I dared to challenge a cop… Part 1

“…the officer could be heard saying that the traffic stop occurred “because you made direct eye contact with me and held on to it.”

 “The traffic infraction was verified by the video; however making direct eye contact with an officer is not a basis for a traffic stop.”

The above incident happened recently. The “because you made direct eye contact with me and held on to it” comment reminded me of a police encounter I had back in 1999. I was pulled over by a cop in Covington, Kentucky. I’d been to a holiday party, celebrating with theatre friends and colleagues and was heading home, back to Hyde Park, which is about seven miles northeast from downtown Cincinnati off I-71. It was after midnight,

The encounter occurred at an intersection where there was a stoplight. It was green and I had the right of way because I was turning right. The cop was coming from the opposite direction and turning left. I looked the cop straight in the eye, held that contact for a few seconds as I made my turn, basically indicating/reminding him that: “Hey, buddy, I have the right of way.”

I guess he didn’t like being challenged by a woman, so he pulled me over, saying I had caused him to veer into the oncoming lane, that I was driving recklessly, when in reality it was he who was doing so. He didn’t have his lights or siren on either, otherwise, of course, I would’ve pulled over.

He stood at my driver’s window explaining this. I challenged him by asking, “Aren’t police officers held to the same traffic laws as the rest of us?” In the meantime his crony cop buddy had walked to the passenger side of my car, gawking in the window at me. Talk about an intimidating and scary situation: a small woman late at night alone with two male cops. I was scared, but I’m an actor, so I played the bravado for all it was worth. In my mind, these guys were the kind of policemen who would plant drugs in someone’s car or orchestrate something incriminating just to make an arrest.

The officer wrote a ticket, handed it to me, and said I could contest it in court. To which I replied, looking directly at him (he could hardly make eye contact with me), “Oh, you better believe I’ll see you in court, officer.”

I drove away, trembling and tears welling up in my eyes. My tough exterior crumbled as I seethed at the injustice of it. I ended up writing the Covington chief of police and carbon copied the Kentucky state attorney general as well as Covington’s judge-executive and three county commissioners. I was willing to pay the fine and court costs if needed because I was not going to just pay the fine and was determined to have my day in court to refute it. I showed up in court a month later, but that cowardly cop was nowhere to be seen. I was exonerated and didn’t have to pay one cent.

This encounter and the fact that the chief of police in Covington never responded to my letter spawned resentment toward policemen. Even to this day I’m a bit distrustful.

Read my detailed letter: Police Complaint

I would be remiss if I failed to admit that I have also been granted leniency by cops on occasion, either because I am a woman or they knew my father, who was employed by the Indiana department of corrections. It is because of experiencing the extremes of police encounters that I view the current narrative saturating the media that states you either “love or hate the police, affording no middle ground” as a gross over-simplification of the dynamics of equal justice and policing at play in our society.

This issue is too vast to possibly address all the intricacies in a blog post. The majority of policemen in this country are decent people who do a good job. They take pride in their work and want to protect and serve. It is a tough occupation and oftentimes a thankless one. They sometimes endure vitriol from citizens, encounter criminals, and face the possibility of being injured or killed in the line of duty, which is frightening, I’ve no doubt.

However, police possess much power and they are armed—at times heavily. They are granted a good deal of leniency with regards to the law that backs them up, even when sometimes what they have done is lawless. There are bad apples in the system and accountability is important when an arrest or traffic stop goes terribly wrong. That’s not to say we shouldn’t mourn the killings of police officers either. Of course, we should, even those in the Black Lives Matter movement don’t want to see cops killed, despite what some in the media are claiming. We can do better. We must.

Part two will focus on over-policing, the Black Lives Matter movement and why they should not be dismissed or demonized, and the contrast between my police encounter to that of Sandra Bland.

