Sure, there are reasons to have a cynical Thanksgiving in 2021 — the second in a pandemic, with America’s divisions growing more bitter — but there’s still a lot to give thanks for. Personally, I’m grateful for my health after the last two years — not always a given — and that I’ve been lucky to see the pandemic spare my family and close friends. Also, for the Philadelphia Union and Jakob Glesnes. What about you?
Did someone forward you this email? Sign up to receive this newsletter weekly at inquirer.com/bunch, because here the turkeys definitely will not be getting a pardon.
Wisconsin mass killer is linked to domestic violence, a numbingly familiar story
When the news broke on Sunday that the joy of an annual Christmas parade in the Wisconsin suburb of Waukesha had been broken by a speeding red SUV that rammed through police barricades and plowed into marchers, causing mayhem and death, social media sleuths were quick to point toward the usual suspects.
On the right, tweeters hastily posted that the Waukesha nightmare — which killed five people and injured dozens more — was clearly an act of “terrorism,” which in that world is often the coded term for Muslims. On the left, some wondered if this somehow tied into their growing fears that the conservative movement increasingly supports political violence.
But when the dust settled, the real cause of America’s latest mass-murder tragedy had absolutely nothing to do with politics, religion, or extreme ideology. Instead, the underlying factors were numbingly familiar: Rage rooted in violence against women.
Police said Monday that the driver of the SUV, 39-year-old Darrell Brooks, was fleeing the scene of a domestic disturbance when he took off at high speed, and added that Brooks had a history of this type of violence. Earlier this month, officials said, Brooks had been arrested for attempting to run over the mother of his child in a parking lot with his 2010 Ford Escape — yet he’d been released on just $1,000 bail, a figure that the Milwaukee district attorney’s office now says was too low.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about what happened in Waukesha, including whether Brooks, who struck a well-known group called the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies as well as a large number of small children, and a Catholic priest, had intended to enter the parade route and mow down pedestrians. But we do know this: A disproportionately large number of mass murders in America start with violence against women.
The Texas man who was kicked out of the Air Force for kicking, punching, and choking his first wife, and who would later gun down 26 people at a rural Sunday church service in 2017. Or the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooter in Orlando, who also allegedly beat up and strangled his wife before his mass murder of 49 people.
A 2020 investigation by Bloomberg News looked at five years of mass shootings with four or more casualties and made a stunning find — that roughly 60% of them involved an attacker who either had a prior history of domestic violence, or specifically targeted women in his assault, or both. What’s more, the report found that the cases involving shooters with a link to domestic violence were more deadly than those that were not.
Of course, individual cases of domestic violence are also swelling in tandem with the 2020s’ rising homicide rates, both across the nation and here in Philadelphia. Of the six people murdered this weekend in the so-called City of Brotherly Love, one was a 24-year-old woman gunned down as she walked on a West Philly street with her twin sons, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend, and another was a 32-year-old woman, seven months pregnant, shot dead returning from her baby shower.
That second murder — of Jessica Covington, as she was unloading the shower gifts from her car — was so shocking that City Hall offered a $50,000 reward, or $30,000 more than is typical. But our shock over individual headlines only highlights that fact that American society too often reacts to the systemic problem that critics have branded as “toxic masculinity” with a kind of “whatever” emoji.
In Washington, D.C, Congress allowed the landmark Violence Against Women Act to expire in 2018 and — although money has been found elsewhere for some of its programs — has dragged its feet for three years now on reauthorizing it. One big obstacle has been the National Rifle Association, or NRA, which has enormous sway with the Republican Party. The NRA opposes plans to toughen the Violence against Women Act, including a new proposal to bar gun sales to those with a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence or stalking, and a push to expand gun prohibitions to abusive boyfriends, not just abusive husbands.
It’s hard to avoid noticing that the GOP’s reluctance on this key anti-violence bill comes at the same time that Republicans — particularly the party’s de facto leader, Donald Trump — have been promoting several 2022 Senate candidates dogged by allegations of violence or abuse toward women. Here in Pennsylvania, Trump-backed Senate hopeful Sean Parnell was forced to suspend his campaign on Monday after losing custody of his kids when his estranged wife testified he’d choked and verbally abused her, and had hit their children. But in Georgia, football legend Herschel Walker, accused of once pointing a gun at the head of his ex-wife, continues to have the backing of the Republican establishment in his Senate bid.
It’s hard to imagine U.S. society acting so cavalierly towards other forms of terrorism — the kinds that aren’t linked to a deeply entrenched patriarchy. In response to the Islamic extremism tied to the 9/11 attacks, we see regular, bipartisan re-authorization of the USA Patriot Act and trillions of dollars in funding for programs like airport security. Yet the growing evidence of a link between domestic violence and America’s crises over mass shootings and rising homicide rates draw a collective shrug that allows us to look other way as alleged abusers stand on the brink of election to the same U.S. Senate that dithers on the Violence Against Women Act — and sparks no initial outcry when a man who just tried to run over a woman with his SUV is freed on $1,000 bail.
