What mass shootings teach us about divisiveness

Angela DaSilva – Assistant Copy Editor

As mass shootings have become normalized in our country, so too have the people who continuously deny politics’ stake in gun violence. They have said that shootings can only be blamed on the shooter, which is true in the sense that no one tells a gunman to go out and murder innocent people in presumably safe places. I am not denying this. However, I am saying that it is convenient to suggest that politics are not responsible for these events.

It is convenient because placing sole blame on the shooter lets us offer up our thoughts and prayers as means of pacifying the shock, because “it’s only the shooter’s fault and there’s nothing we can do about terrible people.”

These thoughts and prayers dismiss our country’s divisiveness. They forget that our daily rhetoric inspired by divisive politics fuels the violence in our culture. They forget that it is political when a man yells “All Jews must die!” before he kills 11 people in a synagogue, and that it is political when a homophobe kills 49 people in a gay nightclub. Even when there is no demographic in mind, these are all political events because they capitalize on the hatred that is boiling in our country.

This country’s weapon of choice is the gun, because the gun itself is political. It is in our constitution under the second amendment and it is used as partisan selling points for campaigns. Removed from these violent acts, the gun still remains political because we talk about it in terms of politics.

The result of our negligent refusals about political involvement is this: 17 in Parkland, 10 in Santa Fe, 11 in Pittsburgh, and 12 in Thousand Oaks. These are just a few of the mass shootings with the greatest casualties that have occurred in the US this year. Thousand Oaks was our country’s latest tragedy, in which 12 people were murdered by a lone gunman at a popular country bar in California. These tragedies have occurred so frequently in the past year––307 times, to be specific––that “latest” is an appropriate term to use because it does not stand out the way it should in our newscycle. Rather, it adds to the scary reality that has become our culture.

I do not distinguish culture from “gun culture,” because at this point there is no difference. As a product of incessant gun violence, our country has become one in which its citizens cannot be sure that they won’t be shot in a school or a church or a bar. This is the culture we have grown into: a culture encased in normalized fear.

We are wrong to think that this does not apply to us; that somehow the confined borders of our tiny little state protects us from what is occurring across the country. But hatred exists in Rhode Island, too.

This past January, my friends and I were at the Providence Place Mall when a man pulled out a gun on another man in Nordstrom. We heard the evacuation announcement on the intercom and we went through the collective motions of confusion, fear, and more confusion when we reached the exit and learned we still had to pay our parking fee at the kiosk. My friends and I had to wait in a line while a man was loose with a gun.

There is violence in this state because there is hatred in this state. This can happen to us because it has happened to me, already.

We are not immune to gun violence, and we are frighteningly not equipped to deal with it. Instead, we wait in lines to pay parking tickets because we believe it can’t happen to us, so we are never prepared. And to distant cities, we send our thoughts and prayers because we forget that blanket statements about peace cannot bandage a country scarred by political hate.

It’s time for America to treat veterans with reverence

Catherine Enos – Opinions editor

Military men and women volunteer knowing that, at the very least, serving our country will take its toll on them physically, emotionally, and financially. What they give us– their life– is not proportionate to what we, as a society, give to them.

Whether you agree with military intervention or you don’t, it is important that we support veterans. We do a particularly bad job at this– in many ways. Arguably one of the most important dimensions of how we treat veterans is respect. Respect determines everything else– if we don’t have respect for them, will we give them the care they need?

A clear example of how we treat veterans is through the way public figures treat veterans. Earlier this month Pete Davidson, during the Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live, mocked GOP-candidate Dan Crenshaw (now representative-elect) for wearing an eye patch. Pete Davidson is obviously a comedian who jokes about controversial things, but this crossed a line. In addition, this joke was not only said by Davidson, but it presumably passed through some script-writing process, implying that others also thought it was okay to say.

Pete Davidson is not the only person to say something controversial about veterans. A man with much more power, Donald Trump, famously said that the late senator John McCain was not a war hero because he was captured and that he “like[s] people that weren’t captured.”