The GOP “pledge” is a ridiculous stunt and means nothing

Do you see anything binding about this "pledge?" I sure don't... (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

Do you see anything binding about this “pledge?” I sure don’t… (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

The headline sounds like a Trump-ism and it probably resembles what Trump will say when he announces his run as an independent around July 2016. Here’s the thing, without a binding agreement, the pledge is nothing more than a great way for the GOP to earn media and for GOP chair Reince Priebus to look like he’s leading the party, but he’s missing a crucial element: Trump’s supporters aren’t necessarily ardent Republicans, they are just conservatives.

Confusing partisanship and ideology is fairly commonplace in American politics and it remains confusing for some studying political behavior at the graduate level. Yes, partisanship and ideology are closely related, with most liberals identifying as Democrats and most conservatives identifying as Republicans, but one’s ideology doesn’t mean they are “party people.” Yes, they may tell a pollster they are a “Republican,” but that may have more to do with their ideology lining up with one particular party than the strength of their partisanship. (Essentially, the Republicans better represent a conservative ideology, therefore a conservative identifies as a Republican.) Trump attract ideologues on the right. Conservatives who fully agree that we need to kick out the “illegals” and build a gigantic wall along both the Mexican AND Canadian borders don’t necessarily rock elephant lapel pins and pendants, but they do support the tea party and other movements associated with the Republican party, but more explicitly tied to the conservative ideology.

This is an important point for Priebus and other Republican bigwigs worried about the Trump-effect. Trump can sign the loyalty pledge now, in early-September 2015 when the stakes are high for both Trump and the Republican Party, but if Trump’s support among Republican party elites starts to wane, but his support among those identifying as very conservative remains high, the likelihood Trump bucks the pledge and runs as an independent strengthens.

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Jimmy Carter Was A Great President


Very little about modern politics bothers me more than the ubiquitous phrase, “Jimmy Carter has been a great ex-president.”

Not that it isn’t true. He has been. It’s possible that no one will ever accomplish as much after leaving the White House as President Carter.

But you and I hear very well the intended but unspoken dig: “… but he sure was feckless as president!”

Let’s set some records straight, shall we?

James Earl Carter, Jr. was as much of an “outsider” as we’re ever likely to see in the Oval Office. Following Watergate, Vietnam and the Arab Oil Embargo (yes, that happened under Nixon, not Carter) America was ready for a different kind of leader. Or so we told ourselves.

The Beltway Media, never kind to outsiders, branded Carter’s team of non-beltway staff the “Georgia Mafia” almost immediately. I’m not sure I saw a single editorial cartoon for four years that didn’t go out of its way to depict the President – a Naval Academy graduate, successful businessman and former governor – as an ignorant hick. It was clear before he ever took the oath of office that whatever he accomplished would be diminished at every turn by the national press.

The day after his inauguration President Carter (again, a former Naval officer) issued a blanket pardon to all those who had “dodged” the military draft during the Vietnam era. He freed at least 200,000 Americans from the specter of prosection.

He established the Departments of Education and Energy.

He established a national energy policy  – focused on conservation and alternative energy sources – that his successors dust-binned. Nearly every day I wonder how much better-off America and all of humanity would be right now if we had kept the solar panels on the White House and our foot off the gas pedal. Of course, having the unmitigated gall to ask Americans to conserve energy never ends well.

Remember when Israel and Egypt used to be at war all the time? Not if you were born after the Carter administration you don’t. Because President Carter brought Begin and Sadat to Camp David and ended that. It was kind of a big deal.

He began, ever so slowly, to dismantle creeping American imperialism by turning over the Panama Canal to … Panama.  And in response to growing Soviet imperialism following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan (remember when invading Afghanistan was bad?), Carter made the principled choice to keep America out of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

Have you heard of superfund sites? The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) was a Carter intiative to help communities clean up the environmental messes left behind by corporate ineptitude. My community is still using superfund money for that purpose thirty-five years later.

It’s true that the national debt did increase under Carter – by 43%. Which was less than the 47% his predecessor (Ford) increased it by in a term of fewer than three years. And his successor? The “fiscally responsible” Ronald Reagan? Yeah, he increased the national debt by 186%. But it did take him two terms to do it.

