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Finding The Smoking Gun
EAMONN McCANN reports that the journalist/broadcaster MICHAEL MOORE has the real story about America s latest gun horror.
Eamonn McCann, 16 Mar 2000
The killing by gunshot of a six-year-old girl by a boy the same age in a school in Michigan last month sparked a predictable flow of moralistic think-pieces pondering the influence of TV and the death of childhood innocence.
In US presidential primary debates, Gore, Bradley, Bush and McCain arranged their faces into the requisite expressions of compassionate concern and agreed that bad parenting was at the heart of the problem. Only Bush had a practical suggestion to make: that parents who carelessly leave guns lying around which are then used by minors in the commission of felonies should be held legally responsible for the crimes.
The suggestion won him a warm round of applause at a Los Angeles forum broadcast live on CNN. His two Republican rivals, McCain and Keyes, looked crestfallen that they hadn t thought of this wheeze first.
The journalist and broadcaster Michael Moore had a different take on the tragedy, which seems to me to say more about America than all the coverage of the presidential election so far, and probably all that s to come.
Moore is the maverick commentator best-known as writer-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Roger & Me, an account of his pursuit of the Chief Executive of General Motors for an explanation of mass sackings at GM s Flint, Michigan plant. He presents the patchily brilliant The Awful Truth series, carried this side of the pond on Channel 4. He's mother-hen to Crackers, the Corporate Crime Fighting Chicken.
Moore grew up in Flint. In an e-mail from his office in New York, he writes:
I thought there was nothing else left for Flint to go through. Like Job, it seemed that every imaginable sorrow had been visited upon its people. I guess I was wrong.
I look up at the TV and a helicopter is hovering over a school while the words Buell Elementary flash on the screen.
A six-year old boy brought a semi-automatic gun to the school and killed a six-year old girl in their first grade classroom. Six years old. A little girl whose name was Kayla Rolland.
That's about the only thing the national media got right. Twenty satellite trucks ring the school, but with all that technology, they cannot find the way to bring you the truth. Of course, they have been spun and snookered by the local officials who try to hide from the responsibility they share in Flint's destruction any time a tragedy like this happens.
Buell Elementary is in the Flint Beecher school district, the poorest school district in Genesee County, Michigan, and perhaps the poorest in the entire state. Eighty-two percent of its children, according to the federal government, live below the official poverty level (meaning the number of kids in total poverty is even higher).
Beecher is Flint's dump. It is where you go when you have nothing left to your name. 60% black, 40% white. No municipality in Genesee County wants to govern Beecher, so it exists as a No Man's Land on the northern city limits of Flint. It covers a small portion of two different townships, one of which is where my wife Kathleen is from.
But folks, when you hear the word township used in the case of Beecher, those of us from Flint mean it in the way the word was used in South Africa. Buell Elementary in the Flint Beecher school district has a Flint address and a Flint phone number, but the black officials from Flint on the news yesterday tried to point out that this school really isn't in Flint!
It is amazing how deep oppression takes its roots when even black leaders find themselves in bed with General Motors and, like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, repeatedly deny that people of their own race have anything to do with them.
Poor, poor Flint. The media blowhards babble on about how this is the youngest child to kill another child in a school shooting and the few anchors who started to look at their own helicopter shots showing the school sitting in the middle of a bombed-out neighbourhood commented that this is actually the first of all these school shootings we've had lately that has taken place in an 'urban' school .
Wow. Two records for Flint in one day . . .
When I was a senior in high school, the assistant principal of Beecher High the first black man in the area to hold such a position became despondent over his inability to quell the racial disturbances in the school, so one night he went home, wrote a heartfelt letter to the kids in the district, then put a gun in his mouth and blew his brains out. As my friend, Jeff Gibbs, who went to Beecher, told me last night, it's sad that the only two times that Beecher receives the attention of the nation is because of a gun.
I heard from relatives last night that the family of the little boy who killed the girl had been evicted from their home just last week. Evicted, I wonder, by Deputy Fred, who 10 years after Roger & Me, still spends his day at the behest of Flint's landlords?
Homeless and fatherless (his dad is in jail, as 30% of all black men in America will be at some point in their lives), the boy was staying at his uncle's. In the house were guns, as there are in virtually every home in this devastated and desperate area. The gun, that the boy found and took to school, was not some junk gun of the kind that Al Gore promises to get rid of. It was a gun with a brand name bought initially at a sporting goods store (I wonder, were the bullets bought at K-Mart, as they were at Columbine?) . . .
How do Mr. McCain and Mr. Bush feel this morning? Just seven days prior, John McCain's Straight Talk Express bus rolled past Beecher on I-75, but it didn't stop. It rolled on down near Ann Arbor where McCain blasted those who seek gun control, saying that he opposes ANY ban on ANY assault weapon, and opposes ANY waiting period for a background check when one purchases a gun. Mr. Bush never stopped in Flint either.
