Can We Have A Conversation about National Violence?

There are shootings in this country every day and mass shootings nearly that often. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 137 mass shootings in the USA in 2017. 158 people are dead and scores more have been injured. That’s more than eleven times the number of people killed in San Bernardino and three times the people killed in the Pulse Nightclub attack. Those were horrific acts, and I’m not trying to belittle them. But I think it’s time to stop ignoring the fact that people are being shot on the street and in our schools by men with an underlying ideology of hatred.


Maybe it’s hard to quantify individual shootings since one hates Muslims and another hates women and another hates African-Americans and still another hates immigrants. But the root is the same. If an ideology of hatred is driving mass shootings and we can’t discuss them for what they are, an attempt to harm and frighten and subdue those who are different, than how do we work together to solve the problem?


Here’s What I’m Talking About


Nine people died at Umpqua Community College at the hand of a man who left a message stating his animosity towards women and organized religion. In La Isla, CA a shooter killed six and injured 14 after recording a “manifesto” that declared hatred for women, minorities and inter-racial couples. The slasher on the Portland Max last week began by attacking two women he believed were Muslim and spewing hate speech.


The reporting on the slasher on the Max is still emerging and there is (maybe, finally?) a push to call this what it is: domestic terrorism.


Read the reports on the other two shootings, and the storyline is eerily similar: A young (non-Muslim) man with mental illness has unfortunately shot multiple people. The same can be said for shootings across the country, every day.

I don’t understand why it’s terrorism if the perpetrator hates a country, but it’s “mental illness” if the perpetrator hates a sub-section of that country.


Actually, I do understand. We all do. And it’s so, so wrong.


It’s wrong to define terrorism by the race and religion of the person doing the shooting. It’s wrong to suggest that “there’s a difference” between acts carried out by Muslim extremists and those by white supremacists or non-Muslims, as Sean Duffy (R-WI) did in February. Or maybe it’s right. Depending on which news outlet you read, you are up to seven times more likely to be killed by a white supremacist than a Muslim attacker, but I’m fairly certain that wasn’t what Mr. Duffy was referring to.


As a woman and a mother, I’m not frightened that my daughter will fall victim to a terrorist attack. I am worried that she might be injured in a school shooting. I’m even more concerned that she will experience sexual violence, whether that is rape, harassment or a man deciding to hurt or yes, shoot her because she dares to assert her autonomy as a human being and turn down a date. I won’t teach my daughter how to avoid a terrorist attack. I will teach her, as best I can, how to navigate a world where violence against women is a daily occurrence. I don’t personally have children of color, but my understanding is that parents of color are teaching their children, as best they can, how to stay safe in world where hate crimes and prejudice and confrontation are rising.


Where Do We Go From Here?


We need a national discussion on violence, hate speech and domestic terrorism, its root causes and how we, individually and collectively, want to face this problem. We have an administration that ignores it, unless prodded for days to make an underwhelming Twitter statement. The CDC can’t even study gun violence, courtesy of whatever arcane and ridiculous rules stand in the way. Thanks to a gun lobby more concerned with arming its members than keeping children alive, current gun laws certainly aren’t curtailing mass shootings. And mental health services are limited and about to get more difficult to access, if the GOP has its way.


So it seems it’s up to us, the individuals who form this nation. I can only hope that we all respond as the men Portland did, with love and kindness and a desire to protect the vulnerable. If we, as a nation, could begin to discuss these daily shootings and attacks for what they are, violence and threats used to intimidate large groups of Americans, maybe we could change our national response. Maybe we could learn to support and protect those targeted. We could be a nation of millions standing up, not just to violent acts, but also to the attitudes and beliefs and hate speech that lead to violence.



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