It’s true that President Carter inherited a dismal financial situation in 1977. What you won’t often read about Carter is that in the four years before he took office, US GDP grew at an average rate of 9.84%. In the four years following his term it grew at 8.53%. During the Carter administration US GDP grew at 11.49%. No president since has managed that kind of growth.

Jimmy Carter wasn’t a perfect president. A number of America’s prior mistakes came home to roost during his term, and he didn’t handle them all well. Compare his actual record to that of other modern presidents and draw your own conclusions.

Perhaps the most important thing you should remember about the Carter administration is this: “We kept our country at peace. We never went to war. We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. But still we achieved our international goals. We brought peace to other people …”

That may not mean a thing to you. If that’s the case, you may walk away from this blog post thinking nothing more than, “Jimmy Carter has been a great ex-president.”

But it means something to me. I hope the next time someone starts to tell you about what a great ex-president Jimmy Carter has been you’ll correct them in-kind.

For further reading on the same topic, please reference this piece from the New York Times.

Kanye 2020 and the end of the American democracy?

No, Kanye, you can't be president, bruh! (Photo credit: Getty Images)

No, Kanye, you can’t be president, bruh! (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Alright, so the headline is a bit hyperbolic, but Kanye West’s rambling, 12-minute diatribe at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday left me grumpy about the future of our grand experiment in democracy. A few bad apples aside, Americans typically come together every four years to hire someone to run the country. It’s quite possibly the most challenging job in the country, even if it doesn’t require the skills as a brain surgeon–although Dr. Ben Carson would probably tell you otherwise.

Kanye’s bizarre remarks made a mockery of our presidential system, even if Kanye’s goal was to address the candidacy of jokers like Donald Trump. However, young people who hopped on the #Kanye2020 train immediately following his remarks are sadly growing up in a country where we belittle the concept of public service, believe all politicians are self-serving and that any person has the capacity to run the country.

A few things:

  1. Public service should absolutely be taken seriously
  2. A few bad politicians should not spoil those truly looking to make their community, state, country, or world a better place
  3. It requires incredible intelligence, patience, and tenor to be president.

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Reflections on Katrina, 10 years later


I wish I had something profound and hopeful to write about Hurricane Katrina and the City – the people – of New Orleans. It’s been ten years now, and I’ll be damned if I can find anything to reflect on that doesn’t make me feel ashamed of my country.

I could go through the litany of ways every level of government failed our brothers and sisters in New Orleans, but what would be the point?

Instead I think I’ll tell you some things I’ve learned since August 29, 2005.

– Every major city in America is a short series of official mistakes from being part of the “Third World.” Your comfortable suburb and mine could look just like the Lower Ninth Ward if just a few bad things happen. The question is, will your state and the federal government send help for you? Or will CNN show up first and make you and your home the next iconic image of helplessness and despair? Let’s be clear: The United States government has the capacity and resources to save you and your family – and probably a lot of your stuff – if whoever is in charge when the shit hits the fan makes you a priority.

– New Orleans is now the “Third World.” George Bush did not prioritize the families of New Orleans, and they have not recovered. They will not recover. New Orleans will never be “The City That Care Forgot” again. Yeah, New Orleans had its problems before Katrina. Not like this.

– When disaster strikes, if your leaders consider /for one moment/ how their actions will affect their political careers, people will die. You might die. Ray Nagin, Kathleen Blanco and George Bush are case studies in this respect. And no, political leaders do not always act like those fools did. Great leaders prove themselves in time of crisis. The people of New Orleans were not fortunate enough to have one single great leader in the long chain of government officials.

– New Orleans is doomed. That’s something I used to think was part of the charm … you always knew disaster was right around the corner, but you hoped you’d have time to finish your drink before the reaper showed up. And if you didn’t have time you were pretty sure you could get a go-cup anyway. At least that’s the way /I/ always felt. The reality isn’t romantic or charming at all. The reaper won’t let you bring a go-cup. You will stand in line at the SuperDome with no food or water or you will camp in the August sunshine on the remains of an asphalt bridge. It’s going to happen again. We know now that the People In Charge knew very well that the levees would break before the levees broke. And we know that that they will break again when the next storm comes. We know that despite the best efforts of the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Mississippi River wants to reroute itself many miles West, far from the city. When those things happen, the devastation will be complete.

