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Why Americans Are Shot At The ‘Wrong House’

Above Photo: gunviolencearchive.org.

People in the U.S. venerate its violent history, support violence committed by the state, and remain very racist, yet express shock when individuals kill and maim.

In recent days there have been widely reported stories about individuals in the United States who were shot because they were in the “wrong” location. The most prominent case was that of Ralph Yarl in Kansas City, Missouri. Yarl is a Black 16-year old who went to the wrong address to pick up his younger siblings. He was shot by an 84-year old white man, Andrew Lester, who said he was “scared to death” upon seeing a Black person ringing his doorbell. Yarl is recovering from his wounds but others were not so lucky.

A young white woman named Kaylin Gillis suffered a fatal gunshot wound when she and her friends pulled into the “wrong” road in upstate New York. A similar event occurred in Texas where two teenage cheerleaders were shot and wounded after mistakenly approaching the wrong car, and a Black couple in Florida delivering groceries were shot at as they went about their work.

The corporate media will often decide to give a topic greater attention than they ordinarily do, so it isn’t clear how often incidents of this kind take place. However, it is clear that people in this country shoot and often kill one another for little or no reason. So far this year, 5,728 people have died from gun violence. The police have already killed 320 people and are on track to reach the 1,000 plus mark as they do every year.

Debates about gun violence are endless and yet there is never any resolution because its root causes are rarely addressed. It isn’t surprising that a settler colonial state with an admiration for white supremacist triumphalism would have a love of guns and an acceptance of killing. A settler is by definition violent and mistrustful, sometimes even against others in the same group.

States like Missouri actually use bizarre and seemingly comical language such as a “castle doctrine,” based upon dubious and dangerous notions about property rights which are nothing more than a license to kill. Likewise, “stand your ground” laws, another silly term for a serious subject, were promulgated as if legal rights to self-defense were insufficient. These are not merely solutions in search of a problem but are the inevitable result of white supremacy as a principle of societal organizing.

In addition, no one should be surprised when individuals behave as the state does. The U.S. claims the right to intervene, to coup, to invade, or to engage proxies anywhere in the world in order to further its pernicious interests. In the last 20 years alone, the U.S. has killed thousands of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and in Ukraine as a result of military action. Police in this country kill an average of 3 people every single day. It shouldn’t be a surprise when individuals behave just like the designated killers who wear uniforms.

Also, the slave patrol mentality never ended. Centuries of slavery, and decades of the Jim Crow apartheid system gave white people a right to deputize themselves. Many of them believe in a right to act as if they are law enforcement officers. Their behavior may range from rudeness, to assault, to actual murder, usually committed with impunity.

The glorification of a history of racist conquest leads to the ethos of American exceptionalism and a dog eat dog mentality. The sickness filters down to everyone, and the lack of social cohesion, class consciousness, or even human empathy creates people who believe they can and should shoot someone who violates a property boundary. Racism is the only consistent form of solidarity for white people, and a hyper individualistic nation which glorifies theft and all forms of violence, will inevitably allow anyone to be attacked if circumstances permit.

The prevalence of white supremacist ideology explains so much about this country. It is not strange that such a place would not provide for the most basic needs of its citizens or that millions of people would feel an affinity for their class enemies or fight against their own interests. They do so because they see whiteness as their primary interest and coalesce regarding their desire to subjugate Black people in any number of ways. The result is violence and societal and political dysfunction.

Of course, Black people bear the brunt of these beliefs and are the most victimized. The man who shot Ralph Yarl was questioned and allowed to go home after the shooting. He was only arrested because of public protest and media attention, and even then, he immediately posted a bond and went free. In Florida, the police claimed an inability to arrest the would-be shooter of the grocery workers because, “Each party appears justified in their actions based on the circumstances they perceived.” The belief in impunity is sadly quite logical.

Yet the retelling of these stories does little good without the truth being spoken. Senseless violence is not surprising when racist thoughts prevail and create an absence of societal bonds. Everyone is collateral damage not just in fatal shootings but in the plethora of ways in which the quality of life in the U.S. is worse than in other nations. There will be more wrong house shootings and mass shootings until the elephant in the room is acknowledged.

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