This morning's deadly attack is already sparking a debate about whether France, or even Europe more broadly, has a problem with violence against minorities.
Police outside the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse / Reuters
It is still too early to know why an unidentified shooter attacked a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, this morning. According to initial reports, the gunman entered the private secondary school around 8:15 a.m. and began firing indiscriminately, though The Guardianreports witnesses suggesting that "he pursued some children, including a girl who he reportedly pulled by the hair." The gunman then fled on a motorbike, having killed three children and a teacher.
The attack does bear, as the police have noticed, a strong resemblance to two other shootings in the past week and a half. Both were perpetrated by a man on just such a scooter, and the latest ballistics analysis being reported by Le Nouvel Observatuer suggests the same weapon was used in all three attacks. The victims were soldiers of North African origin.
It is easy to speculate, given the victims in all three attacks, that this is the work of a terrorist or an individual with an ethnic agenda: this theory has already been floated publicly by one of the three psychiatrists interviewed by French paper Le Figaro. Equally possible, however, as another suggests, this may well be the work of a madman. Based on the evidence available thus far, "it's perhaps necessary not to search for rational but rather delusional logic," Claude Halmos told the newspaper. The third psychiatrist, Pierre Lamothe, argues that these works resemble those less of a "serial killer than a mass murderer. The first repeats his killings while destroying evidence. The second sees himself as having a sacred mission to fulfill."
The only thing that seems certain at this point is the mark this act is likely to leave on the Jewish community in France. This latest attack, whatever its motivation, constitutes at least psychologically a brutal continuation of a trend that French Jews have endured for a decade. France's Jewish community, as the country's newspapers are already recalling, has been the target of many attacks in the past 30 years (Le Figaro has a timeline), several in the 1970s and 80s, for example the assassination of Israeli diplomat Yacov Barsimantov in Paris or the 1979 explosion targeting Jewish students the day after the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, involved specifically anti-Israel sentiment, the former eventually linked to a Lebanese guerrilla group.
The early 2000s, however, brought a particularly nasty outbreak of anti-Semitism. On December 31, 2001, a classroom of a Jewish school was set on fire, one of several incidents in the period to involve arson. April of 2002 saw the Or Aviv synagogue in Marseille burned to the ground, with two other synagogues in Lyon and Strasbourg set on fire that same Passover-Easter weekend. Since 2005, the French government has been working to increase security around synagogues as well as Jewish schools, nurseries, and community associations. This has not completely halted the attacks, however, which included two cases arson in 2009, the latter targeting a school in Marseille. Le Mondenotes what, in retrospect, is sure to be seen as a haunting statement by interior minister Claude Guéant only Sunday, prior to Monday's shooting.
Sunday March 18, before the Jews of France assembled before the Central Jewish Consistory in Paris, interior minister Claude Guéant, while underlying the 'cold statistics' of the drop in antisemitic acts in the past two years, assured [that] "Vigilance dictates the continuance of these efforts in 2012 [...]"
Until the motivation behind the attacks is known -- and perhaps after that -- this incident also seems likely to reignite a discussion in Europe more broadly. Though the victims in this case are less numerous, this incident comes in the same year-long period that saw Anders Breivik's attack on the government buildings in Oslo and the Workers' Youth League camp, as well as the uncovering of the neo-Nazi terrorist cell in Germany responsible for the killings of eight ethnic Turks, a Greek, and a German policewoman, between 2000 and 2007. This attack may prove to be completely unrelated to other such instances of violence in France and across Europe, even in terms of political sympathies -- Breivik's diagnosis as a paranoid schizophrenic, for example, suggests his attack had at least as much to do with his own insanity as it did with politics. But as a headline on French website Rue89 -- "France's 'Oslo'" - -already shows, the feeling of this shooting being part of a broader trend is unavoidable.
Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city's publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city's police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.
The citizens who live in West Baltimore, where the rioting began, intuitively understand this. I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today's riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution. People write these feelings off as wholly irrational at their own peril, or their own leisure. The case against the Baltimore police, and the society that superintends them, is easily made:
Freddie Gray's death on April 19 leaves many unanswered questions. But it is clear that when Gray was arrested in West Baltimore on the morning of April 12, he was struggling to walk. By the time he arrived at the police station a half hour later, he was unable to breathe or talk, suffering from wounds that would kill him.*
Gray died Sunday from spinal injuries. Baltimore authorities say they're investigating how the 25-year-old was hurt—a somewhat perverse notion, given that it was while he was in police custody, and hidden from public view, that he apparently suffered injury. How it happened remains unknown. It's even difficult to understand why officers arrested Gray in the first place. But with protestors taking to the streets of Baltimore since Gray's death on Sunday, the incident falls into a line of highly publicized, fatal encounters between black men and the police. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a reserve sheriff's deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, pleaded not guilty to a second-degree manslaughter charge in the death of a man he shot. The deputy says the shooting happened while he was trying to tase the man. Black men dying at the hands of the police is of course nothing new, but the nation is now paying attention and getting outraged.
In Baltimore, where 25-year-old Freddie Gray died shortly after being taken into police custody, an investigation may uncover homicidal misconduct by law enforcement, as happened in the North Charleston, South Carolina, killing of Walter Scott. Or the facts may confound the darkest suspicions of protestors, as when the Department of Justice released its report on the killing of Michael Brown.
