Wednesday, March 21, 2018

So, yeah, those bombs in Austin

photo from Daily Beast by Brendan Buress

When the first bomb went off, I assumed something was up in the victim's personal life - that some crazy story would come out about the person killed.  It's not just that it occurred in Austin - where we have a low crime rate, our organized crime is low key, and our murder rate very low for a city of this size - it's that it occurred out in the 'burbs up north.

Really, the bombing felt like a freak incident.  The local press had nothing to go on, so no one paid much attention.  What do you even say when this happens and then... nothing?

Fast forward a week and bombs two and three went off on the same day.

For as "cool" as Austin is supposed to be, this city never desegregated.  I-35 runs right on the edge of downtown, and on one side you have the government, education, business and entertainment district, and on the other side of the freeway, you have The East Side.  The area is in transition as newcomers have purchased a lot of that property and multistory condos are going up, but it takes all of two minutes of looking to figure out that the neighborhoods here are where a lot of Hispanic immigrant families live, especially adjacent to downtown and south.  North and east of that, you have African American neighborhoods.

Bombs two and three went off in those neighborhoods.  One explosion killed a high school kid, and the second grievously injured a woman going to visit her 90 year old mother.  The student was Black, the woman Hispanic.  And that's when we learned the first victim was Black.

Texas is not without racism - and I could go on about the history of Austin's segregation and destruction of neighborhoods, but not here and now - and we also aren't without White Supremacists.  Throw in our conspiracy nuts, uber-Libertarians, etc... and that laid back vibe people get when they come to town is surface layer.  There's a lot going on here (and everywhere).

For the first three bombings, most of us assumed the work was that of a White Supremacist - which at least gave someone a lead.  Look into those hate groups, cross-reference for training/ military time/ etc... and it maybe painted a picture.

The victims were, of course, just going about their day.  Anthony Stephan House, the first victim, was a father of an young daughter.  The second victim was Draylen Mason, a college-bound 17 year old who was set to go to UT and likely major in music.  A shining star of a student.   Esperanza Herrera was caring for her mother, and was a fixture in the neighborhood.

The bomb on Sunday night was set very differently and in a different neighborhood.  Travis Country is South and West of town.  It's a predominantly White area.  Lots of tech industry folks live there.  A tripwire was set and caught two joggers, young men, who sustained serious injury, but are expected to pull through.

This was different.  Whatever clues we thought we were working with had gone out the window as the bomb-type changed and the location changed.  This one seemed to be a tripwire attached to the package, placed after dark where the tripwire wouldn't be seen.  Bombs weren't on anyone in particular's doorstep, it was random.  And, while I say the area is largely White, it's nowhere near everyone.  If the prior bombs had seemed coded with a message, this one unraveled that hypothesis.  Now it was truly random.

Tuesday morning we learned a bomb had gone off at a FedEx facility South of Austin at a sort of central depot for collecting and dispatching packages from FedEx retail shops.  I'm not clear if anyone was injured, but it doesn't seem like any injury resulting was terribly serious from the media's lack of focus on the victims.  A second bomb was discovered at a different sorting facility near the airport.

As it turns out, it seems that both bombs were sent from a FedEx retail location that Jamie and I use.  It's odd to see the place where you printed your Christmas letter so you could save on buying a new ink cartridge show up on the national news.

I was at the gym on Tuesday evening when I looked at the TV and saw something else had gone off at the Goodwill nearby.  It's where Jamie and I drop things, and where I've purchased a few items.  It's an eight minute drive through neighborhood streets to get there.

Law enforcement seemed to be sending contradictory messages - and I still don't know if the device that went off, which was some sort of military training device, was related to the suspect or if it was negligence on the part of someone who dropped items at the Goodwill.

I've chatted online with some of you about this: The only time I felt anything resembling fear was when I wasn't home when the last bomb went off - and that was more concern that I didn't have Jamie in my line of sight. Mostly, I've felt a low-burning anger.

For all the headlines you'll see about Austin "Living in Fear", it's more a wearying frustration.  Of course it's "scary" to have bombs going off, but mostly you think about the people getting hurt and dying who were never knew the suspect, who weren't involved in their particular drama, who went to get the mail and died and didn't know why.  Statistically, I didn't worry that much about myself, but, still...   that's the frustration of a random series of attacks.

The arrogance, callousness and - above all - cowardice of these attacks shifts from the abstract to the concrete.  That every time I open my door, I look around to see if there's a package there, that I've been nervous about walking the dogs lest we hit a tripwire, that there's going to be yet another report of someone else who wasn't lucky, who got hit - and for what?

I know there are people out there who live in cities where getting on a bus every day is an exercise in courage - who understand that the quiet anxiety of sudden, life-changing disaster is the cost of life in their city.  Who likely know people affected.  We're exceedingly lucky to live in a place where this sort of thing doesn't usually happen, and that we have well-funded law enforcement there to relentlessly pursue perpetrators.

The guy who was doing this wasn't a genius.  He went to FedEx in gloves and a terrible wig.  It was easy enough to sort out who he was from there (that location had eight cameras that you could see).  While I slept in South Austin, law enforcement tracked the suspect down at a cheap hotel off I-35 between Pflugerville and Round Rock (North and East of town).  He fled, put his car in a ditch and then blew himself up.  He was one more young white male out there lashing out.  Whatever his reasons - and when they're uncovered, I assure you they'll be idiotic - he was just one more impotent dope who couldn't deal with his own deficiencies.  I won't be at all surprised if we learn he's a fan of the more popular conspiracy websites.  Or watched The Dark Knight too many times.  Couldn't do anything worthwhile so he had to make himself the focus somehow.

Whatever the case, as the authorities release information, I hope it's the victims we remember and people affected we continue to discuss and support.  And I'm kind of proud of Austin for how it's responded.  My facebook hasn't been full of my friends quaking in fear, it's been a lot of folks echoing caution and care for their neighbors. 

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