I guess we all feel sorta proud that they both avoid us like the plague. There is not and has not for nearly thirty years been a single Republican state or federal representative elected from Flint. Another reason, I suppose, for our neglect and punishment. But we're proud of how we've made it almost a crime to support a Republican in Flint, proud of the fact we elected the country's first black mayor in the 60s, proud that we voted for Jesse Jackson 9 to 1 over Michael Dukakis in 1988 (and 4 to 1 for Jesse in Flint's all-white suburbs).
So I guess the gun crazy presidential candidates made the right decision to take their hate-filled campaigns elsewhere . . .
I'll end by repeating what I have said many times before the handguns have to go. 16,000 gun murders last year in the US and 15,500 were killed by someone they knew (husband, boyfriend, neighbor) or by someone at work . . .
What are we waiting for? Another Kayla Rolland? God help you if you ever have to live in a township that no town will claim and is forgotten by everyone else as soon as the next gun nut enters a McDonald's and a Burger King on the same day. Fried or flame-broiled, it's all our own unique American Hell".
The first issue of the new political review, Fourthwrite, carries an interview with Brendan Hughes, former Belfast IRA leader and OC of republican prisoners in Long Kesh through much of the Blanket Protest from 1976 to 1981. As I read it, the TV in the corner was carrying news of the helicopter rescue of a family, including a new-born child, from a flimsy treehouse feet above the rising floodwaters of Mozambique.
Hughes recounts: "When I came out from jail in 1986 having spent more than twelve years there, I found work on a building site on the Falls Road. Some of the people I thought I was fighting for were now seeking to exploit me. I recalled my father telling me stories about earlier campaigns when republicans such as Billy McKee came out from jail and were employed by Eastwoods for peanuts. And there I was decades later digging holes for the same peanuts . . .
"I recall going to the Republican Movement and asking that it highlight the exploitative cowboy builders on the Falls Road who were squeezing the republican poor for profit. The movement censored me and refused to allow me to speak . . ."
Some of us can recall efforts in the 1980s by the former IDATU union to organise the pubs and clubs along the Falls, where workers were also being paid in peanuts, and that it wasn't right-wing employers who roughly warned the union off, but prominent members of Sinn Fein, some of whom can be heard now, day and daily, elaborating their "Republican Labour agenda" as they pitch for inner-city votes.
I was reading exactly the passage quoted above when I caught a phrase from Jon Snow on Channel 4 News . . . "lost a leg fighting with Frelimo" . . . and looked up.
He was speaking of Benet Josia Mundine, father of Rositho, husband of Sophia, the baby and mother for whom the world choked with emotion as they were winched to safety into a South African helicopter, umbilical cord uncut.
Josia had been a soldier in Frelimo the "Front for the LIberation of Mozambique" which had come to power in a flurry of left-wing rhetoric following the defeat and departure of Portuguese forces in 1974, (the year Brendan Hughes went to prison, no doubt buoyed up, as were so many, by the seeming success of anti-imperialist struggle elsewhere).
After liberation, Josia had fought against the right-wing army, Renamo, which had been financed and armed by the CIA and the apartheid regime in South Africa, in an effort to drive out the Frelimo government.
Renamo specialised in hacking off ears, noses, arms and legs, believing this would spread terror more efficiently than killing.
However, Josia, according to one report, had had his leg blown off in 1991 by one of the hundreds of thousands of landmines scattered by Renamo across the countryside. Invalided out of Frelimo, he returned to his home district of Chibuto, and married Sophia. They have two other children, Celia, five, and Benet, three.
They owned six cattle and a number of goats and farmed four acres. This the reward for having risked life and given limb for liberation. Now they have nothing.
Let the poor ally with the rich, they say, until freedom is won. Then class issues can be confronted.
Line up with Albert Reynolds until we are rid of the Brits, they say. Then we can talk of wages and unionisation.
Then, now, Beechmount, Chibuto, same as it ever was everywhere.
THE GORY TRUTH
We live, so far, and we learn.
Bernard Kennedy writes from Dublin in response to my rumination last issue on the possibility of Al Gore being by some chance related to the obnoxious harridan and 1916 heroine Constance Gore-Booth ("Countess Markievicz").
"The answer is Yes.
"In the biography of Gore Vidal by Fred Kaplan, (page 626) he is assured by Finance Minister (Charles Haughey) that he can qualify for citizenship, because he is a cousin of Constance Gore Booth, Countess Markievicz. He noted the statue in Stephens Green as almost a replica of his (Gore's) mother.
"Gore Vidal is a cousin of Al Gore, Presidential Candidate. Ergo . . ."
Countess Markievicz is a cousin once removed to stylish stylist Vidal Sassoon, then?