What's crucial to understand, as Baltimore residents take to the streets in long-simmering frustration, is that their general grievances are valid regardless of how this case plays out. For as in Ferguson, where residents suffered through years of misconduct so egregious that most Americans could scarcely conceive of what was going on, the people of Baltimore are policed by an entity that perpetrates stunning abuses. The difference is that this time we needn't wait for a DOJ report to tell us so. Harrowing evidence has been presented. Yet America hasn't looked.
Cinderella marries Prince Charming. Aladdin weds Princess Jasmine. In 50 Shades of Grey, Ana falls for Christian. From bedtime stories to films, we are exposed to a repeated idea: that love, or at least lust, crosses class lines. In fiction, cross-class relationships either end in marriage and happily-ever-after, or else in dissolution and even death. But what happens in real life?
Last year, I set out to answer this question by interviewing college-educated men and women who had married partners from different class backgrounds, for my book The Power of the Past: Understanding Cross-Class Marriages. Not surprisingly, their relationships had little in common with the romances we see in the movies.Class had shaped each spouse so much that the people I interviewed had more in common with strangers.
On Monday, Americans watched televised images of riots and looting in Baltimore, Maryland, where days of peaceful protests sparked by the killing of Freddie Gray gave way to mayhem in at least several locations. As CNN broadcast scenes of young people looting a CVS pharmacy and police cars burning in the streets, its commentators, including anchor Wolf Blitzer, criticized Baltimore officials for allowing such flagrant lawlessness to transpire. "I keep asking where are the police," he said. "They seem to be invisible." In fact, law enforcement had come under attack by high school students throwing cinder blocks, dispersed that crowd, and had officers massed at several spots, just not the particular corner where the news helicopter trained its cameras. The anchor treated truths not captured on CNN's video feeds as if they didn't exist. Americans should avoid that sort of myopia.
“As a basic principle, we can’t tell you to stop recording,” says Delroy Burton, chairman of D.C.’s metropolitan police union and a 21-year veteran on the force. “If you’re standing across the street videotaping, and I’m in a public place, carrying out my public functions, [then] I’m subject to recording, and there’s nothing legally the police officer can do to stop you from recording.”
“What you don’t have a right to do is interfere,” he says. “Record from a distance, stay out of the scene, and the officer doesn’t have the right to come over and take your camera, confiscate it.”
Officers do have a right to tell you to stop interfering with their work, Burton told me, but they still aren’t allowed to destroy film.
Does Adam Sandler have an expiration date? Does his particular brand of slapstick—humor that's infused with a wan self-deprecation, that manages to be simultaneously silly and sociopathic, that once found Sandler punching Bob Barker in the face while informing him that "the price is wrong, bitch"—hold up? Is Sandler's own price now, finally, wrong?
Recent events would suggest yes. Late last week, in the course of filming Sandler's newest project, the made-for-Netflix Western spoof The Ridiculous 6, a Native-American cultural advisor and several performers and extras walked off the set in protest. (Sample characters: Beaver Breath, No Bra, Sits-on-Face. Sample line: "Say honey: how about after this, we go someplace and I put my peepee in your teepee?") As Allison Young, a Navajo actress who quit after being asked to do a scene "requiring her to fall down drunk, surrounded by jeering white men who rouse her by dousing her with more alcohol" told the Indian Country Media Network, “We talked to the producers about our concerns. They just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.’”
Police say that intentionally banging a suspect around in the back of a van isn't common practice. But the range of slang terms to describe the practice suggests it's more common that anyone would hope—and a roster of cases show that Freddie Gray is hardly the first person whose serious injuries allegedly occurred while in police transit. Citizens have accused police of using aggressive driving to rough suspects up for decades in jurisdictions across the country. Though experts don't think it's a widespread practice, rough rides have injured many people, frayed relationships, and cost taxpayers, including Baltimore's, millions of dollars in damages.
In a recent dispatch from Ferguson, Missouri, Jelani Cobb noted that President Obama's responses to "unpunished racial injustices" constitute "a genre unto themselves." Monday night, when Barack Obama stood before the nation to interpret the non-indictment of Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, he offered a particularly tame specimen. The elements of "the genre" were all on display—an unmitigated optimism, an urge for calm, a fantastic faith in American institutions, aneven-handedness exercised to a fault. But if all the limbs of the construct were accounted for, the soul of the thing was not.
There was none of the spontaneous annoyance at the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, and little of the sheer pain exhibited in the line, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." The deft hand Obama employed in explaining to Americans why the acquittal of George Zimmerman so rankled had gone arthritic. This was a perfunctory execution of "the genre," offered with all the energy of a man ticking items off a to-do list.
Atheism is intellectually fashionable. In the past month, The New York Times has run severalstories about lack of faith in its series on religion. The New Yorker ran an article on the history of non-belief in reaction to twonew books on the subject that were released within a week of each other in February. The veteran writer, Adam Gopnik, concludes this:
What the noes, whatever their numbers, really have now … is a monopoly on legitimate forms of knowledge about the natural world. They have this monopoly for the same reason that computer manufacturers have an edge over crystal-ball makers: The advantages of having an actual explanation of things and processes are self-evident.
This is a perfect summary of the intellectual claim of those who set out to prove that God is dead and religion is false: Atheists have legitimate knowledge, and those who believe do not. This is the epistemological assumption looming in the so-called “culture war” between the caricatures of godless liberals and Bible-thumping conservatives in America: One group wields rational argumentation and intellectual history as an indictment of God, while the other looks to tradition and text as defenses against modernity’s encroachment on religious life.