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Aurora Shooting Victims Raise Concerns About “Joker” in Letter to Warner Brothers

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  • Families of the victims of the 2012 shooting at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO wrote a letter to Warner Brothers raising concerns about their new film Joker
  • They said the film depicts violence in a manner that gives them “pause” and encouraged the studio to advocate for gun reform through political support and donations.
  • Critics of Joker believe the film depicts the story of a societal outcast who turns to violence in a dangerous way, which could empower similar behavior in the era of mass shootings. 
  • Writer/Director Todd Phillips and the film’s star Joaquin Phoenix, however, think there is a different lesson to be learned from the film and argue that someone seeking to be inspired by violence could find it anywhere, not just in their movie.

Families Write Letter

Families of the victims of the 2012 Aurora theater shooting penned a letter to Warner Brothers with concerns over its new film Joker, asking the company to join a wave of businesses fighting for gun reform. 

On July 20, 2012, a gunman killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. While Joker will not be shown at the remodeled version of that theater, many in the community still have concerns about the movie. Warner Brothers’ latest Batman-related project depicts the famous villain as a failed comic who spirals into violent spells after feeling like a societal outcast.

Five family members of shooting victims and witnesses explained how this tragedy impacted their lives and why this new movie concerns them in their letter, which was addressed to Warner Brothers’ CEO Ann Sarnoff.

“This tragic event, perpetrated by a socially isolated individual who felt “wronged” by society has changed the course of our lives,” they wrote in the letter, which was obtained and published by Variety. “As a result, we have committed ourselves to ensuring that no other family ever has to go through the absolute hell we have experienced and the pain we continue to live with. Trust us, it does not go away.”

“When we learned that Warner Bros. was releasing a movie called “Joker” that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story, it gave us pause,” they added. “We want to be clear that we support your right to free speech and free expression. But as anyone who has ever seen a comic book movie can tell you: with great power comes great responsibility. That’s why we’re calling on you to use your massive platform and influence to join us in our fight to build safer communities with fewer guns.”

The letter cites Walmart and CVS as corporations who have recently taken their own steps to support gun safety. Rather than calling for a boycott of the film, or asking the company to drop the project, the families are asking Warner Brothers to stop contributing to candidates who take money from the NRA and vote against gun reform.

They are also calling on Warner Brothers to use their own political clout in Congress to lobby for gun reform and are asking them to donate to survivor funds and gun violence intervention programs.

Reports say that a copy of the letter has not made its way to Warner Brothers Studios yet, and they have not commented on the matter. 

The Hollywood Reporter spoke to some of the people who signed the letter, including Sandy Phillips, who lost her daughter in the shooting.

“I don’t need to see a picture of [the perpetrator]; I just need to see a Joker promo and I see a picture of the killer,” she said. 

“My worry is that one person who may be out there — and who knows if it is just one — who is on the edge, who is wanting to be a mass shooter, may be encouraged by this movie. And that terrifies me,” she later added.

However, not everyone behind the letter is worried about fictional displays of violence influencing the real world. Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America, who advised the family members on this letter, told Variety that he does not believe there is a correlation between the two.

“I generally follow the science on this stuff and the science has repeatedly found no link between violent movies and real world violent crime,” he said. “That’s the reality of the situation. The real issue isn’t violence in what Hollywood makes. It’s that it’s incredibly easy to obtain firearms in America.”

Criticism of ‘Joker’

Joker is expected to open to an impressive box office haul and is even looked at as an Oscar contender come awards season. The violence depicted in it, however, has dominated critical conversations since the film debuted at the Venice Film Festival in August, winning the event’s top prize. The film’s acclaim has been met by equal concerns about letting audiences sympathize with a character committing heinous acts in the name of being a lonely defeatist. Some critics find this image to be too disturbingly familiar in a world where mass killings occur on a regular basis.

Chief Critic at Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson said the movie, “may be irresponsible propaganda for the very men it pathologizes.”

David Ehrlich, the Senior Critic at IndieWire called it “a toxic rallying cry for self-pitying incels.”

Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips Respond to Criticism

This angle inevitably became a talking point in interviews with the cast and crew. In an article published by Telegraph on Friday, Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the title role, walked out when an interviewer brought up the subject.

Critic and writer Robbie Collin said he asked Phoenix if he was “worried that this film might perversely end up inspiring exactly the kind of people it’s about, with potentially tragic results?”

“Why?…Why would you…? No… no,” Phoenix responded. Collin wrote that the actor then clasped his hands between his and walked out the door. 

Bursts like this are not outside the realm of normal for Phoenix. He eventually returned to the interview after Collin negotiated with Warner Brothers’ PR team for an hour. Collin wrote that the idea of this character’s violence potentially being contagious had not yet crossed Phoenix’s mind. 

