Almost a year now, on June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Florida, 49 people lost their lives and another 53 were injured inside Pulse nightclub. The shooter chose this nightclub because it was a gay establishment. Some media sources framed this event as a terrorist attack or even a hate crime because Omar Mateen, who swore an allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), targeted a gay nightclub. If this is true. I would agree that this was a hate crime. Any type or form of injustice makes me angry, hetero or homosexual orientation does not make a difference. This carnage of innocent people for no reason other than their sexual preference is malicious.
As I reflected and watched the news with the rest of the world concerning the victims in Orlando, their family and friends, NBC News called this massacre “The Deadliest Mass Shooting in U.S. History!” Wait, the deadliest in U.S. history?! Hold up, does NBC own a history book or even access to the internet? The verbosity of the term mass shooting, have historical ties with synonyms such as mass killing, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide” in 1943 by combining two Latin terms genos (race/people) and cide (to kill) to explain the Armenian Massacre executed by the Republic of Turkey in 1915 (Shaw, 2007).
After re-reading the NBC tickertape about the Orlando shooting, my mind began to comb through the Rolodex of American history that I learned beyond the public school system—a history of violence, genocide before it was coined a term in 1943, broken treaties, ethnocide, and misrecognition. How could a populare news outlet as NBC, and many others, make such a statement like this? Did they do their homework? What were their sources? What constitutes a mass shooting? In 2013, Congress legally defined a mass shooting or mass killing as, “3 or more killings in a single incident,” (www.gpo.gov). Side note and quick question: If a drone kills three or more terrorists or civilians in one strike in Afghanistan, is that a mass shooting? Aboriginals of the Americas and enslaved Africans have been victims of mass shootings since the first ships ran aground in the “new world.” Since typically, red, brown, and black people’s history start in 1492 (sarcasm), how can one publicly assume that there has not been another mass shooting, involving guns and unarmed people, in over 500 years? I beg to differ.
Here is my rebuttal to the statement promoted by NBC news: I will mention a few mass shootings in American history starting with the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre where Mormon militiamen dressed as Native Americans in cahoots with the Native Paiutes murdered 120 men, women, and children passing through the theodemocracy Utah territory. In 1921, the Tulsa Race Riots, escalated to over 50 black people killed (other sources estimate more) by whites in the neighboring community and reducing an entire city totaling over 36 square blocks to embers. The Elaine Race Riot, in 1919, left over 200 black people shot and killed in the streets of Arkansas simply because the black sharecroppers wanted to unionize. Labor unions is the American way, what is more American than establishing a labor union.
The ignoring of these mass shootings from the public view and media outlets was done intentionally because of what Harris (1993) calls Whiteness as Property. Since these massacres happened to people of color, they are not considered “intellectual or historical property” (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1997) like the Sandy Hook Massacre or the Oklahoma City Bombing. Harris defines Whiteness as Property as, “the legal legitimation of expectations of power and control that enshrine the status quo as a neutral baseline, while masking the maintenance of white privilege and domination,” (p. 1715). In other words, power and control creates a norm backed by the legal system to maintain privileges for whites e.g. Plessy v. Ferguson and 13th Amendment. A few of the tenets Whiteness as Property under the subsection The Property Functions of Whiteness are a) Rights to Disposition, b) Right to use and enjoyment, and the c) The absolute right to exclude (Harris, 1995). When NBC and other news media outlets deemed, the Orlando shooting as the deadliest in U.S. History, they excluded the historical massacres and shootings spanning over five millennia against non-white bodies. The media conglomerates possess “the absolute right to exclude” because they are owned by whites and viewed by a majority white audience who do not value non-Eurocentric histories.
These terroristic filled, hateful, race inspired mass shootings mentioned in the previous paragraph are just the tip of the iceberg concerning the Americas. However, the mass shooting that is not often depicted in U.S. history is when the U.S. government shot and killed over 300 unarmed Sioux at Wounded Knee in 1890, including 200 women and children. What makes Wounded Knee unique is that this massacre was an attempt to destroy an already oppressed people confined to reservations and living off unsustainable rations. Majority of their land was taken from the native people and, “measles and smallpox decimated their communities,” (Bonvillain, 2006, p. 38). What the U.S. government was hoping would be that the native population would go away quietly, without a resistance of any sort but what was created is a revitalization movement that sought to bring positive change through the unity of all native tribes. This movement was an adaptation to a great loss of life, land, and identity. This revitalization movement would manifest not through the bloodthirsty, ravenous violence that the natives received but rather through a dance; a Ghost Dance.
Counter-Story of Wounded Knee
I felt an obligation to research and write about this event. Because Wounded Knee is often over looked, I will write a counter-story to attempt to keep this and other stories current alongside other hate crimes. According to Delgado and Stefancic (2012), the aims of a counter-story is to “cast doubt on the validity of accepted premises or myths, especially ones held by the majority,” (p. 159). Here is the counter-story, a historical account. Wodziwob of the Paiute tribe, had a vision in 1869 that if this dance, Ghost Dance, was performed at night in a circle that the, “Native Americans, plants, and animals would come back to life,” (Miller, 2008, p. 244). Wodziwob died in 1872, three years after receiving the vision. The Paiute prophet Wovoka had a similar vision during a solar eclipse and adopted the Ghost Dance in 1890. Even though Wovoka taught the necessity of peace, morality, and harmony his message was distorted by frightened settlers. The newspapers called Wovoka a “messiah craze” (Miller, 2008). This objectification created reasons to outlaw the dance and, “[u]ltimately, the government took action against the Sioux, killing Chief Sitting Bull and Chief Big Foot and about 300 Sioux,” (Miller, 2008, p. 244).
According to Europeans, the word “Indian” was equal to a gentile (unclean), a savage, and the Indians were influenced by the devil (Fanon 1986, Goldhagen 2011). So, the genocide of non-whites is not considered a mass shooting because they are not fully human (Goldhagen 2011, Smith 1999, Rodriguez 2014) e.g. 3/5th Compromise of 1787. Instead, the U.S. Army awarded twenty Medals of Honor to the perpetrators. This particular medal is awarded for personal acts of valor (such as bravery and courage) above and beyond the call of duty. I am sure that many of these soldiers were zealots for Christendom, and because of this, their acts of valor were deemed necessary and part of their moral obligation for the promotion of Manifest Destiny. What was honorable for the U.S. government but dishonorable to the Indians in this massacre is summed up by the famous words of General Philip Sheridan, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Some argue that General Sheridan even said this but the irony is he was promoted to subdue (kill) Indians in the plains in 1867 and in the process he acquired an Indian mistress named Sidnayoh during his tour even though he was married with four children.