Florida airport massacre – few basic questions being raised

By   /   January 12, 2017  /   15 Comments

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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.


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

DAVID ROBIE also blogs at Café Pacific

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:

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.

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

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.

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

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

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 circulation 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

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About the author

Dr David Robie

Professor at AUT University

Dr David Robie is professor of journalism and director of AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre. He is a strong advocate of independent media at the country’s journalism schools. David has published the media transparency blog Café Pacific since 2006. - See More

15 Comments

  1. XRAY says:

    I think Michael Laws wrote in The Demon Profession, words to the effect that “the US is a can of worms corroding from the inside”.

    When I read that years ago I didn’t know what he meant. Now I do!

  2. Andrea says:

    Santiago had reached out for mental health assistance before he left Alaska. He was known to be mentally impaired after his tours of duty and was still able to access firearms and ammunition.

    America is awash with veterans of past and present military engagements, and there is a considerable proportion with psychological difficulties – as there is in Britain also.

    And the support when they get back is less than good enough.

    Trump’s political party is definitely going to make this worse if they scuttle Obamacare. It’s not great but it does give some hope.

    America’s ‘terrorist’ problem seems to come mostly from its own citizens. But, even knowing that (and they do), it won’t stop those humiliating ‘security’ checks and intrusions at airports and border checkpoints.

    • CosmicRay says:

      I think the fact that he had mental health issues is the reason for silence on the matter. Trump said during his campaign that he would support veterens, although he didn’t say how. To be honest they couldn’t be treated any worse than they are now, so something needs to change. Obamacare only helps those who have nothing. Otherwise, premiums have become unaffordable.

      • To be honest they couldn’t be treated any worse than they are now, so something needs to change.

        Trump has no replacement for the Affordable Healthcare Act. The republicans are consigning millions of Americans to a crazy situation of crippling health costs without insurance cover.

        Your fawning support for Trump is noted, Cosmic, but Trump is doing nothing for ordinary Americans. At least you have free hospital care here in New Zealand (if you’re living here,. as a NZ Citizen) so it’s easy for you to deride Obama’s efforts to provide healthcare to millions who never had insurance cover previously.

        As others have pointed out, Trump has not suggested one single alternative to the Affordable Healthcare Act. As a result, Americans will die for want of medical care.

  3. slippery slippery says:

    Air Canada sent a Tweet saying he was not on the Passenger list,
    Crisis Cast (INC) were cerytainly a busy bunch, how lucky it was there was so many ‘brave’ Camera men already filming on the Scene before it happened & we are lucky to see so many school jogging teams running all around an airport (Hollyweird conveniently) that had allready been made safe within minutes as the ‘gunman’ had been tacked after he ran out of bullets, what a coincidence an open carry bill had been scedualed beforehand to ariive just after the (staged) incident

    Air Canada Exposes CNN As Fake News – Why The Blinded Masses Can’t See (Explained) youtu-be/WfWS85nuIl4

  4. slippery slippery says:

    The reason he got away with it was because Hollywood airport was a gun free zone, I bet if the Security Guards, off duty cops & other Licenced to carry citizens were present – he would have been stopped dead in his tracks ….. but we all know it was staged in time for the expiry & review of the open carry laws in the local buildings such as airports ect – convenient timing huh?

    • Priss says:

      “& other Licenced to carry citizens were present ”

      So the answer to the craziness of vast availability of guns is yet more guns?? How old are you, ‘Slippery’? I’m asking because a ten year old can spot the flaw in your argument.

      More guns at an airport? Gee, what could possibily go wrong??

  5. Lois Griffiths says:

    There are many cases in the US where small children, even toddlers, get hold of Mummy’s or Daddy’s gun to play with..leading to deadly accidents.

  6. James Green says:

    Mass shootings in the US are the new normal, I do not personally consider them to be newsworthy.

    The US being full of really easy to solve problems but not wanting to solve them is the old normal.

