USA


The past two weekends brought three mass shootings (yes, technically Gilroy didn’t result in enough deaths to be classified as such… don’t care… it was intended to cause terror and death), and I’m left shaking my head in an attempt to try and make sense of it all. But who can make sense of this insanity? It’s like a group of Americans are suffering a shared psychosis of hate and paranoia, and, combined with access to high capacity weapons, are acting on it.

While I continue to process the horrific events, one of them in the state next door to where I live, and in an area I just drove through about 5 weeks ago, I instead will share the impassioned and thoughtful words of a person I have called my spiritual friend.

Nan O’Brien-Webb wrote the following and shared it this morning on FaceBook, and she captures the outrage, anger, and demand for sensibility that I feel but cannot yet describe in my own words. These are hers and she has given me permission to share it here. Being a former radio professional, she recorded her response and I encourage you to listen. The written word cannot capture the pain we hear in the sound of her voice, a pain that we’re all feeling as we try and make sense of the chaos that has been growing around us.

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Soapbox alert (Dayton and El Paso)

by Nan O’Brien-Webb

Soundcloud link: https://soundcloud.com/nan-obrien/soapbox-august-4-2019?fbclid=IwAR0g_sGRYAPyQBrq1Plz4x6XI1_MWYU7jCbRCI8b-uJSA5msywOxGPaE2T0

Written text of the audio file:

People enjoying a summer night (Dayton) and families shopping for back-to-school supplies (El Paso). Two mass shootings in two cities almost 1,600 miles apart. These law-abiding citizens who were doing nothing more than going about normal daily activities have now joined a club to which no one wants to belong – “I was at the scene of a mass shooting.”

Just one week ago, on Monday, July 29th, the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, was the site of yet another shooting spree, where three people – six-year-old Stephen Romero, thirteen-year-old Keyla Salazar, and twenty-five-year-old Trevor Irby – were killed, and another sixteen people were wounded. Amazingly, the Garlic Festival deadly assault is not considered a “mass shooting” under the FBI definition of mass shootings, because Legan was “successful” in “only” killing three people. The FBI benchmark for the moniker “mass shooting” states four people besides the shooter must die in order to be classified as a mass shooting. Tell that to the people who were there. Trust me; it absolutely was a mass shooting, FBI definition be damned.

Here are some facts to consider:

– The public carnage in Gilroy was carried out by 19-year old Santino William Legan, who had legally purchased the SKS assault-style rifle he used in the attack, on July 9th in Nevada, a neighboring state that has a history of gun laws that are far more lax than those in California (for more independent information about Nevada gun laws, please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_laws_in_Nevada).

– The Dayton shooter, twenty-four year old Connor Betts, reportedly used an assault rifle, as the bullets found at the scene were 223 caliber, commonly used in rifles like the AR-15 assault rifle that has been a favorite of other gunmen in previous mass shootings. There is no up-to-date information on how he was able to secure his weapon.

– In El Paso, twenty-one year old Patrick Crusius, opened fire with what witnesses say was a rifle, with the rapidity and amount of carnage supporting the theory that it was an assault rifle, too. There is also no up-to-date information on how he was able to secure his weapon.

Investigations as to what weapons were used in Dayton and El Paso are still ongoing. That said, with the number of deaths in the shortest amount of time before being stopped, the body counts at both scenes tend to support that assault weapons were used. In addition, the “convenience” and appeal of such high-powered assault weapons to those with such heinous agendas is historical and sadly obvious.

I am not attacking the Second Amendment here, so please – don’t start posting about the right to bear arms! My legal background always rises to the discussion of such situations from a legal and intellectual standpoint more than an emotional one, and I will defer my comments on the creation, intention, and interpretation (both sides) of the right to bear arms contained in the Second Amendment for another post – I try to be fair when I’m on my soapbox, and right now I’m not in a mood to be fair at all. I’m angry. My heart aches for those who were at the scenes of these shootings, and for all Americans who now hesitate when attending the most “normal” of places.