– It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to put people ahead of profit. We can say “no” to the idea that “Government should be small enough to be drowned in a bathtub.” We can take care of each other and we can all prosper. But if we choose to allow some to prosper and leave the rest to fend for themselves … we can all end up like our brothers and sisters in New Orleans.

Maybe that’s the closest thing I can find to “hopeful” in the wake of Katrina. We can do better. Will we? I can’t tell your that.


2005 was a big year for me. I became a mother, and I got married for the first time. Watching the horrors unfold in New Orleans fell as I held my infant son, and put the final touches on the wedding. I saw the images of the people in towns on their roofs, the houses completely envelloped in water, and the residents clinging for some shred of dignity.
“How can this be happening here? Aren’t we a big important country? Isn’t there more we can do? Or could have done?”
I tried to mentally block out the blame that passed around from agency to agency over the next months, but in some sense they were all guilty. They all failed those people in some way. Living in coastal Florida my entire existence, I cringe at the thought that we could be next. The next horrific images and stories you see on the news next of an American city underwater could be mine.
Shortly there after, people from the Biloxi area transferred to my work, because they were now out of jobs, and had nothing to go home to. I made friends with some, and they told me their stories.
There was no media embellishment there. They were as bad as you imagine.

Seyyal Edibe:

In 2005, my family and I were living in Germany, where I was working for the Army. We had been there since 2002, but I had not managed to “settle in” and feel at home there. It was like I was on an extended vacation, except I had to work … a lot. A by-product of that is I felt like I was living in some netherworld: I didn’t really fit in in Germany, but I wasn’t in the U.S. either. We were finally able to get Sky TV out of the UK after almost a year, so we could watch English-language TV, but it was British TV. We had CNN, but it was CNN International. The only American news feed we had was Fox News. I know.

I still remember that day. Germany is 6 hours ahead of East Coast U.S. so that in itself can be disorienting. I want to say we found out about Katrina from CNN International. It was a nice, sunny day in Germany, which isn’t exactly the norm, even in August. So I turned to Fox to get the “hometown version.”

All I can say is that it was surreal. I was seeing Katrina through the eyes of a “foreigner,” but at the same time not: I had attended Loyola for a semester and a summer, and had been stationed there for 3 years. I knew East Bank from West Bank. Algiers. Ninth Ward. The French Quarter. The CBD. New Orleans East. Crescent City Connection. The Huey P. Long Bridge. My husband and I sat there in disbelief: watching how one of the most famous cities in the U.S. had devolved into little more than a Third World country. I sat there and watched while Shepard Smith (who’s from Mississippi, BTW), was actually /screaming/ on TV that people were dying on the Crescent City Connection because people were on the Gretna side of the bridge standing there with guns, threatening to shoot them if they even tried to enter Gretna for food and water. And another meltdown as he reported how children were being sexually molested in the SuperDome that had become a makeshift shelter for those who were unable to leave New Orleans for a myriad of reasons.

I sat there and watched the coverage hour after hour. Horrified, but unable to change the channel. Because somehow, I felt it was my /responsibility/ to watch this, so when I went back out into the community, I could attempt to explain to the Germans I regularly interacted with “our” side of the story. I watched people sitting on the roofs of their houses, which was the only thing above the water line, shooting at National Guard helicopters trying to rescue them. I listened while they described how old people in nursing homes had never been evacuated because there was no evacuation plan, so they just died in place. How people in hospitals were dying because there wasn’t sufficient auxiliary power to keep their life support systems going, or any coherent mass evacuation plan. How New Orleans police were breaking into luxury car dealerships and taking cars because “the police cruisers [were] underwater” or they “needed SUVs to navigate the flooded streets.”

All of a sudden “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” stopped being the battle cry of committed partiers and more a declaration of “We’re a bunch of clueless, careless idiots.”

