Shooting the messenger

americaJarrod Ramos had a gun. How that man, with a history of abuse, harassment, online threats, death threats, was able to own a gun, says a lot about how our society is failing.

Ramos, 39, shot five people in the newsroom at the Capital Gazette on Thursday, culminating a near-decade-long tale that began when the computer engineer reached out to a former high-school friend to attempt to forge a relationship.

Rebuffed, Ramos turned on the friend, violently, threatening her life, threatening her job, eventually getting her suspended and then laid off after communicating with her supervisor accusing her of being mentally ill.

He was charged and later pleaded guilty to harassment, and that’s where the Capital Gazette gets involved. The paper reported on the story, and Ramos turned his fury toward the paper and its staff, suing for defamation, and when he lost the case, in large part because he couldn’t point out in court that the paper hadn’t erred in its reporting, or caused him any actual damage, he followed the script of harassment that he had written out for his former high-school friend.

The paper’s former editor said he received what he felt was a death threat and reported Ramos to police, who told him nothing could be done. The lawyer for the former high-school friend from the earlier case said he knew as soon as he’d heard that there was a shooting at the paper what had happened and who was responsible.

It took several hours from the first reports of the shooting until details emerged about Ramos and his past, and the world being what it is now, we all breathlessly rushed to fill in the blanks. Fox News squawker Sean Hannity, within 30 seconds of hearing the news, pinned the blame, nonsensically, on Maxine Waters, a Democratic congresswoman who last weekend called on protestors to confront Trump administration officials in public over their support for the administration’s draconian family separation policies in border immigration and asylum cases.

Liberals and progressives, for their part, took ample shots at President Trump, who earlier this week repeated his off-stated line about the media being the “enemy of the people” at a rally, and white-supremacist showman Milo Yiannopoulos, who had told a U.S. newspaper on Tuesday, two days before the shooting, that he “can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning down journalists on sight.”

The Ramos backstory would seem to push us away from Waters, Trump or Yiannopoulos being an influence, though a review of Ramos’ Twitter feed, which was still live late last night before finally being taken down by the social-media service, did include a pro-Trump message from 2015, and was curiously silent from January 2016 until yesterday, almost as if it had been scrubbed.

Ramos has reportedly not been cooperative with investigators, so it may be that we will never know any more about his motivations than we do from the reads of his harassment and defamation cases, and the now-scrubbed Twitter feed.

It’s fair to point out that the toxicity toward the media perpetuated by the president can’t be helpful in terms of the attitudes of his most diehard supporters, particularly those who take literally what Trump and his advocates claim is mere hyperbole.

It might also be helpful here to take an aside to defend journalism, and journalists. Injecting myself into this story for a moment, I’ve worked in the media business for 23 years, the first seven at community newspapers in Waynesboro and Charlottesville.

Reporters at community newspapers aren’t media behemoths like the ones you see on the cable-news networks, paid in the six and seven figures, living in posh apartments or McMansions in the suburbs. I never made more than $23,500 in a year in my seven years at the two community papers where I learned the craft, while winning 19 Virginia Press Association awards for my work in covering politics, business and leading investigative-reporting projects.

The pay isn’t much better today, and accounting for inflation, is at best stagnant or worse, and the reporters still lucky enough to have jobs after years of belt-tightening in the business are asked to do more – producing content for the print and web editions, and social media – and cover more and wider beats.

I tell you that to now say this: if you’re of the mindset that the media is the enemy of the people because it doesn’t cover the news the way you want it covered, beat your plowshares into pens, your spears into notebooks, and join us, and no, typing away at a keyboard in the middle of the night complaining about what somebody else wrote doesn’t count.

Go to city council and school board meetings, interview your legislators and congressional representatives, talk with economic-development officials and planners, get to know the police and fire chief, tour the local jail, embed yourself with nonprofits making a difference.

That’s what journalists do, every morning, every afternoon, every night, for practically no money, no fame, no glory, and certainly no thanks, if the rhetoric that dominates our national discourse is telling in any way.

One other quick personal interjection here: I hope to God that what happened yesterday doesn’t launch a new era of mass shootings.

It seems like forever ago when we didn’t know what to make of the first couple of school shootings, way back in the 1990s, but now the only thing that seems to stop them is summer vacation.

Now that we have our first high-profile newsroom shooting, in this environment where the president of the United States of America refuses to back down from his enemy of the people stance, even as crews are still cleaning blood from the floor in Annapolis, how many more will be emboldened.

Note that I intentionally didn’t end that sentence with a question mark. It’s going to happen. Only question is when.

All you have to do is look at the comments sections on news websites, on Facebook, on Twitter.

The rage is there. The ease of availability of guns is there. We’re doing nothing to make ourselves safer.

And somehow, this is all making America great again.

Column by Chris Graham

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