The common thread between Davidson and Trump is that they’re criticizing men that have served based off of the veteran’s personal political ideals. In polarized times, we criticize the “other side”. But there’s no reason as to why either of them had to mock something that happened as a direct result of combat.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be able to criticize people that happen to be war vets but there’s a civil way to disagree with someone. The 2008 presidential election is a good example of civility. Though Barack Obama and John McCain clearly disagreed on many things, Obama never resorted to petty comments about McCain’s service to the country.

As we become more polarized as a country, it is important that we try not to politicize the military or veterans. And it’s important that we keep in mind the fact that veterans volunteered to keep all Americans safe– even those that disagree with them.

On the eve of an election

Mike Dwyer – Anchor Staff

The sun had already set when I left home and drove up Broadway and out the main road past the humming lights of shopping plazas and car lots. I drove past the cathedral and economy motels, then hooked a left on Brown’s Lane where the road snakes its way down the hill.

At the bottom I pass through the cemetery gates. My friends are already there. We’ve grown apart, but every year we gather here on Nov. 5– to drink, to laugh, and to share with each other the memory of a man buried beneath our feet. This day marks nine years since he was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

Every time I hook that left and drive down the hill, I remember how emotional and painful it was to bury him and recall certain images that are seared into my memory– the hundreds of people lining the road, the enormous wind-swept flag suspended between two ladder trucks from the local fire department, the backward-facing boots hung in the stirrups of a riderless horse, the meticulous folding of the flag and the way his widow clutched it as her knees buckled during the salute.

I remember: at the bottom of that hill, a man I had never seen before standing outside his truck at the gates of the cemetery. He was holding a flag pole in one hand and at his feet, propped against the side of his pickup, was a hand written sign that read: “I try to be worth dying for”. When I saw this, I burst into tears and felt a mix of sadness and anger– sadness for a life cut short and for the children who would have to grow up without their father, and then anger over the war, at my own country and at the stranger with that sign.

It’s been nine years and those memories are still vivid. I look out over the graveyard and can see the silhouettes of headstones. I join my circle of friends to catch up. We poke fun at each other and laugh and it feels like old times. The conversation is light and amicable. No one brings up the election. No one crosses that line here. Even though my friends and I have gotten older and drifted apart, now wasn’t the time to hash out our differences.

We can’t agree on what it means to be American, the symbolic value of that flag, the meaning or reasons underlying our friend’s death or the righteousness of the war that claimed his life– a war his sons are now almost old enough to serve in. We can’t agree on what he died for, if anything.

No one mentions the elephant in the room. For a time, it feels as though all those differences have melted away. We build a neutral ground from our frustrations, our powerlessness and vulnerability and the nagging feeling of loss and uncertainty. We can all agree on this: that things are not as they should be.

Democracy is more than a vote

Alison Macbeth – Anchor Staff

The talk of voting has been ubiquitous this past week with midterm elections. Although voting is extremely important, it is not the only way to be involved in creating change in our communities and government.

As a democracy, the United States operates with popular sovereignty. This means that the power to make legislation lies with the people rather than one sovereign, such as a king. Voting is one way to determine the opinions of the majority.

As we saw this past week, voting is an important part of democracy. Our structure would not work without people casting their ballots. However, voting is not the only means of being an involved citizens. In fact, spending a few minutes at the poles to fill out a ballot hardly captures the nuances of the political system.

Who introduces the ideas that turn into ballot measures? Who does the research? Who organized protests and interacts with the public to change their thinking?

While Americans should gladly vote, it is important to exercise the freedoms we have to raise awareness on issues, contact our local representatives, be aware of town and local elections, as well as become part of organizations that represent our causes.

CNN Politics noted 25 ways to be involved politically some of which included reading up on American history and civics, being part of a campaign, attend town halls, and volunteer with an organization that benefits your community.

If you were disappointed nor thrilled with the results of the midterms this past week, remember that your vote is not the be-all end-all. Don’t get bogged down with your pessimism or optimism. Local and national issues still need your involvement. And this exceeds just a post on Facebook that all your similarly-minded friends will like. Be a leader in your community and work hands on with the issues you are passionate about.