And we won’t even discuss Mayor Ray Nagin surveying the devastation in designer suits and declaring New Orleans would arise as a “Chocolate City!”


I went to the coast of the panhandle after Katrina brushed by Florida. I was with two friends, and the normally clear water was murky with stirred up sand (and god-knows-what else). We could see there had been a storm surge. The usually brilliant white sand was covered with rotting dead fish and a few dead sharks. The smell of death and the dark, but gentle, waves of the Gulf were ominous. I took some photos of the beach, but not of the death or destruction. I’m not sure why.

I remember being relieved when I heard Katrina was only a Category 3 as it made landfall over the coast to the West of me. I had studied photographs of New Orleans before and after Camille, and thought the city would be spared a little.

And then, the levees broke. I hadn’t foreseen that. I had to go over to a friend’s house to watch TV, and the images and witness reports were horrific.

A year later, I found myself in New Orleans. We drove around the city, curious to see how it was recovering.

Parts of the city seemed unscathed. But right next to a beautiful home, there would be a house, boarded up, with spray paint on it, informing all it was too be demolished. The city was discombobulated. It was trying, but next to every effort were ashes or ruins.

We kept driving, and ended up in a middle class neighborhood. Something seemed amiss, though. It was evening, and there were no cars on the road or in the driveways. No lights were on inside the homes. There were no people walking on the sidewalk. I looked from my right to my left. To my right, there were houses. To the left, there was water that was higher than the houses.

All of this must have flooded. No one lived in these houses anymore. They were ruined. It was such an eerie, spooky feeling. The lake to the left of me no longer seemed scenic. The water, calm in the evening sun, was suddenly cruel; it was a destroyer of lives and dreams.

Some links I’ve found interesting:
Race and Recovery 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina
A Katrina Lexicon

The Deathless Death

Last week I shared with you my health scare. Luckily, the ultrasound found normal blood flow. There is one thing that still needs to be checked, but it was not nearly as bad as I feared. You see, one of my aunts had dementia, and since experiencing that, it has become one of my worst case scenarios and greatest fears.

Dementia is a ninja. Whether you call it specifically Alzheimer’s or more generally dementia, it is a ninja. It can be early onset, starting as early as your 40s or 50s, or it can wait until your 60s, 70s, or later. It starts out with just the occasional mental lapse here or there and—as a woman—it’s difficult to tell if it’s dementia or just the memory loss that comes with menopause. But if you have dementia in your family, every time you “lose” a word, or go blank on your PIN at the grocery store checkout, you panic and ask, “Is this it? Is it starting?”

I was in the military, so I wasn’t around my family of origin on a regular basis. When I got out and moved back home, I noticed that my aunt would repeat things. I attributed it to the fact that she lived in a small town, didn’t get out much, and had to recycle stuff in order to sustain a conversation. Besides, with two children in elementary school, I kinda had my hands full.

I stayed at home for a little over two years, and then we moved to Germany. I rarely spoke with that aunt, but I spoke with her oldest sister, Kathryn, fairly regularly. Aunt Kay started saying that Mable (my aunt with dementia) was under “stress.”  I could accept that: Mable’s daughter had died a year or so before, so … yes, stress. Mable had led a pretty sheltered life and now there she was, suddenly all alone, and without the daughter around whom her life had revolved for almost fifty years. From time to time Aunt Kaye would relate stories of Mable’s odd behavior, but having no previous experience with dementia, I made no connection. And Aunt Kaye never uttered the “D” or “A” word.

Then, in April of 2005, I got the call we all dread: I needed to come home because my eldest aunt was failing. Even though I was two days out of the hospital after a two-week stay, I was Frankfurt Airport-bound in less than 48 hours. When I arrived at the ICU of our local hospital, twenty minutes ahead of schedule, I was absolutely horrified to find Aunt Kaye (the eldest aunt) a mere shadow of her former self. Once so tall, confident, and strong, I was greeted by a weak, skeletal figure who weakly reached her skeletal arms out to me when I entered the room. A significant emotional event after a 16-hour Transatlantic trip and a six-hour time shift, I went home and went to bed.