Maybe the unspeakable carnage caused on Sunday by Darrell Brooks — the sight of twisted kids’ strollers in the streets while traumatized witnesses tell of watching grandmothers and toddlers mowed down by a speeding madman — will inspire more people to make this connection. Maybe if we renamed the Violence Against Women Act as the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies Act, the Senate would finally do something. Maybe Americans will begin to see that violence against women isn’t background noise, but the most insidious form of terrorism.
Yo, do this
It’s been a lousy year for ... most things, frankly, and yet somehow it’s been the greatest year of all-time for rock music documentaries, especially for those of you (and by “you” I mean “me”) obsessed with the late 1960s and early ‘70s. I’ve enjoyed The Velvet Underground, 1971, and of course Questlove’s Oscar-worthy Summer of Soul, using film wasting idle in a vault for 50 years. In a different vault, it turns out, was sitting hours of priceless 1969 footage of the Beatles recording their swan song album, Let It Be. Now, A-list director Peter Jackson has turned this into a seven-hour extravaganza, The Beatles: Get Back, that streams on Disney+ Thanksgiving and the two following nights. Don’t miss the music nostalgia event of the year.
It has also been a lousy year for ... Philly sports, with the exception of a) Bryce Harper and b) the Philadelphia Union, who’ve fielded one of Major League Soccer’s elite teams for the last two seasons, thanks to a mix of homegrown talent, international bargains, and the coaching genius of Jim Curtin. Last weekend brought the biggest win in the team’s 12-season history with a last-second 1-0 playoff win over rival New York Red Bulls on an epic, long-distance strike by Jakob Glesnes. That sets up a huge home playoff game in Chester on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. against either Nashville or Orlando. It’s not too late to hop on the bandwagon for the most exciting team in town.
Ask me anything
Question: Will Trump ever be indicted for anything? — Via Stacey Graves (@StaceyGraves240) on Twitter
Answer: That’s a good question, Stacey, and I’m not going to pretend I know that answer. Every day brings shocking new disclosures, such as Monday’s report about the 30-fold discrepancy in what Trump said some of his properties were worth when applying for loans versus when the tax assessor showed up. But the two places delving deepest into Trump — the New York grand jury looking at the finances of the Trump Organization and the U.S. Justice Department probe of January 6 — have dragged their feet for months. If anyone charges the 45th president with a crime, it could be authorities in Fulton County, Georgia, investigating 2020 election tampering, a move that Team Trump would surely dismiss as revenge from a heavily Democratic jurisdiction. Is it really true what Richard Nixon said — that when the president does it, that means it is not illegal? The next year or so is about to reveal the answer.
Here’s a quick follow-up on last week’s main item — and a couple of reasons to feel good about your fellow Americans going into Thanksgiving Day. Perhaps you remember the alarming comments by two Republican commissioners in rural Fulton County in south-central Pennsylvania who denied a $3,000 additional-funding request from the county library because it had offered a meeting place to an LBGTQ support org they dubbed “a hate group.” That prompted two local activists to ask for donations, which had netted more than $9,000 on Facebook and an additional $14,000 on GoFundMe. But since last week’s newsletter, the GoFundMe drive launched by former county resident Emily Best has netted an additional $14,000, for a total of $28,100. That’s money the library can spend on internet hot spots, new e-books, or computer terminals to help connect an isolated community to a world of ideas.
But it’s also just part of a bigger story — everyday Americans desperate to open their hearts, and their wallets, to show that the hate that seems to dominate our nightly news can be beaten back. This happened in a much bigger way in Philadelphia, after a shocking story about a subway attack on an Asian-American girl who was brutally beaten while trying to defend several Central High School classmates from other kids who were bullying them. News stories and a viral video of the attacks that sent 18-year-old Christina to the hospital triggered a GoFundMe drive — “Support Christina in Advocating for Public Safety — that has already raised a whopping $700,000. It’s good news that so many folks are so eager to make a statement against hate, and yet it’s also a measure of frustration that our institutions seem powerless to promote justice and tolerance. Hopefully, people’s belief in a common good won’t stop at charity, but transcend it.
Inquirer reading list
Thanksgiving came early as I filed just one column last week — sounding the alarm about the growing evidence from sagging poll numbers and from gerrymandering schemes around the country that 2022 could be a disastrous midterm election for the Democratic Party. Those losses would fit the historical pattern, but what is ahistorical is the increasingly antidemocratic and anti-governing bent of the opposition Republicans. It’s not too early to begin warning voters that a GOP Congress will impeach President Biden (the cause is irrelevant), end accountability for January 6, and fail to address actual problems.
There were some scattered protests after the late 2020 shooting by Pennsylvania state troopers of a 19-year Chinese-American youth named Christian Hall in the upstate community of Stroudsburg, before the story predictably faded from the news. But Spotlight PA, a joint venture of The Inquirer and other local news orgs created to combat the decline in state news coverage, didn’t forget about Hall. Last week, the unit joined forces with NBC News to reveal that footage of Hall’s shooting had been blurred, and that the teen — who possessed a realistic looking pellet gun — had his hands in the air for 14 seconds before troopers killed him. It was a reminder that local news coverage holds the powerful to account when no one else will. You support this when you subscribe to The Inquirer.