June 17, 2015. One year ago. Almost to the day. A shooter sat in silence for an hour listening to a Bible class being taught at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. He stood up and began shooting without mercy, executing nine innocent people.
June 12, 2016. Yesterday. A shooter walked into a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando. He began shooting without mercy, killing 49 innocent people and wounding 53 others.
According to the news, in South Carolina the shooter was an American white man born in Columbia, S.C. Twenty-two years old. He was listed on the roles of a local Lutheran congregation. He had sympathies with white supremacist groups. The shooting followed a horrific year of unarmed young black men and boys being killed by police officers and contentious debates about the appropriateness of the Confederate battle flag as an official state symbol throughout the South. The shooter targeted African Americans.
This time, according to the news in Orlando, the shooter was an American of Afghan descent. Twenty-nine years old. He was Muslim. He had sympathies with terrorist groups.
The shooting followed a year when the Supreme Court declared that gay marriage was protected by the Constitution, and at least seven states immediately turned their attention, as if simultaneously choreographed, to the transgender community and contentious debates on legislation to require them to use the restroom that corresponds to their birth certificates instead of the one that corresponded to their outward appearance and internal identity. The shooter targeted LGBT people.
Donald Trump issued an instant I Told You So tweet: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”
Right? Smart? From a man who defines narrow-minded ignorance? He implies that he is “right” in that the Orlando tragedy occurred because there are Muslims in our country. His “smart” plan is to ban all Muslims. His “appreciate the congrats” is unimaginably disgraceful.
His empty-headed suggestion that this happened because we don’t ban Muslims from our country is beyond callous and misses the mark. It wasn’t a Muslim who was arrested hours later in Santa Monica with guns and explosives at a gay pride parade.
There have been Muslims involved in mass shootings. But Muslims weren’t responsible for Mother Emanuel. Or Sandy Hook Elementary. Or Virginia Tech. Or Umpqua Community College. Or Aurora, Colorado. Or Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. Or the McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California. Or the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Or so many, too many others across so many sad and bloody years.
What most of these shooters had in common was not their religious beliefs. It was what Trump left out of his “right, smart” tweet. It was easy access to military-style assault weapons with high-capacity magazines, designed to pile up bodycounts by allowing the shooter to fire a huge number of rapid-fire bullets without having to stop to reload. What the shooters had in common was often mental health issues and a loophole in current law that allows people who have been found to be a danger to themselves and others; people who are dangerous criminals; even people who are on the no-fly list at an airport, to buy guns legally at gun shows and internet sales without the same background checks required in a gun store.
Trump agreed to stay hands-off on fixing any of this right, smart stuff and won some love from the gun lobby.
What so many of these shooters had in common was that their targets were not random. So many of the shooters were mentally or emotionally troubled people who were susceptible to hate speech. Many of them listened to people they trusted and admired who told them who to hate.
They heard politicians and religious leaders and celebrities and friends reinforcing their hate. They heard why soldiers at Ft. Hood were the enemy and black people were the enemy and LGBT people were the enemy. I’m worried that susceptible people are now hearing hateful things about immigrants being rapists and drug dealers, internalizing those words. I worry they will act on them. How long before there is a tragedy because someone is attending a Mass in Spanish?
What so many of these shooters had in common was hate that hardened their hearts. They were under the delusion that they had the right to kill; that it was their duty to kill; that the people they were killing deserved to be killed because they were of a different faith, race, or because they were lesbians, gay, bisexual or transgender. Because “they” were not “us.”
Those who divide the world into Us and Them have always lived amongst us. There were times not-so-past when Irish were the enemy and Mormons were the enemy and women who wanted the vote were the enemy. Weak-minded people back then listened to demagogues and there was violence against good people. Today, there is a similar kind of demagoguery in our nation that stokes fear and could provide just the fuse some people need to ignite their hate and rage into dangerous and deadly acts.
So on this day, good people are dead again because of easy hate and easy guns. You cannot build a wall to protect against that. You have to fight it from within and speak the truth, standing up to those to teach hate and those who learn hate.
Orlando, we are holding you in love. In a thousand ways, we will turn our powerful love into powerful actions and stand against the hate that was unleashed against you.
Hate cannot stand against the love we hold within our universal humanity.