The first time I saw Mable was the next day. She seemed like her old self. Then she said something a little odd, but she came back pretty quickly. But, the more time I spent with her, the more I noticed that something just wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but…

That’s when my cousin Patty just laid it all out. Mable had been diagnosed with dementia. She told us (my two sisters were there, too) about the nightmare Mable’s life had become. The most disturbing, to me, was that Mable had become nocturnal, and on more than one occasion had been found by the police wandering around. When asked what she was doing, she said she was looking for her daughter. Sometimes they would take her back home, yet at other times to the ER.

After Aunt Kaye passed, I had to go about the business of tying up loose ends so I could get back to Germany. We made an appointment to discuss Mable’s situation with her doctor, who turned out to be a condescending, uncaring sack of excrement who was more focused on putting us “uppity negroes” in our place than intelligently discussing Mable’s situation. When we went to see the attorney about taking care of Aunt Kaye’s estate, we tried to get a Power of Attorney for Mable, but the attorney refused to do it, even though Mable was there, was lucid, and agreed to it.

Aunt Kaye had lived in the family homestead with her youngest sister, Bettye, who is deaf. The reasonable solution was to move Mable back to the homestead with Bettye. But neither of them were having any of that. Bettye said she was afraid of Mable’s volatility, and Mable decided we were evil and plotting against her.

I had come home prepared to say goodbye to one aunt. I ended up saying goodbye to two. Mable was no longer there.  I thought I would be attending one funeral; it ended up being a double.

I don’t recall now exactly when Mable finally went into care, but I think it was 2005. I came back to the States early in 2006, but to El Paso, Texas, so I didn’t go home.  My cousin who had been visiting her at the nursing home died in 2009, so I had no real word of Mable after that. Someone sent me a picture of her in the nursing home: she was lying limply in a bed, her hair disheveled, her t-shirt rolled up under her breasts, exposing her stomach. She could have been dead or alive. However, in my mind that was no longer Mable. Her periods of lucidity had long since become more the rare exception than the norm, and she had retreated to her childhood. Very rarely, a little of Mable would peep out, but it was so rare and so brief that it would have been better if it had not.  Those brief moments just reminded us of what we had lost. It was a knife to my heart because I still believe that the “May-May” I had so adored as a child was still in there, imprisoned by this evil disease, but trying desperately to let someone know, “Hey! I’m still in here!”

One day in 2011, I received a call from the nursing home while I was in baggage claim at the Huntsville, Alabama, airport. In 2009, I had called the nursing home and told them they needed to transfer Patty’s role to me when I found out she was dying of cancer. They told me that Patty would have to come in and relinquish her role. I told them she was a little busy dying at the moment and probably wouldn’t be able to fit that into her schedule. I gave them my contact information and decided to let them figure it out for themselves. So, in late 2011, they finally did.

I didn’t recognize the number, but I recognized the area code. In a very matter-of-fact way, the woman on the other end of the line informed me she was calling to get authorization to do a hospice consult for Mable. You see, one of the things they don’t tell you about dementia is that not only does it steal your essence and your life memories, it steals every learned behavior. Mable had long since lost her ability to hold up her head and feed herself; by the time I got that call, she had forgotten how to eat and swallow. She was dehydrated and emaciated. But a hospice consult? Over two years of nothing and suddenly we need a hospice consult? No, I did not handle it well.

I received that call in early November. After a number of conversations with my sisters, we decided against the hospice consult. I decided I was going to go home for Thanksgiving to see Mable and say my last good-bye, even though she had died to me back in 2005. Exactly one week before I was going to head to home, the nursing home called me and told me she had passed. They asked me what I wanted them to do. My sisters and I decided to have our cousin, who is a mortician, retrieve her body and cremate her. We talked about a memorial service, but that never happened.

My daughter and I went home at Thanksgiving anyway, and I went by the nursing home to retrieve Mable’s things. The nursing home staff was very kind. They had an orderly roll out less than a dozen boxes the size of copier paper boxes to my car and load them in. I drove them back to the house, took them in and opened them up. There were very few of her personal items left. Most of it was clothes they had provided her as she wasted away—things she never would have voluntarily worn. Eighty-six years of living reduced to less than a dozen boxes because dementia is a ruthless thief.

