Why the Lewiston, Maine mass shooter escaped the state’s “yellow flag” laws, meant to keep weapons of death and destruction out of hands like his, is a question in search of answers. Eighteen people were murdered and thirteen more injured: the price for ignoring threats made by the shooter himself and numerous warnings from family members. 

The answer as to why gun violence and mass casualties are acceptable conditions of life in the U.S., perhaps, lies in a place few want to look: the intersection between the country’s tolerance of mob rule and the hypocrisy of its disdain for thug life.

The Tolerance

Most people in the U.S. know the double standard to which different groups of people are held accountable. A blind eye turned to the behaviors of some that are not tolerated when committed by others. It is a lesson that most Black parents teach their children, particularly males, during their youth. The reason for doing so is entrenched in the country’s history and culture. The result is that many in the dominant culture have grown accustomed to defending rights and privileges others do not have. The freedom to stray from laws and rules that others have to obey is expected by some. The Lewiston mass shooting serves as a reminder of separate and unequal expectations, regard, and applications of the law. 

To state it bluntly, in this case, mass murder and gun violence are the price for double standards made acceptable by factions/mobs who have taken control of the country’s laws, governance, and many of its agencies. A double-edged sword, assuredly, as the Lewiston tragedy  exemplifies.  For when the dominant class ignores the behaviors of their own, while hawking self-protection from “evil others,” the normalization of more murder weapons in the hands of citizens than there are citizens also occurs. This unavoidably makes mass murder collateral damage secondary to profiteering.  

Mob rule – factions controlling governance and decision making – was a fear of James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution, and author of the Bill of Rights. Madison wrote about this pointedly in the Federalist Papers. Specifically, he worried that the role of government as the arbiter for the common good, essential to democracy, could fall victim to the conspiracies of those seeking to use governance to advantage themselves and their agenda, rather than serve the people.

“The Founders designed a government that would resist mob rule. They didn’t anticipate how strong the mob could become.” –Jeffrey Rosen, “America Is Living James Madison’s Nightmare,” The Atlantic, October 2018

Hence the Perfect Storm

As it turns out, Madison was right to worry about mob rule. He believed that because of its frailty, human character had great potential to succumb to impassioned beliefs, especially if falsely based, which would drive decisions over rational thinking. It’s a reality currently coming to pass.  

His worry had two huge blind spots, however. One he could not foresee: the internet and its use of social media to promulgate messages and coalesce factions around an agenda or cause. The other he ignored or discounted: societal xenophobia, the irrational fear of the evil other used to provoke and galvanize factions in support of political and socio-economic agendas. 

Photo by Wassim Chouak on Unsplash

Which Leads to the Hypocrisy

Tupac Shakur, who gets my vote as the greatest rapper of all time, could well be characterized as James Dean for Black people, though in reality, he was so much more. Tupac’s ingenious framing of Thug Life the album and the brand capitalized upon a popular culture enthralled with bad boys who made criminal behavior acceptable. The hypocrisy and dualistic pathways to living a good and decent life inspired Tupac’s “spittin’ facts” that sounded like celebrations of criminality to some. However, in actuality, his anthems documented the attitude and energy needed to raise oneself from nothing to something. Rebels with a cause – the flip side of James Dean’s wealth-enabled iconic Rebel Without A Cause.

“Damned if I don’t, and damned if a nigga do
So watch a young mothafucka pull a trigga just to raise up!
But don’t let them see you cry, dry your eyes
Young nigga, time to do or die”
(“Str8 Ballin,” Thug Life, Tupac Shakur 1994)

Like Dean, Tupac’s Thug Life anthems championed those disillusioned and disenfranchised by the dominant class. And, both are no different than the populist messengers Madison described in the Federalist Papers as being too rational and responsible to choose treachery and tyranny over the common good. 

Tupac’s perspective was exactly the opposite. He saw the results of tyranny and treachery in the lives of his audience and followers. For Tupac, however, reclaiming the evil other tropes used by the dominant class to rally their factions, raise money, and build wealth by inciting patriots to arm themselves was the only recourse. 

Tupac had to know, don’t you think, that the words THUG LIFE tattooed across his chest had deep roots in U.S. folklore and history. His rap beats spat facts into the face of the tormentors and oppressors by calling out the hypocrisy of the images the country loves to hate. His brazen challenge is that if you can glamorize those who are rebellious and lawless and white, let me tell those who you plow asunder that they need not count on you and your rules.

Let me tell the evil others who are demonized, the people at the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder destined to live their lives on the margins because of generational skill deficits, unstable home lives, gaps in work records, food/nutritional insecurity, short life expectancy, overcrowded and substandard housing, crime-prone communities and poverty, to rise by using your playbook — by any means necessary!

Photo by Steve Smith on Unsplash

Al Fin

Thug Life and mob rule are two sides of the same coin. Both follow a populist playbook. The difference is that thug life exists because of, and ultimately under the control of, a white supremacist dominant culture. A culture that uses skin color, ethnicity, and religion as determinants of pathways and privilege. Mob rule uses democracy’s institutions to garner and sustain power and wealth. The interests of a few within a dominant culture, whose rise came as a result of tyranny and treachery, are served regardless of the majority view or impact on others. 

Differential treatment of citizens according to their skin color stems from mob rule and prospers even today. Making one wonder, if the Lewiston mass murderer had been Black or Hispanic, would eighteen people still be alive and thirteen individuals unscathed by bullets intending to cause them the same fate. Or, more fitting, in a nation where the common good the shining city on the hill’s most visible beacon, would by any means necessary ever be necessary?

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