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Opinion: Two weeks, two mass shootings — back to normal for America

Mourners stand near the fence outside the supermarket in Boulder, Colo., where 10 people were killed in a mass shooing
Mourners stand near the fence outside the supermarket in Boulder, Colo., where 10 people were killed in a mass shooing days earlier, on March 26.
(Associated Press)

Welcome to the first Opinion newsletter of spring (though, and I’m sorry to say this, if the warming season provides a reason to hope, the circumstances certainly do not). I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, March 27, 2021. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Last week, it was Atlanta. Or was it Sandy Hook? Or Charleston? Or El Paso? Pittsburgh? Thousand Oaks? Parkland? Las Vegas? No, it was Boulder.

Scratch that — Boulder was this week, Atlanta was six days before that. Keeping track of things you have in abundance can be tricky, and we have an abundance of mass shootings in this country.

It’s hard to think of any other place in the developed world in which you can play a morbid game of mass shooting bingo, but perhaps that’s one more thing that makes America exceptional. This week, it was 10 people gunned down in a supermarket in Boulder, Colo.; the previous week, eight people in Georgia were killed — six of them Asian women — in a massacre that marked a horrifying escalation in the racist violence inflicted on Asian Americans throughout the pandemic. Some of the circumstances may be peculiar to this or that shooting, but most massacres bear striking similarities. Racism, hate, the easy availability of guns, a cultural disposition to violence — all these long-running American afflictions are brought to bear on us in mass shootings.

By now, the outcry over these shootings also has a familiar ring. In the introduction to today’s letters to the editor, I wrote perhaps the grimmest observation I’ve had about our readers’ reactions: “Here’s a sad experiment for you: Read the letters below, find any references to Boulder or Colorado, and replace them with Aurora, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, El Paso, Parkland or the locations of any number of mass shootings over the years. Then consider whether the opinions seem familiar, whether they could have been published any number of times over the last couple of decades. You might have to substitute body counts or the personal information and circumstances of the suspects and the victims.”

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Does this mean we are finally returning to normal? That may seem crass, but in this pandemic Americans have done less of a lot of things, and shooting up public places is no exception. Jillian Peterson and James Densley have been studying mass shootings since 2017, and in their piece may be one of the most horrid matter-of-fact, expert conjectures I’ve ever seen on an op-ed page: “A key factor in why there were no mass shootings that met our definition for about a year, between March 2020 and March 2021, was the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the settings where mass shootings typically occur — workplaces, schools, churches, shopping centers — had either shut down or sharply reduced their capacity.” L.A. Times

This wasn’t the first time Echo Park saw mass displacement. When it comes to neighborhoods and class in Los Angeles, there’s always a long, sordid history. Over two nights, police and protesters clashed as the city cleared out the encampment of unhoused residents living near Echo Park Lake, echoing that area’s long history of pushing out certain Angelenos at the behest of wealthier, whiter residents. “It’s hard to ignore the fact that an impending clearing feels less like a path to permanent housing than a prologue to pushing Echo Park’s homeless population out of sight and out of mind to some other neighborhood, pandemic be damned,” writes Matthew Fleischer. L.A. Times

The city handled Echo Park Lake’s closure in the worst way possible. For starters, the timing was a surprise, and even though the city has a right to maintain public parkland, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell should have clearly communicated their plans well in advance, says The Times Editorial Board. Furthermore, the arrests of multiple journalists covering the protests and relocations show that the LAPD might not have learned its lessons in the wake of a scathing report on tits response to last summer’s racial justice demonstrations, the board says.

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If the city doesn’t want people living in parks, it needs to provide housing. It did that with some success in Echo Park before the park enclosure, but just before the sweep this week a few dozen homeless residents remained. “This entire situation is a grim reminder that homelessness is an extraordinarily complicated issue,” says the editorial board. “The need for permanent housing and for counseling is desperate in this city and county. And if Los Angeles doesn’t get a grip on it soon, other people will find more spots in the city’s grassy parks.” L.A. Times

This is the real reason Gov. Gavin Newsom is the target of a recall: In California, Republicans cannot win in a normal, statewide general election, says former Gray Davis advisor Garry South. “So when you hear recall proponents yap about Newsom’s handling of the pandemic, or homelessness, or the unemployment compensation snafu, it isn’t really about any of that,” he writes. “It’s purely and simply a blatant partisan maneuver by desperate Republicans. They’ve demonstrated they can’t get to the governor’s office through the front door, so they’re trying to force their way in through the back door again. L.A. Times

And finally, I will be off work next week, so you will not be receiving a newsletter next Saturday. I’ll be back in your inbox on April 10, so until then, stay well.

Stay in touch.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re the kind of reader who’d benefit from subscribing to our other newsletters and to the Times.

As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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