Questions About Last Friday’s UW Shooting

First, the good news: the victim of last Friday night’s shooting outside the Kane Hall appearance of white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos is recovering from his near-lethal wounds. His condition was upgraded from critical to serious on Sunday, and again to satisfactory on Monday. He’s looking forward to telling his story once he’s sufficiently recovered.

There has been a lot of confusion and misinformation, spread by Yiannopoulos and his allies and then rebroadcast by law enforcement and local media, about what actually happened Friday night. It’s fairly simple. Anti-fascist protesters and Yiannopoulos fans had spent the entire evening verbally, and at times physically, confronting each other. The shooter, decked in pro-Trump regalia, had spent much of the evening trying to instigate such confrontations. When the shooting happened, the victim, acting as a peacekeeper, tried to intercede in a confrontation by physically stepping nonviolently between the shooter and another protester. The victim nearly died for his efforts.

From beginning to end, Yiannopoulos’ appearance at UW, the shooting, and its aftermath raise a number of serious questions:

1) The administration at the University of Washington should never have let Yiannopoulos speak at university facilities in the first place, for two reasons. First, Yiannopoulos’ widely publicized white supremacist views directly violate the university’s Code of Conduct; and secondly, the clear potential for violence between Yiannopoulous’ admirers and protesters.

In general, I support free speech; even hate-mongers like Yiannopoulos have a right to speak publicly. But not when their entire schtick violates the regulations of their host institution, and not when their appearance endangers public safety. Both clearly applied here, and UW’s administration was repeatedly warned on both counts for several weeks ahead of Friday’s appearance. UW administrators bear direct responsibility for this shooting.

2) The actions of the UW police and the additional 80 SPD officers that were called in for the event also contributed directly to thia tragedy. In going to three decades of protests of neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and other hate groups and their representatives, I have rarely seen police fail to physically separate such groups’ adherents and the people protesting them – putting them on opposite sides of a street, or different sides of a building, or simply separated by a police line.

Over a hundred law enforcement officers were present when the shooting happened. What the hell were they doing? From a law enforcement standpoint, the event entrance shouldn’t have been so easy to blockade (and keep blockaded), and the two groups should never have been allowed anywhere near each other. Kane Hall has at least a half-dozen different entrances on three levels. Both as people tried to enter the event, and later when they left, it would have been relatively simple to keep them separated from the protesters. For whatever reason, police failed to take this utterly basic precaution. We know what happened as a result. An anti-fascist peacekeeper should never have had to physically intercede in this kind of melee to begin with.

3) Five hours after the shooting, the shooter and his wife turned themselves in to UW police, reportedly claiming that the shooting was in self-defense. The shooter also reportedly claimed that he thought he was shooting a Yiannopoulus supporter, not a protester. The pair was questioned in the wee hours Saturday morning and almost immediately released.

In those five hours before the shooter turned himself in, detectives had the opportunity to get statements – and photos and video – from dozens of witnesses – not to mention the scores of officers who were already nearby. Even if it was not immediately clear from witness statements and video that the shooter had been a provocateur all evening, and the roles of both he and his victim, there should have been more than enough information to immediately and seriously call into question the shooter’s story, and to cast doubt on whether his situation rose to the legal level of needing to use lethal force in self-defense. Moreover, the shooter also violated a law by carrying his gun onto the UW campus in the first place. (And even if all of that wasn’t clear Saturday morning, it certainly seems to be clear now.)

Suspects can be held while detectives gather evidence and consult with prosecutors. So why was the shooter released so quickly? And why, even afterwards, did official police statements continue to fudge the question of whether the shooter was a Yiannopoulos fan or a protester?

Parenthetically, local media accounts mostly took the police statements at face value, too, even though a number of media outlets had reporters present at the event and also had plenty of time to interview witnesses. Undoubtedly, the actions of both cops and reporters were influenced by their dislike of the black bloc, especially its reputation stemming from Seattle’s annual May Day police riot. That’s no excuse. The facts were relatively clear; the disinformation coming from the Yiannopoulos camp was easily refuted. And yet the shooter was quickly released, and remains free, without having been either charged or publicly identified.

And then, this morning, the Times went ahead and publicly named the victim even though he had requested that media keep his identify anonymous due to his well-founded fear of harassment and threats from Yiannopoulous’ supporters – a tactic they’ve used extensively in the past. The Times‘ decision to name the victim without his permission was made in reckless disregard for his safety. They can’t go out of business soon enough.

4) There will be enormous costs for the victim: huge medical bills, lost work time, legal fees, and all the associated expenses involved in recovering from a serious wound. So far, due to the relatively low-key and often misleading media coverage, donations to help cover those costs have largely come from anti-authoritarian activists and their allies. Both fundraising and publicity about this incident deserve a far wider audience. You can help the victim defray his costs here:

As for the shooting itself, beyond the hard questions that need to be asked of UW administrators, UW and Seattle police, and local corporate media, people across the country need to know that this happened – that the overt fascism Donald Trump has helped normalize over the past two years can lead and has led directly to the use of deadly force against the targets of fascists’ hate.

For many of us, this is no surprise; as Seattle has gotten steadily wealthier and whiter, hate crimes against people of color, against LGBTQ people, against immigrants, and against religious minorities have increased sharply over the last several years – but much of the general public hasn’t noticed or cared. Now that an unarmed white guy has been shot, perhaps more people will care.

At minimum, other activists and Trump opponents in general, regardless of our ideologies, need to understand that the threat Trumpism represents does not just involve public policy. It also involves at least some of its adherents feeling justified in shooting protesters – or any of the other endless categories of people fascists hate. This sort of violence has already become so normalized that campus administrators can let it happen, law enforcement officials can let it happen and then immediately release the suspect, and media outlets can either misrepresent or whitewash the whole event.

When violence like this becomes normalized and tolerated, more of it happens. Fascists and their sympathizers need to understand that there will be serious consequences for hateful behavior and actions. And their enablers – on campus, in law enforcement, and in corporate media – need to be held accountable as well. We cannot afford to let this crime become yet another item, lost in yesterday’s news. There’s too much at stake.

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