WARNING: This blog contains opinions about recent school shootings…perhaps we disagree or we find solidarity. We call this freedom of the press.
Maybe you think of your awakening into adolescence with fondness. Maybe you are grateful to have left that hellish hormonal time behind. Maybe you are guiding your kids through the teenage labyrinth. Maybe you are looking for hope and information in the overwhelm of everyday. Maybe you go to church or temple with a reasonably close-knit community that takes time from their daily lives to turn towards the sacred. Maybe you are going back to community college so you can begin the second career you’ve always wanted.
Except that something is broken.
Yes, it could happen in your town, it happens everywhere now. In the inner cities, communities have been struggling with violence for years. Shootings at school are growing more common. You can say the names of the schools and towns after they take on the weight of the tragedy and they sound different carrying blood and pain, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia State, Reynolds, Charleston, Roseburg… The metal detectors in schools are not working. Metal detectors in churches seem preposterous.
It was the last day of school at Reynolds High in Troutdale, OR on June 10, 2014. A 14 year old soccer player died from a gunshot wound at school. A 15 year old white male gunman took his own life after killing this other boy and grazing the PE teacher with a bullet as he ran to set a lockdown in motion and saved the other kids. This boy had brought nine magazines with hundreds of rounds of ammunition for his AR-15 rifle and semi automatic handgun. He told friends he was going to “put on a show later” when they asked what was in the duffle bag.
A 21 year old white male entered historic Emanuel AME church on June 17, 2015 and prayed with the nine African- American people who were there. They were unarmed in their place of worship. He opened fire and killed nine out of ten people present in hopes of detonating a race war. He proudly claimed to be a white supremacist and had been planning the murders for some time.
On October 1, 2015, a 26 year old white male opened fire on his classmates in a public speaking class in Roseburg, OR. He asked them if they were Christian and assured them they would meet their God soon. Ten students were brutally killed and seven injured. CNN tells us that he had 13 weapons, 6 at the college and 7 at his residence. All the guns have been traced to a federal fire arms dealer. He is reported to have white supremacist, anti religious leanings.
The guidance counselors, teachers, police, school board and administrators can’t do enough to prevent mass shootings. To arm ourselves better is not the solution. I am ready to admit that there is something broken about the way we live, and move towards healing and transformation. Maybe you are too.
After the Sandy Hook killings in 2013, Terri Cole wrote an article called “Not In My Town” and reminded us that “one way the human mind processes the unthinkable is to distance our own experience from the victims with a defense mechanism called, “Just World Effect” or “Just World Fallacy.” According to the hypothesis, we have a strong desire or need to believe that the world is an orderly, predictable, and just place, where people get what they deserve. Such a belief plays an important function in our lives since, in order to plan our lives or achieve our goals, we need to assume that our actions will have predictable consequences. When we encounter evidence suggesting that the world is not just, we quickly act to restore justice by helping the victim or persuading ourselves that no injustice has occurred.”
The world is not a just place.
Here in the US, we offer people the right to purchase assault weapons that are designed for massacre. There are different kinds of guns that people can hunt with or could use to protect themselves or their families from a rape or home invasion. These automatic and and semi automatic weapons are used to spray bullets. They can be used in malls, groceries, gas stations, schools, workplaces, hospitals and truly any place where we gather publicly if someone becomes infuriated, unstable and wants revenge.
We call this the right to bear arms. I doubt the creators of the 2nd amendment to the US Constitution meant the right to commit mass murder, because you are pissed off at the world.
Something is broken.
I have worked in prison and in psychiatric hospitals. I have worked with many folks that we take out of circulation because we fear what they have done or what they might do. I respect their dignity and rehabilitation processes. I have seen things change. I wonder if any of these gunmen might have changed with intensive help.
The restorative justice model used in Oregon and Canadian prisons requires the inmate meet face to face with those who have been affected by their behavior, the person they raped, the family of the person they killed, the person whose identity was stolen. After repeated face to face encounters with those impacted by their action, recidivism rates go down dramatically. Who will take responsibility for the shooting tragedies that keep coming? The schools who don’t address problems with bullying, the gun manufacturers, the gun shop owners, the dealers at private gun shows who never demand background checks, the parents whose kids steal their securely locked guns and take them to school with the intention to kill? How can we self correct if everyone believes that they have no part in this?
In Argentina, nearly 11,000 children were kidnapped between the years of 1976-83 during the Dirty War. They were probably tortured, killed or illegally adopted. The mothers of these children came together in a powerful activist campaign called the Mothers of the Disappeared. They would not rest until people knew what had happened to their sons, until the communities and government answered for it, until transformation came. I wonder what would happen if all the mothers of school shooting victims told the stories of their children to Congress, the gun show dealers, the gun shop owners and the manufacturers. I wonder how long we can pretend that we are not as interrelated as we are.
Dear Emilio Hoffman, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Myra Thompson, Reverend Daniel Simmons, all the children of Sandy Hook, all the students of Roseburg Community College. I am so sorry that you were in the locker room, the prayer meeting and the classroom that day. I feel so sorry that you did not live to see the end of this era of rampage. I will remember your name as a microcosmic poem that holds some part of your essence, your memory. I want to read all the names of all the people gunned down at school, church and workplaces on a wall, like the Vietnam Memorial so we can say them like a litany, like a prayer for absolute change, like a magic spell to heal what is broken. Even my desire to turn your death into art feels suspect, not raw enough to express what we truly need.
I want to find the opposite action of walking into a school and hurting and killing children, praying with and then shooting people. I will search for the action steeped in beauty and compassion that would be as intensely loving as these tragedies are destructive. I admit to you that something is broken and I see that I have some responsibility in fixing it. I long for the perfect protest, the art installation that alters everything, the legislation that could stop the massacres, the film or book that changes all our hearts and laws. I will search for words that matter, eking out my part to win this battle for our collective imagination and vision. I continue to stand for love that is as fierce as our violent world, love in action. May it be so.
Photo credits: heart found on Britton Gildersleeve’s great blog http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/beginnersheart/2011/06/takotsubo-broken-heart-syndrome.html, Vigil in Roseburg, OR, photo from NYT, Aftermath Charleston, photo from CNN