    • richarquis says:

      On that logic, child poverty, domestic violence, high-level financial fraud, or the plague of suicide bombings in the Middle East should not be newsworthy. I’d disagree with that logic completely, however. Of course they are, as are America’s mass shootings. It’s not about what you personally consider, it’s about the fundamental wellbeing of our species as a whole, and the detrimental effect all of these issues have upon it. If you wan’t to bury your head in the sand over one issue or another, that’s your business, but the rest of us might actually still want to be aware of those same issues. News is a collective information pool, not a tailored service to cater to your personal discretions.

  7. andrew says:

    A few points that need to be cleared up regarding this issue:

    Most internal security guards in US airports are just low-rent contractors who are not armed.

    Most US airports are decades out of date and badly in need of an upgrade.

    Over 90% of shootings in America are blacks and latinos shooting their fellow ghetto dwellers. Outside of those areas it is a safe & civilised place.

    There is no requirement for gun safes or training in the USA. I have worked there and have been aghast at their lax attitude toward firearms. No wonder they get stolen or misused by children!

    Limiting access to guns will not stop terrorist acts in the USA. As shown in Europe, they will just use trucks & bombs to do a similar amount of damage.

    • fatty says:

      “Over 90% of shootings in America are blacks and latinos shooting their fellow ghetto dwellers. Outside of those areas it is a safe & civilised place.”

      Yes, America’s gun culture is racist, and defending the right to guns is also racist.

      “Limiting access to guns will not stop terrorist acts in the USA.”

      Saying something won’t stop something else from occurring is moronic. I doubt anyone has ever said more gun control will stop terrorism from happening… but it will reduce it.

      Chin up Andrew…you might come up with a decent argument one day

    • Priss says:

      “Limiting access to guns will not stop terrorist acts in the USA. As shown in Europe, they will just use trucks & bombs to do a similar amount of damage.”

      Oh dear, another one who can’t see the basic flaw in his argument!

      Andrew, they use trucks where guns are not readily available to anyone who walks into a shop and plonks $100 down onto a counter and points at an instrument of lethal destruction.

      And if you want to stop all terrorist acts, maybe we should look at the causes of the cancer of terrorism.

      For one thing, solve the Palestine-Israel problem. Secondly, the West (especially the US!!) should stop meddling in middle east affairs. And lastly, stop selling lethal weapons to autocratic governments that then use those same weapons against their own people!!

      When Syrians picked up unexploded ordnance and saw “Made in USA” stamped on the casing, what do you think crossed their minds?? —> https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/09/yemen-evidence-indicates-us-made-bomb-was-used-in-attack-on-msf-hospital/

  8. It’s worth noting that ‘American’ gun laws or ‘US gun culture’ are total misnomers. Barring certain federal laws which crop up from time to time (such as the Bush I assault weapons ban), states decide for themselves how to legislate. New York is almost like Australia, California slightly stricter than NZ on some things, slightly more liberal than NZ on others, while in Idaho for instance you have open carry. It’s really a mixed bag.

    Personally I think if you have an NZ-style system for obtaining a licence, and a proper police system for following up on licencing and licence conditions, then within those confines there’s mostly no problem. We have several tiers of licence which allow different firearms, firearm features, etc. to be owned. Proper background checks are made. Take the Jan Molenaar situation for instance; his licence had been expired for years, but at no time did the police attempt to find out if he still had firearms in his possession.

    Most of the US mass shootings would be avoided not by banning categories of firearm wholesale or banning certain features, but by simply having better licencing and background checks, along with better criteria for refusal. As it is, if you’ve got a felony record for firearms, you can’t own one – and that’s a federal condition which states can’t override. Many such things can be done by a sensible US government without butchering the second amendment.

  9. Andrew says:

    Good points CEMETERY JONES

    The NZ system works reasonably well. There are millions of guns in NZ yet very few incidents. If we wish to worry about personal safety we should sooner ban swimming pools.

    Whilst the basic licencing system works well, the endorsements are a bit of a joke and in dire need of tidying up. The E endorsement (for MSSA rifles) is meaningless and was introduced as a sop to calm public fears after Aramoana. A gullible public were stirred by typically malicious media and the politicians of the day needed to be seen to ‘do something’.