Fireworks displays in Oak Park, Forest Park and a litany of other Chicago suburbs were canceled after a gunman opened fire on people during a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Monday afternoon, killing at least six, injuring at least 30 and traumatizing millions.
Hundreds of thousands watched Chicago Sun-Times Reporter Lynn Sweet transform from relaxed parade-goer to on-the-clock reporter the moment her innocent cellphone video capturing the sounds of the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band playing on a flatbed truck that drove slowly along Central Avenue got assaulted by the sounds of gunfire.
I know viscerally how Sweet must have felt. In 2017, I was also suddenly turned into the subject of a breaking news story I had to report when a drive-by shooting happened in the middle of an interview I was conducting inside a corner grocery store in Austin.
A young Black man in his early 20s — about the age of 21-year-old Robert Crimo III, the person of interest in Monday’s Fourth of July massacre — walked into the store to purchase a few things while I spoke to a store employee for a human interest profile I was working on. As soon as the young man walked out the door, he was met by bullets coming from a van that sped south on Central Avenue.
If it weren’t for the grocery store’s apparently bulletproof windows, I and three other people with me that day — two students from Northwestern’s Medill journalism school and a former Growing Community Media staff photographer — may have been among the casualties (six injured and one dead).
Seconds after the shooting, when things had settled down a bit, I walked out of the store and nearly stepped on the body of the young man who had just been inside making a purchase. His name was Byron McKinney Jr. and he was breathing his last breaths as a crowd of onlookers stood stressfully around him.
Unlike in Highland Park, the Chicago police, who had not been far from the scene of the shooting, converged on the corner not as good guys with guns come to escort traumatized bystanders to safety, but as an occupying force who handled everyone in the crowd like rodents. They bullied us, cursed us, shoved us away and treated us with scorn and contempt.
I reported on that shooting in Austin. I reported on McKinney’s funeral and on a peace rally attended by his mother, and on the press conference that happened at the corner the day after the shooting.
Monday’s shooting in Highland Park forced me to relive that trauma — of a placid sunny day suddenly vandalized by violence seemingly without rhyme or reason. Later reports revealed that McKinney had gotten into a beef with rivals on Facebook. Crimo was a YouTube rapper and apparent Trump fan who littered social media with content praising public murder.
We were all terrorized and traumatized Monday and that, I’m starting to believe, is disgustingly the point of Crimo’s co-conspirators — the white supremacists, Christian theocrats, corporate fascists, free market fundamentalists and milquetoast moderates who enable this kind of terrorism by effectively handcuffing government’s ability to do anything about it.
A case in point
On June 23, the conservative supermajority of the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a law in New York that requires anyone seeking a concealed carry license to demonstrate a special need for it that goes beyond self-defense.
Later that day, Nancy Rotering, a candidate running for a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court, tweeted: “The U.S. Supreme Court conservative supermajority is stepping over and reversing legislative efforts to keep our country safe from overwhelming gun violence.”
Less than two weeks later, Rotering, who is also the mayor Highland Park, shared another tweet, this one informing people about the dreadful mass shooting that took place during her city’s Fourth of July parade.
Within hours of the shooting, as police were still searching for the suspect and as at least six people lay dead, a Twitter account (who knows if it’s an actual person) replied to Mayor Rotering’s tweet about the shooting.
The Twitter user attacked the mayor for her role in passing a local ordinance that bans the possession, sale or manufacture of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.
Highland Park had passed the measure in the wake of the gruesome Sandy Hook mass shooting in 2012, in which 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people — 20 of them children under 8 years old.
Gun lobbyists with the Illinois State Rifle Association sued Highland Park, accusing the city of violating the rights of the individual plaintiff named in the lawsuit, Arie S. Friedman, a Highland Park man who wanted to keep the locally banned weapons in his home for self-defense.
A district court upheld Highland Park’s ban, finding it constitutional and within the parameters of previous Supreme Court decisions related to gun control laws, namely the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case, in which what was then merely a conservative majority decided 5-4 that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to possess firearms outside of serving in a militia. It does not, but the constitution is what judges interpret it to be — nothing more or less.
The gun lobbyists and Friedman appealed the district court’s decision to the Seventh Circuit appeals court, which also upheld Highland Park’s ban. Finally, they appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which basically refused to hear the case. That was in 2015, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was still alive, when there were just two outright zany thugs in robes on the court, Justices Thomas and Scalia, and before the current theocratic and corporately owned supermajority took over.
Had the gun lobbyists gotten luckier with their timing and brought their lawsuit before this current conservative supermajority, another angle to Monday’s mass shooting might well have been the Supreme Court’s invalidation of Highland Park’s local assault weapons ban nearly a decade earlier.
Indeed, as I write this, there are probably lobbyists and lawyers working on ensuring that the highest court in the land revisit the matter of Arie Friedman, et. al. v. City of Highland Park, just as these pencil-pushing terrorists of jurisprudence effectively persuaded their theocratic, fascistic ideological allies on the high court to “revisit” the matter of Roe v. Wade.
Legal scholars, journalists and court watchers across the country have for decades sounded the alarm about the very real dangers posed by right-wing Christian and free market fundamentalism — movements that have effectively interpreted the constitution and conceptions of liberty, capitalism, freedom and patriotism in their favor in order to monopolize power and profits.
Monday’s Fourth of July Massacre is the logical endpoint of a roughly half-century crusade by the right wing to gut the government’s ability to carry out its responsibility to protect the common good while coddling the elite interests of those with the power and wherewithal to do the greatest harm.
In his 2013 book, Freedom to Harm: The Lasting Legacy of the Laissez Faire Revival, Thomas O. McGarity, an administrative law scholar, outlines the conservative assault on “seven broad areas of government regulation — occupational safety and health, environmental protection, drug and device safety, food safety, transportation safety, financial protection, and consumer protection.”
The assault, at this point, has been so effective that there is barely any redress for the brazenly apparent wrongs perpetrated on society by the likes of the NRA and Facebook. In America in 2022, the likes of corporations, assault weapons, rapists, polluters, mass murderers, and social media monopolies that manufacture mass delirium and distraction, might as well constitute a protected class. Meanwhile, people (namely the non-embryonic kind) are second-class citizens.
Legal journalist Ian Millhiser’s 2021 book, The Agenda: How A Republican Supreme Court Is Reshaping America, warns us where we’re headed if we do not stop this jurisprudent terrorism.
The right to be free from the fear of going to a Fourth of July parade without getting gunned down means nothing if it cannot be enforced in court and if lawmakers are denied the opportunity to govern democratically and in the interest of actual human lives over delusions and objects.
“The current Supreme Court is likely to build a nation where conservatives, and only conservatives, have the opportunity to govern,” Millhiser warns us.
Monday gave us a sampling of what that looks like. Do not allow the tragedy porn that’s currently being served up by our entertainment news complex to distract you from this existential threat. We know why this keeps happening and we have the power to stop it.