San Francisco. California, like 30 other states, has released ganja (marijuana) for medical use, and is now preparing for recreational use come January 1. Such ganja freedom, promising a billion-dollar tax industry in California, has aroused political tussles of its distribution and sales–attracting early-page media coverage every day. That is until the “Texas massacre” where a masked 26-year-old, baby-faced Devin Patrick Kelley, with bullet-proof vest, in about five minutes machined-gunned 26 persons to death, leaving 20 others injured.
These days, San Francisco electronic and print media, like the rest of America, don’t have a problem with getting the news that’s “fit to print.” There is President Donald Trump with heavy vocal artillery. There is the intense struggle between the Republicans and Democrats over new tax proposals, then top-level allegations that Hilary Clinton, former presidential candidate, unethically hijacked the Democratic campaign with donations that side-lined her Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders, etc.
These pushed sensational sexual abuse allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein to page 3, then every other day or so. The unfolding ganja story in San Francisco was still kept alive in the front and early pages – so strong is the market value (75 per cent of California voted last year for recreational use).
But from last Monday the ganja story faced a tragic competitor – the merciless slaughter of 26 persons (18 months to 77 years) praying in the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church (ten per cent of its population), with 20 others sent to hospital. The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, had to switch, although new ganja regulations and ganja taxes were in themselves big news, deserving front page. But between the massacre, shock, grief and police inquiries, the front-line question became, “Why?”
The fatal shootings in a holy place on a Sunday morning, without provocation, with innocent children and adults – even a pregnant woman – became as bloody as any gangster movie. Facing machine-gun Kelley, America was compelled to ask, “Why?” Leaving the ganja story far behind, it was learnt that murderer Kevin Kelley, from the Air Force, was in a psychiatric institution, ran away, divorced, charged for domestic assault, dishonourably discharged from the Air Force, physically assaulted his next wife and cracked his step-child’s skull, purchased his guns without having his domestic violence conviction registered in the FBI data base by the Air Force as required. After his deadly bullet-spray, an on-looking resident flagged a passing driver who chased and reportedly shot Kelley twice. Kelley, police said, called his father, then shot himself to death. Front page coverage asked why the Air Force didn’t inform the FBI so as to block Kelley’s gun purchase? Kelley had a bitter relationship with his mother-in-law. He apparently had a grievance and a violent disposition, but not one to justify locking up or even questioning someone. There is still no art to fully reveal the mind’s construction on the face. Former FBI director James Comey told US Congress it was very difficult to predict a lone wolf. It is easier to explain with ISIS connections, like Omar Matadeen who killed 49 at an Orlando nightclub last year, or Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik for killing 14 in San Bernardino in 2015, or last month’s bicycle pathway killing of eight by Sayfullo Saipov in New York.
Not so with Stephen Paddock for killing 58 and injuring 500 others last October at Las Vegas Mandalay Hotel, or Pedro Vargas for killing six in Florida. Some mass murderers, like Christopher Mercer killed himself in 2015 after killing ten in Oregon, or Aaron Alexis who in 2012 killed 12 in Washington, or Adam Lanza who killed 26 (including 20 children) in a Connecticut school, then killed himself.
Quite often, the motive dies with the killer. All such horrific incidents capture media space, but the ganja story will always arise for media attention, given its drift from Europe, across America and now from Jamaica and St Vincent, with prodding in TT, a place, like Jamaica, that first got it from India. It was the late John Donaldson, national security minister, who around 1980, called for a look at decriminalising ganja. Two months ago, it was former health minister Fuad Khan. Alert criminologists should examine how the smoke blows.