UPDATE: Multiple sources have confirmed the man who stood up to the shooter is Ian Grillot of Kansas City. His sister has setup a donation page for his medical expenses here. The two other victims are Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, with donation pages here and here, respectively.
Three white men in western Kansas shocked many people when they were arrested in October for a plot to use explosive-laden vehicles as weapons of mass destruction against an apartment building where Somali refugees—many of whom work in a local meat-packing plant—make up the majority.
Wednesday night, another shock occurred.
A shooting took place at a local sports bar in Olathe, Kansas. Inside Austin’s Bar and Grill was a scene not all that uncommon around these parts; witnesses state a white male in his 50s or 60s was unleashing racist slurs in the bar. You could go to any bar in the Kansas City area and chances would be good to encounter at least one belligerent patron or two people engaging in fisticuffs.
Less common is someone telling the belligerent person to cut it out, as reportedly happened on this night. But in a state where 72.8% of murders in 2015 were committed with a firearm, there should be little surprise when belligerence responds to dissent with a gun.
Kansas isn't the most diverse place in the world (in case you didn’t know); the 2010 census pegged non-hispanic white people at 78.2%, with 2015 estimates bumping them down to 76.4%. You won’t find much contrast outside of the college towns and major cities, and Kansas City’s diversity has some extra help due to the Sprint headquarters being located in one of the suburbs.
Austin’s Bar and Grill differs from downtown KC establishments in having a community in itself. Bartenders know customers by name, and the diverse demographics of the surrounding area means all types are welcome. On this night, the bar was packed as people came out to watch the University of Kansas’ Jayhawks play Iowa State’s Cyclones in basketball; origin and creed never matter when rallying to cheer a local sports team.
All of these pieces fell into place for a beautiful picture turned disturbing.
According to a bartender at the scene, the belligerent man had been shouting slurs and accusations of terrorism at two people other witnesses have described as Indian or Middle Eastern. One man, Tyler Lape, believes it was his friend who stood up to the man just minutes after Tyler had left the bar. The friend is a regular at the establishment, and some witnesses say he attempted to move the man outside.
Conflicting reports have come out on whether the gun was pulled immediately, or if the man came back after being removed. The identifies of the victims are awaiting confirmation as well, but multiple witnesses say the regular and the two men being shouted at were the victims when the belligerent man opened fire.
Once the shooting took place, the suspect fled on foot. Police responded quickly by placing Olathe South High School—where baseball tryouts were occurring—on lockdown due to its close proximity to the bar. A nearby resident reported mass messages were sent out, informing people to stay inside while police engaged in a manhunt, and a description of a vehicle they believed belonged to the suspect. K9, military-style vehicles, camouflage, and SWAT were deployed before officers surrounded a house under suspicion the suspect was inside.
It was just over five hours later when police in Clinton, Missouri—a town 81 miles from where the shooting occurred—confirmed with Olathe’s police that the suspect was in their custody, having been apprehended at an Applebee’s.
Little information is known about the suspect, as police have yet to release an identity. However, witnesses claim the man lives close to Austin’s Bar and Grill, making his apprehension in another county a mystery. Neighbors and locals have told reporters the man they believe to be the suspect is a military veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, who had possibly been diagnosed with a serious illness just recently.
At the same time that police released a statement regarding apprehension, they also confirmed one of the three victims, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, had died at the hospital. Two remain in critical condition as of this writing.
A white male, 50+ years old, harassed two men of color by hurling slurs and accusations of terrorism before shooting them alongside one man who came to their defense. One of the three victims died while the other two may not survive.
What you’ll likely see in national coverage:
Disgruntled combat vet with PTSD and maybe cancer shoots people in a bar.
The response from republican politicians:
Thoughts and prayers, this is a tragedy, we need to take care of our vets.
The response from democratic politicians:
We need action on gun crime and better access to mental health, also the mentally ill might be dangerous.
Republican voters on Facebook:
Looks like gun-free zones worked well! Bet the LIEberals will use this to come for our guns!
Democratic voters on Facebook:
I can’t believe this happened. We need better gun laws if someone with PTSD can get a gun!
The story everyone should focus on:
A white man with a gun shot three people in a bar because one of them told him to stop harassing the other two based on their skin color.
Why should we focus on this framing of the story? It’s not just that there’s no confirmation from any official source that the man, Adam Purinton, has PTSD; it’s also because this tragedy contains the root to so many other tragedies—whether executed or never past the planning stage—that continue to occur in the United States. Many men with guns have opened fire on other individuals because of their skin; many men without guns have used other weapons or their own bodies to assault the same people; and many more have devoted hours of their day to threatening both of these actions against people of color, wrapped inside the safety of online anonymity or feeling privileged enough to associate their words with their real name.
But what doesn’t appear in all of these cases, and is in fact only a factor in a fraction of them, is mental illness, because all it takes to pull a trigger is a will. I’ve watched men threaten to pull a trigger over the price of a repair without a second thought. My mother was almost one of the 4 women killed each day by firearm-related domestic violence, when her husband held a loaded shotgun to her head. With tens of thousands of murders by use of firearm carried out each year, blaming each one on mental illness would describe a national mental health crisis—especially when another shooting with three victims happened the same night in the same state.
And without a trigger to pull, targeted abuse of minorities becomes that much easier. Every hate crime, from murder without a firearm to arson of a religious institution to death threats sent via email, doesn’t require mental illness to perform. If it did, the mental health crisis would move into a scope beyond imagination and countries would be placing immigration bans on every white person from the United States.
No, the unifying trait in each of these cases is a deep-seated hatred of races seen as inferior to the beholder’s specific brand of whiteness, emboldened by centuries of empirical evidence proving that the odds of punishment for taking violent action are on their side. Many elements of this event were uncommon, but racism and bigotry are top U.S. exports—regardless of how much we convince ourselves the producers are few. Common racism is easy to learn regardless of environment; the evolution to extremism creates its own opportunities when none are provided. It’s why the Richard Spencers and Dylann Roofs of the world can be given the “quiet, well-mannered” descriptors most of their lives even though you know at least a few people who share some of their beliefs.
Yet we already can predict the reactions to this case because it happens over and over with little work we can point to as trying to prevent the next one. Organizations to deradicalize right-wing extremists, like Life After Hate and their EXIT program, can do great work but I guarantee less than 1% of people reading this right now even knew they existed. Meanwhile, the threat of Trump potentially halting programs that counter white supremacist terrorism doesn’t amount to much when such programs barely existed before he was president.
In the days ahead, the victims of Wednesday’s violent whiteness deserve the United States of America getting uncomfortable with itself while it asks if this is the country we’re really proud of, and definitively stating no, we’re not. We must stand up for the people with mental health issues and tell them they’re not going to be the scapegoat anymore when we’re afraid to admit we contributed in some way to the continued terror of violent whiteness. Politicians will hear our demands that funding for accessible mental healthcare and supporting firearm restrictions are no longer hollow promises they can use to deflect from addressing the institutional safeguards of violent whiteness.
We can build a country where mental healthcare is freely available, where firearms are only available to people who have proven they can handle the responsibility, and maybe only then will politicians have nothing left to blame but the whiteness in front of them. But none of these things are mutually exclusive, and it’s imperative we finally admit that a country of 322,000,000 can walk and chew gum at the same damned time.