My anger is rooted in what I see as the ripple effect of events like the Garlic Festival, Dayton, El Paso, and too many others to list, though were I to do so, you would know and remember well the events. I’m angriest because whether shootings occur or not, the unease of wondering “what if” is now so deeply ingrained in our culture. It affects us all, though we may not realize how much. I didn’t, until just two months ago:

My husband and I were in Atlanta awaiting the birth of our second granddaughter, and our family attended a summer weekly outdoor festival. I noticed a man standing on a balcony overlooking the children playing in the large water fountain, the parents enjoying the outdoor concert, everyone happy on a beautiful summer’s night. He stood alone with a large black bag at his feet. It seemed odd he was on a second floor balcony of a closed office building at the edge of the park, not with everyone below, and so I watched him. I watched him, his manner impatient, his constant scanning of the crowd nervous. I watched to make sure he wasn’t going to pull a gun out of that black bag, and start shooting. And I decided that if I saw him move toward that black bag, I had already planned out where the safest place for my family to run would be. He stood there for about ten minutes, then raised his arm and showed a wide grin, when he spotted a group of people who had just arrived at the park. But those ten minutes were a lifetime for me. The uncertainty, the fear, the anger at myself for being suspicious, all combined in an uncomfortable mix of emotions that are still hard to shake. And the black bag? It had a blanket to sit on, and some drinks to enjoy, while they, too were at that concert. How do I know? I kept watching him as he came down the stairs from the balcony and walked over to his friends, who took a place right next to where we were sitting.

I can’t help but wonder if the alarming rise in the level of people with anxiety disorders, and acts of domestic terrorism (let’s call it what it is – violent behavior intended to inflict the most physical and emotional destruction), is related or coincidental. Another issue that needs independent inquiry and research; but not today.

Today, it seems to come down to one simple question that isn’t even a question, it’s a mandate: When does the insanity stop. When does the country come together and forget party affiliation, seeking the highest standard of commonality and humanity, as well as simple common sense. I can’t imagine any sane person advocating such violence, so do we not all have the same need for a sense of security and peace in our lives?

And if we as a nation are going to speak to the vision of our Forefathers in their creation of the brilliance of the United States Constitution (signed on September 17, 1787), defending at least parts of it with every last breath (do you know what the Seventh Amendment says, and how it is routinely ignored because of its inapplicability to modern times?), should we not first look to the reason our Constitution was necessary? I’m speaking of the document that predates the Constitution, that sets forth the reasons FOR our newly formed government to create the legal mandate for our country: the Declaration of Independence. Whatever happened to “the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that is the core of our Declaration of Independence? Are those rights not being infringed upon on a regular basis, by those who successfully take advantage – no, who cowardly hide behind – the protection of the Second Amendment?

Today we should not be talking about defending the rights of these mass shooters to kill innocent people because of the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment. But we arguably should be talking about the need to protect the American public from weapons that were created for battle conditions in war, and not for attacks on innocent people shopping for back-to-school supplies at Wal-Mart. We should be talking about the Pandora’s Box of public pronouncements inciting and promoting divisiveness and hatred, that emboldens those to act. We should be talking about the role of fear on many levels – fear to be in public places that normal life requires (restaurants, movie theatres, concerts, and yes, Wal-Mart); fear to be unarmed; fear of those who ARE armed; fear of those who are different; fear of those who have mental illness; fear of those we think want to take from us; fear of change; fear of the unknown, when the unknowns we bear witness to on a regular basis are so horrendous, so terrifying.

We need to argue less and talk more. We need to listen to all views with respect and not engage in pissing contests. We need to rebuke the fear and get to the commonalities between us. And perhaps most importantly of all, we need to evolve beyond our current circumstance.

I choose to believe it can happen.

My heart goes out to all of those personally affected by the most recent shootings, and to our country at this solemn moment in our nation’s history.

What we do here forward is all that matters.

Love and Light,
Nan

I’m sickened by today’s events in Charlottesville. I’m sickened by the tableau of nazi and white supremacist history being writ large and live in this day and age. I am sickened that the ideologies of hate and bigotry are so freely, loudly, and angrily shouted on the streets of America where so many years before, and even so recently, we believed this diseased torrid flesh-eating curse had finally been permanently banished. Yet this hate led to someone dying and others seriously hurt.

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Here’s another blogger’s response to the weekend’s events title My Fellow White Americans. And, sadly, I couldn’t agree more.

As I prepared to publish this, I came across a draft of an entry that I’d failed to publish shortly after the election. Yet as I re-read it now, I am deeply saddened that my fears have unfortunately been substantiated. Here it is, my previously unpublished post from last November.

