By Nora Loreto
The Orlando massacre is heartbreaking.
As details emerge about the victims, as their humanity shines through their images and stories, as we hear about the children, parents, friends and lovers they leave behind, trying to make sense of what is so obviously senseless seems futile.
Mainstream media and politicians of all stripes, despite their best efforts have not been able to force this attack into the standard hallmarks of their definition of terrorism. A profile of the shooter has emerged as a deeply troubled man, an apparent regular at the club he attacked, an abuser of his ex-wife, an admirer of the police: these compose an image of a tortured figure whose violence should never have been allowed to escalate in the way it did.
He benefitted from a society that has ensured that guns are easy to access. He was steeped in a society that has made homosexuality one of its highest sins. This society has turned trans people in a bathroom a threat while giving men carte blanche for their violence, violent tendencies or violent legislative policy.
He worked for G4S, a private security firm with contracts all over the world, a firm that trained the shooter how to use his gun. He worked in a youth detention facility.
It’s known that there were three separate gunfights between the shooter and police at Pulse nightclub. First, outside of the club. Then, the SWAT team used explosives to puncture the wall of the club to get at the shooter, who was in a bathroom. When that didn’t work, they drove an armoured vehicle through the wall.
This was followed by another shootout. Will we ever know if any of the victims were actually killed by police?
Whether or not police shot any of the victims, a majority of whom are racialized, matters. In the aftermath, as people call for greater security and greater police presence to protect people, we have to ask ourselves: who is protected when police are increasingly militarized?
In 2007, an Amnesty International report scrutinized homophobia among the ranks of American cops: “The report found that verbal abuse and harassment are routine. So are a range of discriminatory practices, from selective enforcement of the law, such as profiling gay men as public-sex offenders and transgender women as prostitutes, to selective non-enforcement during investigations of hate crimes and domestic violence.”
Andrea Ritchie’s 2015 address to INCITE! at their 15th anniversary congress plainly lays out these connections. “In conversations about racial profiling, we are continuing to raise the reality that racial disparities in stops, searches, and arrests are the same for women as they are for men, and that racial profiling of women of color – including queer and transgender women of color – takes gender specific forms, based on stereotypes rooted in slavery and colonialism, in the context of the war on drugs and the enforcement of prostitution and trafficking laws.”
If state security forces have systemically failed to confront internal homophobia and worse, continue to inflict violence on queer communities, any solution that includes more police is going to worsen, not improve queer and trans peoples’ safety.
Part of the reason why gun control is so critical is so that crises can be de-escalated with no one injured. Someone in crisis shooting an automatic weapon is harder to stop than someone in crisis holding some scissors.
But police need these sorts of events to justify their ever-expanding arsenal. If a police bullet killed any of the victims at Pulse nightclub, it’s easier to forgive if the argument was that their deaths were the unfortunate side effect of preventing more death.
Indeed, arguments are already being made for why American police need to keep and expand their militarized machinery.
It might feel somewhat strange to call for the disarming of security forces in the aftermath of such a horrific attack. But if disarming Americans in general through proper gun regulation is on the agenda, as it should be, so too should de-militarizing local police forces and especially, private security contractors.
Queer bodies cannot be free when state security apparatuses are militarized. In a society built on white supremacy, heteronormativity, patriarchy and ol’ fashioned Christian values, there is greater danger that the tragedy in Orlando will be used to further increase security then invade another country. At least, with Obama in charge.
While I’m highly sceptical of police investigations of police shootings, I’ll be watching this unfold. After all, when a “lone wolf” attack is reported to have killed 49, if a single body was hurt by a police officer, we need to know.
This column is published with permission by the writer and rabble.ca, an alternative Canadian online magazine.