So, yes, please vote. But also, recognize that a democracy not only rests on the freedom of voting but also the participation, the voice, the pressure and interaction of the people.

A rebuttal to your excuses for not voting

Catherine Enos – Opinions Editor

As someone who feels that voting is one of the most important ways to make your voice heard, it’s disappointing when people decide to skip the polls for some reason. Here’s my response to some excuses people may have for not going:

Photo courtesy of liberty.me

My vote doesn’t matter.

It’s true that you are just one amongst millions of voters. But there have been times in the past where a few votes changed the outcome of an election. For example, in the 2000 presidential election, George Bush won the electoral votes of Florida by 537 votes. Had those 537 people decided not to vote that day, Al Gore would have been our president.

I don’t know anything about politics.

Most people don’t. You should do some research before you vote, but you shouldn’t stop yourself from going to the polls if you don’t know much about the candidates. Another thing to remember is that you can never know everything. I’m a political science student and there are some areas that I struggle to comprehend. An important thing to understand is that everything these politicians do has a direct impact on you. If there is at least one topic you find really important, do some research on that and choose a candidate this way.

I don’t have time.

All polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Maybe there’s time for you to stop in before or after school (or work). And, in the future, you can always opt for an absentee/mail ballot. The state of Rhode Island has what are called “No Excuse Mail Ballots.” All you have to do is apply within 20 days to do so and mail the ballot so that it reaches the polls by 8 p.m. on election night. It’s too late to do that this time around, but this is a plausible option for the future.

I don’t have a ride.

According to their website, Uber will be offering $10 off a single ride to the polls on election day. And according to Lyft’s website, they will be providing 50% off promo codes and free rides to “underserved communities that face significant obstacles to transportation.”

ProJo’s no-no: insensitive placing of an ammunition ad

Alison Macbeth – Anchor Staff

The Providence Journal is a beloved publication in Rhode Island. As the only newspaper, our tiny state fondly looks through the pages and smiles. But not this past weekend. The day after the detestable Pittsburgh shooting, the Providence Journal missed the mark.

The Sunday paper’s front cover ran in big, bold letter “Shooter kills 11 in Shooting Rampage.” The story is devastating. It feels like one after another grievous and fear-inducing events have lined up and appeared on our headlines like a conveyor belt. While we are all repulsed by this act of violence, we have to be honest. Somehow we are getting used to the terror of the ubiquitous violent headlines. And so is the Providence Journal.

The Sunday newspaper often includes a coupon to promote a local business. This Sunday’s paper featured a coupon that just happened to be for the Preserve Sporting Shoppe, an outdoor gear shop that was hosting its grand opening this weekend. But here is the shocking part– the coupon was for a “free box of ammo for every firearm purchased.”

Photos courtesy of Alison Macbeth

The juxtaposition of a coupon for ammunition and a headline highlighting the largest mass shooting of the Jewish community in the United State is undeniably insensitive. While I want to give the Providence Journal the benefit of the doubt and recognize this was an oversight, there is a bigger story and analogy here as well. We are becoming numb to senseless violence. It is as if mass shooting are an expected part of the newscycle. In the past two years, it is hard to recall all the shootings and events where a firearm in the hands of an American citizen was used to purposefully murder a large group of people.

The synagogue massacre is another call for changes to be made in the U.S. system regarding firearms. We are done with the headlines– and the free ammo too.

The Forgotten War and Why It Matters

Kaila Acheson – Anchor Contributor

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s ongoing war affects all of us on a global scale. With a country with vast natural resources and threats of Ebola, this war should not be forgotten. The Congo has been a tumultuous region since the Scramble for Africa, when King Leopold II of Belgium acquired the land and essentially turned it into a huge work camp. Despite being rich in resources, the people are still poor. Ever since 1994, as a result of the Rwandan genocide, The Congo has experienced the horrifying effects of war.

As of in the last month there has been a report that the rebels have killed 15 innocent civilians and threatened the outbreak of ebola. The Red Cross is attempting to contain the ebola virus but now villagers are so paranoid due to the constant rebel attacks and so isolated that they are becoming sceptical if the ebola virus is even real. The villagers are now beginning to fear The Red Cross’s intentions and are relectent of seeking their help. The civilians are now becoming hostile towards the ones attempting to protect their population and the world from an outbreak.

