shooting as issues related to gun control, thereby failing to address the deeper issues of prejudice and domestic terrorism which prompted the Sikh temple shooting.
On Friday, July 20 in Aurora, Colorado, a man strode to the front of the Century 16 multiplex and opened fire during the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Twelve people were killed and 58 wounded, with witnesses describing a scene of “claustrophobia, panic and blood,” according to the New York Times.
Weeks later, on Sunday, August 5, witnesses described a morbid and chaotic scene as a gunman terrorized a Sikh temple at approximately 10:30 a.m., according to the New York Times. Officials reported that six people were killed and three others were wounded at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, a city of about 35,000 just south of Milwaukee. The gunman’s rampage ended when one of the first police officers to arrive shot and killed him. Authorities said that another police officer was left in critical condition after the gunman shot him multiple times.
On July 22, only two days after the movie theater shooting, President Barack Obama flew to Colorado to mourn the victims of the shooting rampage and to offer hope to those who were coming to terms with the tragedy.
According to the Huffington Post, Obama made private visits to each family gathered at a hospital, as well as to each of the patients recovering in intensive care. His outlook remained optimistic as he celebrated the courage of all those connected to the tragedy. After the visits, Obama reported, “I come to them not so much as a president as I do as a father and as a husband. The reason stories like this have such an impact on us is because we could all understand what it would be to have someone we love taken from us in this fashion.”
In contrast, nearly three weeks passed before First Lady Michelle Obama made a private visit to the victims of the Sikh temple shooting and their family members in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on Thursday, August 23.
Amardeep Kaleka, whose father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, had been the president of the temple before being killed in the attack, noted that while the First Lady’s visit was welcome, she “is not an elected official who is responsible for national policies that are at the core of this problem. Maybe politically, this is a powder keg.” Furthermore, the Chicagoist reports that CNN was the only network to send a news team to Wisconsin at the time of the shootings.
With respect to the Sikh temple shooting, a columnist for the New Yorker argued that politicians and the media failed to treat the Oak Creek shooting as an “American tragedy.” While both presidential candidates issued public statements regarding the Sikh temple shooting, their failure to consult privately with the families, as President Obama had done after the movie theater shooting, illustrated a lack of concern for their predicament.
The public statement issued by President Barack Obama in response to the Sikh temple shooting was also severely inadequate. President Obama’s reference to the Sikhs as members of our “broader American family” connoted a distance from their struggle, pain and loss. His statement perpetuated discrimination against the Sikhs, because it subtly implied that their feelings of loss and devastation were somehow different than those of the survivors and families in Colorado.
After the movie theater shooting, President Obama stated that all people could understand how devastating it would be to have a loved one taken from them so tragically. Couldn’t all people also understand how tragic it would be if their religious beliefs made them the target of such a heinous crime?
Although the movie theater and Sikh shootings were both incredibly tragic, the media failed to make a crucial distinction between the two shootings. While both raised issues of gun control, the Sikh temple shooting was rooted in bigotry.
Yet officials were extremely reluctant to label the Sikh temple shooting as an act of domestic terrorism, and still have yet to do so. On August 5, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms Special Agent Thomas Ahern reported to ABC that the suspect had tattoos and that authorities were investigating whether he was a “skinhead” or a “white supremacist.” Ahern stated, “It is being investigated. And what his tattoos signified is being investigated. They are all pieces of a possible puzzle to learn what was his motive in carrying out such a horrific act.”
On August 7, Tessa Carlson, the FBI agent in charge of investigating the Sikh temple shooting, reported to CNN that no motive for the attack had been established. Carlson also reported that the FBI was looking into whether the shooting was an act of domestic terrorism, which is the use of violence for political or social gain.
State Representative Josh Zepnick described himself as “being torn to shreds” by the attack, reporting to the WTMJ that, “[The Sikh community] is a very peace-loving community that has successfully integrated and assimilated into the metropolitan Milwaukee area.” Meanwhile, CNN reports that Sikhs constantly encounter prejudice and discrimination in the Oak Creek community.