Since that interview, the question has continued to come up. Joker’s writer and director Todd Phillips defended the film’s thesis in a Monday interview with IGN. 

“The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world,” he said. “I think people can handle that message.”

In that same interview, Phoenix also backed the message up.

“Well, I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong,” he said to IGN. “And those that aren’t are capable of interpreting anything in the way that they may want to. People misinterpret lyrics from songs. They misinterpret passages from books. So I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right or wrong. I mean, to me, I think that that’s obvious.”

“I think if you have somebody that has that level of emotional disturbance, they can find fuel anywhere,” Phoenix added in regards to the film’s potential inspiration to incite violence. “I just don’t think that you can function that way.”

Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murderers or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.

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Bodycam Footage Shows Adam Toledo Wasn’t Holding Gun When an Officer Shot Him

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  • Chicago officials released body camera footage Thursday which showed that 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by police last month, had put his hands up in the air right before the officer opened fire.
  • The graphic video showed the officer, who has now been identified as Eric Stillman, yelling at Adam to stop as he chases him through an alley.
  • The teenager obeyed and stopped by a fence, where he can be seen holding what appears to be a gun behind his back. Stillman ordered him to drop it, and then shot him a split second after Adam raised his empty hands in the air.
  • The footage prompted renewed outrage, protests, and calls for an investigation. A lawyer for the Toledo family called the killing “an assassination,” while Stillman’s lawyer defended the officer, and claimed he acted appropriately.

Officer Bodycam Footage Made Public

Body camera footage released by Chicago officials Thursday showed that Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy killed by police last month, had his hands up when he was fatally shot.

The footage, which was released as part of a report by the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), showed officers chasing Adam, who was Latino, through an alley in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Little Village during the early hours of March 29.

The officer ordered Adam to stop. The teenager complied and halted by the side of a fence, holding what looks like a gun in one of his hands behind his back. The policeman yelled at him to drop it and show his hands.

Adam turned and lifted his empty hands, and the officer fired his weapon, striking the teenager once in the chest. The policeman is then seen administering CPR and asking him, “You alright? Where you shot?” while blood poured out of his mouth.

The COPA report published Thursday also identified the officer who shot Adam as 34-year-old Eric Stillman, who is white, and whose lawyer said he had been put on administrative duties for 30 days.

Stillman’s lawyer also argued that the shooting was justified, as did John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“He was 100% right,” Catanzara said. “The offender still turned with a gun in his hand. This occurred in eight-tenths of a second.”

Renewed Backlash and Protests

Adeena Weiss Ortiz, an attorney obtained by Adam’s family, said they are looking into taking legal action against Stillman. 

“If you’re shooting an unarmed child with his arms in the air, it’s an assassination,” she said at a news conference Thursday. 

Ortiz acknowledged the bodycam footage did appear to show Adam holding something that “could be a gun,” but argued the video must be independently analyzed to confirm.

“It’s not relevant because he tossed the gun,” she said. “If he had a gun, he tossed it.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also echoed Ortiz’s demands on Thursday, calling for a “complete and transparent” investigation.

“The video released today shows that police shot Adam Toledo even though his hands were raised in the air,” said Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois.

“The people of Chicago deserve answers about the events surrounding this tragic interaction. The anger and frustration expressed by many in viewing the video is understandable and cannot be ignored.”

Hours before the video was released, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pleaded for calm in the city, where anti-police protests have taken place in the weeks following the shooting.

“We must proceed with deep empathy and calm and importantly, peace,” she said. “No family should ever have a video broadcast widely of their child’s last moments, much less be placed in the terrible situation of losing their child in the first place.”

Some businesses in downtown Chicago boarded prepared for violence ahead of the video’s publication by boarding up their windows. City vehicles stood by to block traffic.

However, the demonstrations that took place Thursday were small, peaceful, and spread out over several parts of the city. Organizers said they plan to hold more protests Friday.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Sun-Times) (The New York Times) (The Chicago Tribune)

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Eight Dead in Indianapolis Shooting

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  • Eight people were killed and several more were injured after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
  • The gunman took his life after opening fire. Authorities have not identified his motive yet. 
  • According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2021, there have been 147 U.S. mass shootings, defined as verified incidents with four or more gunshot victims.
  • President Joe Biden released a statement calling gun violence “an epidemic in America,” adding, “We should not accept it. We must act.”

Eight Killed in Shooting

Eight people were killed and several others have been wounded after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.

The gunman killed four people in the parking lot then four people inside before taking his own life, according to local officials. Authorities have identified the gunman and are searching his home, but have not disclosed any potential motives.