Accompanying the threat of a viral outbreak, The Congo’s main exports are copper, cobalt, diamond, crude petroleum, and cobalt ore. The Congo’s main partners are The United States and China. About 70% of their exports is oil. This could deeply impact global manufacturing and the economy if The Congo continues to be unstable.

The Congo has a lot of potential and is considered to be an area that could connect Africa because it is geographically positioned in the center of the continent. The first civil war in the Congo started in June 1997 and although there was a peace treaty signed in 2003 the fighting has never ceased. Violence has been continuous and recently the rebels have been out of control. If this unfortunate war were to end then a lot of problems would be solved.

Hearts break across the world for Pittsburgh

Tim Caplan – News Editor

At Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, PA on Saturday, October 27, a radical anti-Semite opened fire on innocent people celebrating an eight day old Brit Milah’s naming ceremony, killing 11 and harming several. Shortly after the news broke, I went to Twitter and saw a bunch of quasi-political internet personalities blaming the president’s rhetoric for this shooting.

To politicize a tragedy means to make a hind-sighted comment placing blame on those not directly responsible or using the deaths of others to justify a political policy and ostracizing those who disagree. In each case for personal gain or social capital. If you think this mass murder is the fault of anyone but the shooter, you are wrong. I think that if you blame Trump or gun laws for this you’re completely missing a huge problem not so easily solved by simple political answers, while politicizing a tragedy. If you place blame on the government of Israel or the moving of the United States embassy to Jerusalem like GQ writer Julia Ioffe, you are not only politicizing a tragedy, but actively participating in the kind of anti-Semitism that encourages killers like this to feel justified in their actions.

Anti-Semitism has a history ranging back thousands of years. There is, unfortunately, a long history of anti-Semitism in the United States. In colonial America, Jews were banned from practicing medicine, law and from serving in public office in states like Maryland, Massachusetts and even my home state of Connecticut.

Even though anti-Semitism was present throughout the early part of U.S. history, this country has taken huge steps forward since its inception. Throughout years of the American experience through different industries, intellectuals, and services, along with passing legislation like the Civil Rights acts, Jewish people have flourished. A lot of Jews like myself feel Jewish people have created a great home in America.

I believe that solving the problem has to do with addressing the rising anti-Semitic sentiment felt in the Western world over the past few years. This includes the march in Charlottesville, and the stabbing of an Israeli student outside of his yeshiva in New York City in 2014. This is not a phenomenon in just America however, France and Sweden have seen a large exodus of Jewish people in the last few years as anti-Semitic attacks have risen in Europe. In 2012, an anti-Semitic extremist attacked a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. He killed four people including two children ages three and six. In 2014, an anti-Semitic extremist opened fire on a Jewish museum in Brussels and Belgium, killing four people. In 2015 a Kosher supermarket was sieged by terrorists, in which they killed four Jewish hostages. These constant attacks on the Jewish community have occurred all throughout history, and will continue if these societies do not begin to understand and retaliate against these hateful ideologies.

I continue to believe that The United States of America is the safest place in the world for Jewish people to live, but the evil of anti-Semitism has no borders or language, and Americans need to fight for the values of tolerance and freedom of speech, religion and association that built and held together this country together in its toughest times. Please send your thoughts and prayers to the victims of this tragedy and their families. You can help the victims and the community of Squirrel Hill by donating to https://www.gofundme.com/tree-of-life-synagogue-shooting. I’ll end this with a quote from the late Mac Miller, a Jewish artist from Pittsburgh: “People change and things go wrong, but just remember life goes on.”

Letter to The Anchor Editor

Faculty response to the Lauren Enos article, “Let’s Talk about professor evaluations” published in The Anchor on Oct. 15 of this year.