Wrapping my head around a vote

written November 14, 2016

I just left a college-wide meeting where about 120 members of the campus community came together to talk about the election of Donald J. Trump and results of the most divisive election in modern history. Since that outcome of November 8th, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the disconnect and compartmentalization that describes how many people I know and care about – including colleagues, neighbors, and others – could vote for a candidate who spent 16 months spewing ever more vile rhetoric of hate, homophobia, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia. Even more so, this same candidate chose not to demonstrate any scorn for those who perpetuated and even advanced this hate speech into action. Rather, he seemed to encourage it.

The kinder people I speak of are not racist. And I believe them. But then I’m left with a question of judgement. Did they hate Hillary so much more that they were willing to look past the comments of a person whose word-vomit and narcissism was decorated with the lacy fabric of… let’s just call it “crap”… the words are there and yet to repeat them gives them legs.

A consummate con, Trump is a showman whose singular goal is to get more views, more news coverage, more attention, regardless of how that happens. And somehow, nearly half the voters were able to swallow their own pride, set aside their own dearly-held values, and select a candidate whose con is only out-sized by his list of vile statements which emboldened a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynistic underbelly of America to come out of the woodwork. When is the last time a President was openly supported by the KKK or other white nationalist groups?

So I sat among colleagues who I hold great respect for, and even fondness, for we are, after all, a family of people committed to the common goal of changing the world through the success of our students. Yet, as I heard my well-intentioned co-workers from counseling offer ways of coping with anxiety – mostly intended for students in the room – I heard one of them, a kind-hearted white gentleman, finish his list of tips interspersed with the statement “because life will go on.” He had been doing so well… but then he went…there.

Life will go on? I guess. But in that one statement, he succeeded in diminishing the very real fears of many of the people in the room. Another colleague who I have often tapped to talk about cross-cultural dialogue and understanding took note of this statement. As a well-educated African American man, he knew the counseling and psychology phraseology. But he also knew what his own fears felt like. And he feared that life was not going to “go on” the same way for a long time. His pain was palpable and I felt a lump in my throat.

Sitting nearby was another colleague who I know to be gay, but he did not speak up. From his body language in response to an LGBT student’s expression of fear and concern countered with a defiant statement of hope, I could feel his pain, as well.

But then another colleague, an African American woman asked a variation of what I had already expressed via the microphone being passed around. How do I wrap my head around the fact that there are people I know who voted for this man in spite of the banner of hate that he waived? How do I resolve this conflict with people who accepted his hate, but then want to work with me? An unfulfilling answer came from a white male in the room who acknowledged his privilege but missed the point. He said we needed to just move past this and go on.

There it was again. Just move on.

Yep. Accept the fact that someone who has emboldened his most extreme followers to openly spew anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-Hispanic, anti-Black crude, cruel, hate speech of the most deplorable kind, should be welcomed with open arms into the leadership of not only this country, but the free world? Accept that? Nope. Not at all.

I know that my male white colleague, and many people who voted for “the Don,” didn’t mean to vote for the vile crap that came along with his nonsensical campaign “speeches” and hyperbolic “big” promises. They may have been focused on only a few issues, one of them likely a palpable dislike for Hillary. I get it. She wasn’t my first choice, either. But she is highly experienced and well qualified for the job, regardless of the “email scandal” non-scandal that swirled around her campaign. I know that the people I call my friends, neighbors, and others I care about are caring people, too. And believe me, I hope above hope that I am wrong, that all the terrible things that the Don has unleashed will fizzle without doing permanent damage.

In the meantime, I don’t think “moving on” is quite the right term for what I – and many others – will be doing. Instead, we too, will become more emboldened to reach out to each other for support, for healing, to promote and hang tight to the values we hold dear, for love, kindness, acceptance, tolerance, celebration of differences, and…a brighter future. We will stand up to bullying, stand by our friends, step forward towards a more inclusive community.

 

Perhaps…maybe someday… we’ll even “move on.” Maybe after we have somehow managed to overcome this Pandora’s box of evil hate that I think we can all (mostly) agree is antithetical to the values of this nation, and close that horrid loathsome box shut again.


 

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Charlottesville, Virginia 8/12/17

8/12/17 – Unfortunately, far from “moving on,” it seems that the only way to fight evil is to face it head on, relentlessly, and without deviation. The opposite of evil is love. But today, evil is my enemy, and love for my fellow compassionate humans is my weapon of choice. – mjf