“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” Deputy Chief Craig McCartt of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said during a press conference. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”

Several witnesses told local outlets they initially thought the gunshots were engines backfiring or another type of mechanical noise until they saw the gunman. Some said they heard him shouting indistinctly before opening fire. The investigation is still in very early stages and victims have not yet been identified. 

The facility employs 4,500 team members. It is unclear how many were working at the time of the shooting. FedEx released a statement expressing its condolences to the victims and their families. 

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of our team members following the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis,” the statement read. “Our most heartfelt sympathies are with all those affected by this senseless act of violence. The safety of our team members is our top priority, and we are fully cooperating with investigating authorities.”

Gun Violence in the U.S.

This tragedy follows a recent string of mass shootings in the U.S., including in Atlanta, Colorado, Southern California, and Texas. According to the Associated Press, this is at least the third in Indianapolis this year. 

The Gun Violence Archive has logged a total of 147 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2021. The organization defines mass shootings as reported and verified incidents with at least four gunshot victims.

Several politicians have released statements about the shooting, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who said this pattern “must end.”

“Yet again we have families in our country that are grieving the loss of their family members because of gun violence,” she said. “There is no question that this violence must end, and we are thinking of the families that lost their loved ones.”

President Joe Biden also released a statement saying that, “Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation.”

“Gun violence is an epidemic in America,” Biden added. “But we should not accept it. We must act.”

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett echoed those remarks in a news conference. 

“The scourge of gun violence that has killed far too many in our community and in our country,” he said.

“Our prayers are with the families of those whose lives were cut short,” he added on Twitter. 

Hogsett is among 150 U.S. mayors who recently signed a letter asking the Senate to take up gun legislation, including expanding background checks.

Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murders or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.

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Soldier Charged With Assault After Shoving Black Man in Viral Video

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  • Authorities charged Army soldier Jonathan Pentland with third-degree assault and battery on Wednesday after a viral video showed him shoving a Black man while yelling at him to leave a South Carolina neighborhood.
  • Many people, including dozens who protested outside Pentland’s home this week, condemned the confrontation as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”
  • Pentland and others claimed the unidentified man was picking a fight with neighbors, which the man denied, but police said nothing that may have happened earlier justified Pentland’s actions.
  • If convicted, Pentland faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Viral Video

A U.S. soldier was charged with assault on Wednesday after a video that circulated online showed him yelling at and shoving a Black man in a South Carolina neighborhood.

Footage of the April 8 incident was posted to social media Monday. It shows the Army soldier, Jonathan Pentland, confronting the unidentified man and telling him to leave the neighborhood. 

The other man explains that he’s just walking through the area and doing nothing wrong, but Pentland becomes increasingly aggressive. “You better walk away,” he shouts at the man after shoving him.

“You either walk away, or I’m gonna carry your ass out of here,” he continues before adding, “You’re in the wrong neighborhood motherf*ker. Get out!”

The man then tries to tell Pentland that he lives in the neighborhood, and Pentland then asks for his address, which he does not give.

The confrontation continues with Pentland cursing and getting in the man’s face. As he does so, the man says that Pentland smells drunk. 

It’s unclear what exactly led up to the confrontation, but in the video, a woman off-camera says the man “picked a fight with some random young lady that’s one of our neighbors.”

“I don’t even know who she is. Nobody picked a fight when someone ran up on me,” the man replies. Another woman off-screen then encourages the man to leave with her, saying, “What’s your name? Come on. You don’t want no trouble.”

Video Triggers Protests Outside Pentland’s Home

After this video spread online, many social media users condemned it as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”

In fact, protesters even began demonstrating outside of Penland’s home. Those protests started off peaceful, but deputies were then called after 8 p.m. because unknown individuals vandalized the house. That forced police to shut down access to the area and remove Pentland’s family to another location.

As far as the viral video, deputies were told that the man approached “several neighbors in a threatening manner” and that someone had asked Pentland to “intervene.”

Police did confirm that there are two reports of alleged assault against the unnamed man Pentland shoved that are being investigated. However, they also added that the man has “an underlying medical condition that may explain the behavior exhibited in the alleged incidents.”

Pentland Charged

Either way, police said whatever happened earlier did not justify Pentland’s actions. He was ultimately arrested Wednesday morning and was charged with third-degree assault and battery. He faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail if convicted.

“We’re not going to let people be bullies in our community,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said at a news conference Wednesday. “And if you are, you’re going to answer for it, and that’s what we’ve done in this case.”

On top of that, the Justice Department reportedly was investigating. Pentland’s Commanding General even issued a statement condemning his behavior, adding that Pentland “brought disrespect to @fortjackson our Army and the trust with the public we serve.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC News) (Huffpost)

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