On this past Sunday morning, Devin Kelley walked into a small country church in the rural south Texas town of Sutherland Springs and shot nearly every single person in the building – brutally slaughtering 26 innocent men, women, and children and critically injuring at least 20 others.
Armed with an indefensible AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, he sprayed the congregation with bullets, reloaded, then continued, reloaded, then continued some more, then reloaded one last time, and continued until it appeared every single person in the church was shot.
It immediately became the deadliest church shooting in the history of the United States and one of the deadliest mass shootings in our nation’s history. Mind you, just a few weeks ago in Las Vegas, another man, Stephen Paddock, armed with a nearly unstoppable arsenal of semi-automatic weapons, shot an unthinkable 546 people – and killed 58 of them.
Soon after that shooting, I wrote a column stating that white privilege in America is so strong that even Stephen Paddock, the deadliest single mass shooter in American history, was getting preferential treatment in death that virtually any shooter other than a white man would ever receive had they done something similar.
Well, it’s happening again in Texas, but this time I actually think it’s worse. Devin Kelley shot and killed multiple children. He shot and killed a pregnant woman. He killed senior citizens. The man had absolutely no regard for human life when he strapped on black tactical gear, loaded up rounds and rounds of ammunition, and walked straight into that church and rained down horror on that close-knit congregation.
We had warning signs galore.
He beat his first wife. While in the military he assaulted his infant stepson so badly that he fractured the boy’s skull and the Air Force described it as “a force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.” The chief prosecutor in the case said that Devin Kelley openly admitted to doing it on purpose.
He served 12 only months in a military prison for what he did. To give that perspective, the rapper Meek Mill was just sentenced to 2-4 years in prison for violating his parole when he was ticketing for riding a dirt bike. I have a friend in prison right now serving several years for selling small amounts of weed to his friends. But Devin Kelley fractured a child’s skull and got out in a year.
After he was released, white privilege continued to protect him in case after case.
Police were called on him multiple times for abusing women. In 2013 he was investigated for rape and sexual assault. Each time he was given the benefit of the doubt.
After moving to Colorado, the police were again called on Devin Kelley – this time for cruelty to animals after he was seen punching his dog in the head.
Again, Kelley was given break after break in life. And we must investigate why that is. For the past six months I’ve spent nearly every waking moment of my life either in The Bronx or studying it. I’ve taken a deep dive into neighborhoods where families and children never get a break. If you break the law, you go to jail, then you go to prison, normally for a very long time. If you are even suspected of breaking the law, it doesn’t matter if you are a child or a grown man, you go to Rikers, where you may wait for months or even years just to see a judge. In The Bronx, I’ve uncovered case after case of people, always black or brown mind you, who’ve spent years in jail or prison for crimes they never committed.
Somehow though, the harsh judgment and punishment of America’s justice system never really visited Devin Kelley. He should’ve served hard time for fracturing a child’s skull, but he didn’t. He could and likely should have served hard time for domestic violence and sexual assault and animal cruelty, but he lives in a universe altogether different than black and brown families in The Bronx – one in which he gets a perpetual pass for violence and intimidation.
So much so, that all the way back in 2012, when he fractured his stepson’s skull, he was supposed to never be able to purchase a firearm again, but the Air Force claims they basically forgot to file the federal paperwork that would’ve flagged Devin Kelley in the system – ultimately allowing him to purchase the assault rifle and ammunition that allowed him to murder so many people on Sunday.
It was that same white privilege that allowed Devin Kelley to post pictures of his AR-15 on Facebook, bragging about how awesome it was, without even a hint of fear of the ramifications of such a post on social media. The United States had already taught Devin Kelley that he could pretty much say or do whatever the hell he felt like doing, and pretty much get away with it.
Had any Muslim man in America, particularly a Muslim man with a history of violence, posted pictures of himself on social media with an AR-15, best believe the feds would be knocking on his door.
Like Stephen Paddock, white privilege not only protected Devin Kelley in life, it is protecting his name and his actions even in death.
Last week in New York, when a man was arrested in Manhattan for deliberately driving a rented Home Depot pickup truck over unsuspecting pedestrians, killing 8 of them, Donald Trump called the man a “degenerate animal.”
Trump also called on the government to completely terminate an immigration plan that allowed the man to enter the country in the first place.
He then called the man a terrorist.
And said he should get the death penalty.
Day after day, Trump railed on this man – not because he caused more harm than Devin Kelley – he didn’t. From all indications, this man also didn’t have a history of violent crime that we know of. Yet he was derided for days on end by Trump. Trump called for “extreme vetting” of all immigrants, the cancellation of government programs, and more – all because of what this man did.
Yet when Donald Trump was asked if the same type of “extreme vetting” he was calling for in response to the New York attack could’ve stopped the Texas attack or future attacks like it, he flatly said no and that it would’ve made “no difference” whatsoever. He then quickly went straight for the mental health excuse – which is a tired trope for conservatives who refuse to address the crisis of mass shootings in America.
If anyone was a monster, it was Devin Kelley. He was brutal and cruel everywhere he called home – yet the President of the United States finds himself treating this man with kid gloves.
Extreme vetting absolutely could’ve stopped this. Had Devin Kelley been banned from purchasing weapons the way he was supposed to be banned it would’ve stopped it. Had the justice system taken his repeated violent acts seriously it could’ve stopped this. A ban on assault rifles could’ve stopped this.
But here we are – more horror and violence – in a country determined to protect the white men causing it in life and in death.
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