To this day, no one has retrieved her cremains. They are with a family member, so I know they are safe and will not be abused. But, the bottom line: I feel no connection to those cremains. “Mable” died the deathless death of dementia long before her body gave up the fight.

Why are they called “mass shootings?”

Sadly, we are dealing with yet another tragedy caused by a maniac with a gun. Today it was in southwestern Virginia as the lives of Alison Parker and Adam Ward were senselessly taken by a former colleague. As Americans and the media try to unravel what’s behind today’s horrific acts, I noticed something and those were the words “mass shooting.” Those two words are sadly all-too-common in today’s day, when mass shootings seem to be the norm. According to a Washington Post story published this afternoon, the United States is averaging more than one mass shooting per day. Those horrific numbers are for a separate conversation about gun violence and the perpetuation of gun ownership in America, but this is about the media’s portrayal of mass shootings and whether a quality definition exists for heinous acts.

Today’s tragedy took the lives of three people (gunman included), wounding a fourth. In the Washington Post’s article, they cite a subreddit called GunsAreCool (a sarcastic title), which defines a mass shooting, “as any single incident in which at least four people are shot, including the gunman.” The WaPo article goes onto to mention the FBI’s definition, “which requires three or more people to be killed by gunfire.”

Do either of those definitions fit what you consider a “mass shooting?” Without doing the quantitative and qualitative research necessary, it seems as if the term “mass shooting” is applied to any shooting–regardless of the number of victims–covered wall-to-wall by the media. Since we first learned of the senseless acts committed by a madman, media–both online and television–have covered the story incessantly. To me, it seems that when the media decides one particular heinous act committed with a gun demands the nonstop coverage, then–and only then–is the shooting considered a “mass shooting.”

It’s difficult to admit this, and perhaps this is hyperbolic given the nature of today’s events, but it seems that “mass shootings” is media code for “terrorist attack committed by an American on American soil using a gun.” Yes, we generally reserve the term “terrorist attack” committed by Americans when bombs are involved, but at this point, that’s what these “mass shootings” are doing. They terrorize and terrify victims, bystanders, and all those affected directly or indirectly by the attacks. Recent shootings at movie theaters now have you looking around a theater before enjoying a show. Is that different than checking around an airport or a plane post-9/11? We are scared of our movie theaters, our schools, our churches, our malls, our neighborhoods, and almost every place we go. Why? Mass shootings.

Will we finally let go of the numbness we experience following a mass shooting if we correctly identify them as a terrorist attack? Yes, most of the shooters do not have an ideological goal, but based on the testimony of the Charleston shooter and the suicide note left by today’s attacker, both provided plenty of ideological fodder for their twisted, senseless violent actions.

We have a problem in this country when “mass shootings”–or however you want to define them–become the new normal. After 9/11, incredible changes were made to this country to prevent another attack from happening. Whether you agree or disagree with the changes made post-9/11 is beside the point, but we can say that the government has foiled a large number of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since that horrible day and we’ve done a far better job protecting the country. Is that too much to ask when it comes to those terrorizing our schools, churches, movie theaters, and homes? Is it too much to ask our country and fellow citizens to do something to protect us?

As we try to determine how we can prevent tragedies like this from happening again–which again revolves mostly around the proliferation of guns in America and American culture–we must consider how and why we define certain actions as “mass shootings,” instead of the terroristic actions they are.

Until we find a way to stop this madness, they will continue, unabated. The pain and suffering of today’s events will subside for most Americans, as we leave the victims’ friends, families, and colleagues to grieve and ask why, but the rest of us will continue about our business until our day is interrupted, once again, by the sound of a breaking news alert as we once again learn the names of the victims and the senseless individual responsible for yet another attack. No more movie theaters, schools, churches, malls, homes, streets, cars, or any other location where victims are senselessly gunned down. It must end.