Lauren Enos raises really good questions about professor evaluations in her October 15 opinion column for The Anchor (“Let’s Talk about Professor Evaluations”). As a professor who cares a lot about my student evaluations, here’s how I would answer some of her questions:

What happens after I fill out course evaluations? The chair of the department reads them and then passes them along to the professor. Professors can do what they want with them after that, but many keep them on file—I still have every evaluation for every course I’ve ever taught.

Do my professors read my evaluations? I can’t speak for everyone, but every colleague I’ve ever talked to reads every word of their course evaluations. We may not agree with everything you write, but we take it all seriously. I’ve removed readings, changed topics, and added activities based on my course evaluations.

Do written comments matter? Personally, I find written comments more helpful than numerical scores. Many of you are more specific in written comments than when you fill out your Scantron sheets. And I can promise you that whether they prefer written or numerical comments, most of your professors are reading both.

Do my evaluations matter? Absolutely. Your evaluations matter to your professors, but they matter to RIC as well. Student evaluations are a critical part of whether we get to keep our jobs, used in promotion and tenure files for every professor.

Why are some of the questions so basic? Lauren is right that there’s a lot more to a good class than whether it starts on time, but these basic questions are important too. Student evaluations are the only way for RIC to find out what your classes are really like—if a professor consistently shows up late, or struggles to answer questions about course material, your evaluations are the best way to make sure RIC knows about it. If none of the questions on your evaluation form ask about things that were important to you, that’s what the written comments are for! (Again: I promise most of us read them.)

How can I write helpful course evaluations? Lauren didn’t ask this question, but I still want to talk about it, since you have control over just how valuable your evaluations are. Here are two things I encourage my students to consider doing. (1) Be specific. When a student writes, “I hated this course,” that makes me sad, but it doesn’t tell me what they hated. “I loved this course” makes me happy, but it isn’t all that helpful either—I don’t know what they thought was good about the course! The evaluations that are the most helpful to me are the ones that tell me about a specific reading, or assignment, or activity that a student liked or disliked. (2) Be professional. Your professors are people too! Comments that swear at us, or are illegible, or say nasty things about our appearance are unhelpful at best and hurtful at worst. While student evaluations are valuable, studies consistently show that people who are old, male, and/or white are evaluated more positively than people who are young, female, and/or people of color are. Be honest with us about how the class went, but pay attention to whether you’re giving different kinds of feedback to different kinds of people. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to writing professor evaluations that encourage your professors and give them constructive feedback. Your professor’s future students will be better off because you did.

– Amy Berg

Assistant Professor of Philosophy 

Halloween age limits: another futile law

Catherine Enos – Opinions editor

Photo courtesy of wquad.com

Imagine it’s Halloween, you’re 12 years old and you’re out with friends trick-or-treating. Now, imagine this: you get arrested and you face fines, jail time and a misdemeanor charge. This is what could happen to 12-year-olds in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Apparently, the ordinance in this Virginia city that sets this guideline is not new. It was originally established in 1970 (according to Chesapeake’s municipal code), but recently gained attraction on social media for its absurdity.  

Virginia is not the only state with ridiculous laws– there are examples of bizarre laws across the country. To put things into perspective, there’s a couple examples in our very own state. An example of one of these inane laws states that “impersonation of town sealer, auctioneer, corder, or fence-viewer” is a criminal offense.

Maybe stupidity is “in the eye of the beholder,” but why would a state ever need laws like these? The answer is: they don’t. Lawmakers have to decide where to focus their time and to pick their battles. Their limited energy is going to be focused on areas of utmost importance.

At the end of the day, lawmakers (and we) know that the law likely won’t be enforced. People probably won’t be arrested for impersonating an auctioneer and children won’t really be arrested for trick-or-treating. So lawmakers don’t waste their energy on giving the law attention.

A law that isn’t enforced has no power and is eventually forgotten– that is, until someone digs it out of the municipal code to snap a picture of and share online.

There’s a lesson in this story: don’t believe everything you read online. Everyone’s guilty of this. This particular law is a real law, but the vagueness and recency of the viral post lead people to believe that it was a recently-passed law. Social media users were ready to attribute reasons as to why the law may have been passed. Maybe there’s some truth in people’s analysis of the text, but you can’t know the whole truth unless you look at the big picture.