If this past week showed us anything, it was that you never know. You don’t know what anger, depression, resentment or embedded racism hides behind that typical teen’s grin or the neighborhood crank’s frown. We don’t know what propels a person to grab a gun and take target practice on unsuspecting other humans with a vengeance.
You just don’t know.
This week two more shootings happened, one in El Paso; the other in Dayton. They say the flip side of anger is fear though it’s hard to imagine such calculated, heinous acts by those scared and afraid. Yet, these terrorists are definitely frightened, just not in the way you think. You see, for them the bogeyman is not something that goes bump in the night but the ‘tired, hungry, and poor’ that giant green lady in the NY harbor welcomes. The bogeyman — is the ‘other’.
To be fair, I am afraid, too, not of immigrants but of ‘shadow’ Americans. I don’t want to be scared of my homies but religious fanatics and sycophant politicians who dance for a divisive Puppeteer while raining hateful diatribes like confetti grenades, do the job.
I have grandsons – 5 of them. I know all about the sometimes crazy video games (though my kids keep rein on what the nuggets can or can’t play). But to blame mass shootings on said games is nothing short of absurd. When I was a kid, my brothers played with cap guns and toy rifles, pretending to be soldiers, cops or bad guys. To my knowledge, my remaining brother never grew an interest in shooting up a theater.
Let’s face it – WORDS MATTER. How we talk to and about each other matters. It matters how we frame those who were brought here on slave ships and those who seek asylum from torture, painted as murderers, rapists, and an invasion. White supremacists are dubbed ‘fine people’ and even American born elected officials are told to go back to where they came from. (Brooklyn?)
I agree, that most likely some level of mental illness rendered every perpetrator unequipped to process hateful rhetoric with less than deadly actions. I also agree, that if identified, those people should be treated before catastrophes happen – that is if mental health budgets have not been slashed. But the truth is — GUNS KILL PEOPLE. Period. That being said, knowing people are the ones pulling the trigger doesn’t let gun regulations off the hook. Nor should anyone look the other way as AK-47s are blithely utilized as a mass shooter’s weapon of choice. These economically speedy killing machines have no place anywhere but the battlefield. Full stop.
One night, I read one of Brad Meltzer’s kid biographies to my youngest grandboy and his innocent observation renewed me. Having read about Einstein, Walt Disney and Washington, he chose Rosa Parks that night and when I finished reading, I asked what he thought. This big blue-eyed, fair-haired kid said ‘I don’t understand why people are so mean. Just because other people’s skin is a different color, they’re still people.” Out of the mouths of babes.
Yet, some little boys. just like that impossibly sweet grandson who likes pink and thinks every fuzzy stuffed thing is ‘adohable’, grow up to be domestic terrorists, haters of the ‘other’. They somehow missed the memo that we are ALL immigrants, that skin tone is an accident of birth and they could have just as easily been born an ‘other’. They didn’t get the message that, just as we want to be accepted, we need to accept others.
So, what messages have been sewn in the mind of that kid next door? What causes them to become troubled outliers, lonely sitting ducks for the dark reaches of dangerous websites like 8chan, wacko conspiracy theories and torch bearing marches? These dudes fly under the radar, sitting unsuspectingly near you at church, in the movies, or at school until we see their faces on the news.
Finding welcome from fringe hate groups, they become operatives with a mission. They believe that lost jobs, poverty and displacement is caused by the ‘other’, who becomes the perfect scapegoat. After all, it’s always easier to blame than acknowledge simple truth – education, robots, AI and yes, people, are part of a changing world. But resentment set on fire is not only reminiscent of another country across the pond 75 years ago. It also threatens to decimate the experiment called democracy in this one.
It’s not that hard, really, to change this random deadly insanity. New Zealand banned assault weapons in SIX days after one mass shooting. But, of course, they have no NRA that pays millions for lobbying politicians, political advocacy, and to help elect a president. Still, if after Sandy Hook, Parkland, Las Vegas and now Dayton and El Paso, we still do nothing — it’s on us. It’s on the Senate who sit instead of stand up for what’s right. It’s on the Oval whose rhetoric emboldens separation instead of communion. We cannot be silent.
Today I repeat Beto O’Rourke’s emotional, angry exclamation over the senseless tragedy in his beloved hometown.