David Robie: Florida airport shootings – few basic questions being raised

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Surveillance footage of the accused guman Esteban Santiago opening fire at Fort Lauderdale Airport in Florida last Friday. Video: TMZ website

ANALYSIS: By David Robie

Just having missed the shootings by a US veteran at Florida’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport last Friday by less than a couple of hours after returning from a Caribbean vacation, I have been following the aftermath with intense interest.

From the safety of Little Havana in Miami, I have monitored the Spanish and English-language press (almost 60 percent of the population are Hispanic speakers) and live local television reports on the Fort Lauderdale massacre.

What has struck me most is that several key issues have barely been covered in the media soul-searching, topmost being the bizarre gun culture itself.

A professor commenting on CNN about another issue – the fate of the so-called Obamacare “universal” health law after Donald Trump is inaugurated next week – compared the US culture unflatteringly with the European citizens’ sense of “commonwealth” described his countryfolk as “still cowboys”.

This sentiment was reflected in at least one letter in the press. Writing in a letter to the editor in the Los Angeles Times, Barbara Rosen noted with irony:

-Partners-

Once again, there’s carnage.

I travel the world to countries where people have no guns but have universal health coverage. How do I explain to them that in my country we let people have semiautomatic weapons but we take away their health coverage?

So proud.

Accused US veteran Esteban Santiago. Image: CNN/APN
Accused US veteran Esteban Santiago. Image: CNN/APN

Key issues
Key issues barely covered in US media reportage include:

·       What is it about the militarist culture that leads young soldiers to fundamentally question the morality of their actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere and drive them to carry our vengeful acts against their fellow citizens?

·       Why was there hardly any public social mourning for the airport victims (5 killed, several of them bound for holiday cruises at Port Everglades; 8 wounded)? Are Americans so used to these senseless killings that it has become something of a “norm”?

·       Is there a serious flaw in basic security design at US airports?

I’ll start with the last question first. Having just personally experienced massive airport security getting into the United States for a start (beginning with first seeking a visa waiver first a couple of months earlier, a tedious process that still lead to family fellow travellers missing the first connecting flight from Los Angeles because “Homeland Security” couldn’t find passport numbers in their system) just before Christmas, this is worth a closer look.

Orlando Sentinel reporting on the massacre aftermath; FBI special agent Marlin Ritzman speaking at a media conference. Image: David Robie
Orlando Sentinel reporting on the massacre aftermath; FBI special agent Marlin Ritzman speaking at a media conference. Image: David Robie

As another traveller noted in the LA Times: “What is striking, and unreported, is that this relatively small and contained crime scene (the shooter did not even try to move around or escape), located in the open public [baggage] area outside of the security area for the terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, morphed into an airport-wide shutdown because of a serious flaw in basic security checkpoint design.

Traveller Mike Post added that the exit lanes from the terminal gates that led to the baggage claim areas had no physical barriers and only limited unarmed security:

Terrified passengers fleeing the baggage area can simply turn around and run back through the exit corridor, ignoring all those ominous warnings, and in seconds destroy hours’ worth of security screening as they surge back into the gate area, rendering the entire terminal and airfield unsecure and at risk.

This type of event was foreseeable. Such a lack of foresight and imagination by our airport security professionals is inexcusable.

When we left Florida, after travelling four hours by bus to Orlando International Airport to start our homeward journey (we had connecting flights to Fort Dallas, Texas, and Los Angeles to Auckland with American Airlines — Qantas flag booking), two of our five suitcases for four people had their padlocks cut open by Homeland Security. A notice from Transport Security Administration was deposited inside the bags by the time we left LA for Auckland. It said:

To protect you and your fellow passengers, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is required by law to inspect all checked baggage. As part of this process, some bags are opened and physically inspected. Your bag was among those selected for physical inspection.

During the inspection, your bag and its contents may have been searched for prohibited items. At the completion of the inspection, the contents were returned to your bag.

If the TSA security officer was unable to open your bag for inspection because it was locked, the officer may have been forced to break the logs on your bag.

TSA ‘apology’
The TSA notice apologised for the action but said the agency was “not liable” for damage.

A US gun culture T-shirt. Image: David Robie
A US gun culture T-shirt. Image: David Robie

The lack of public mourning over the Fort Lauderdale deaths was quite extraordinary for us, having recently visited Nice’s Promenade des Anglais Rotunda where on public display is “the outpouring of community love” for the victims of Tunisian truck driver who went on a shooting rampage on Bastille Day last year.

USA Today reported that four days after the 26-year-old accused Alaska-based gunman Esteban Santiago – decorated for his combat service in Iraq — opened fire inside Fort Lauderdale Airport, no vigils or public memorials had been held for victims.

Previous mass shootings have stirred emotions from people in the communities in which the tragedies took place…

While people hurt in the shooting are being supported by their families and friends, there has been a lack of visible response from the general Broward County community.

In addition to a lack of memorials, no official GoFundMe accounts have been created. A single bouquet of pink flowers was left on a bench outside the baggage claim area of Terminal 2. Less than an hour later, it was gone.

And another. Image: David Robie
And another. Image: David Robie

‘Routine part of life’
The newspaper also quoted the head of the department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Dr Charles B. Nemeroff, saying US citizens had become “inert” to this sort of tragedy, “as if it is almost a routine part of life” in America.

Rarely did I see reports raising the basic issue about the US gun culture and how urgent it is to change the Second Amendment about the American citizens’ constitutional right to “bear arms”.

According to The Guardian, no other developed country in the world has “anywhere near the same rate of gun violence as the USA. The US has nearly six times the gun homicide rate of Canada, more than seven times that of Sweden, and nearly 16 times German’s rate, according to United Nations data compiled by The Guardian.

The gun deaths are also a major reason why the United States has a far higher suicide rate (including non-gun deaths) than other developed nations.

There are more than 310 million civilian guns in the United States, almost equivalent to one for every man, woman and child in the country with a population of 324 million.

Homicides by firearm globally. Graphic: The Guardian/Vox
Homicides by firearm globally. Graphic: The Guardian/Vox

Professor David Robie is editor of Asia Pacific Report. This article was first published on his Café Pacific blog.

Homeland Security official website

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