In 2013, Santa Monica College, where I teach, was the site of a mass shooting that left three members of our college community dead. The shooter, who was also killed, left behind a duffel bag full of ammunition and a handgun aside from the AR-15 rifle used to carry out the attack. Memorials on campus have become an everyday piece of the campus landscape since.
On Thursday, October 1st, a self-identified "spiritual conservative" who posted on "Beta-Male" message boards about killing people did, in fact, kill people. He warned like-minded individuals that he was going to do it on a college campus in the Pacific Northwest, and many of them encouraged him, thanking him for the heads up. He killed 9 people and injured 7 others at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, OR. He had three pistols and a rifle.
Also on Thursday, October 1st, arsonists attempted (I assume this was their goal) to burn down a Planned Parenthood branch in Thousand Oaks, CA near my city of Los Angeles. Luckily, they were not very good at arson, and the consequences were minor. The intent, however, was not. They poured gasoline inside the building and set it on fire.
On August 20th, two men in Boston beat a homeless Hispanic man with a pipe and urinated on him while proclaiming their admiration for Donald Trump. They told this man, who was homeless and helpless, that all illegals should be deported. Trump meekly condemned the attack, but then quickly conceded that his supporters "are passionate."
A couple weeks ago, George Zimmerman retweeted a photo of Trayvon Martin's corpse. Zimmerman's Twitter profile picture is a confederate flag. His profile is merely a Latin phrase that translates to "if you want peace, prepare for war." He has been cited and arrested for acts and threats of violence targeting his intimate partners. This is a man who has become a paragon for gun ownership and action in the name of self-defense.
As I was editing this piece to be posted, we experienced two more school shootings: one in Texas, one in Arizona. I don't have much more to say, I don't want to laugh, but I no longer know what to do. When there isn't even time to edit a short essay before two more shootings pop up, we're beyond the pale.
Rhetoric has consequences.
Invoking the Second Amendment stirs passion in a certain voting populace -- they have long been conditioned that being pro-guns is patriotic, that freedom means the right to bear arms. There is truth to that. But who is responsible for the addendum that any attempt to make sure one is not a lunatic with violent objectives is infringing on that freedom? Who benefits from that? Statistics clearly show that the general population does not.
Invoking the primal "us vs. them" reflex creates a common enemy and gives an easy excuse for why someone is down on their luck -- "if it wasn't for those pesky outsiders, I'd be doing better." Inconveniently for Trump, another loud man with political aspirations used the same approach in 1933 with a fair amount of success.
This reactionary status quo is toxic and pervasive, and we should not be mistaken about what that stance is really about -- people citing patriotism, religious principles, traditional values have no interest in any of the above. This is a cultural war. This is a power struggle between those who do not want to lose the power they have (and have had for a long time) and those who only want to be powerful enough to carve out a place for themselves. History has taught us that those in power don't like to have questions asked of them; they're much more comfortable providing qualifiers -- "one bad apple...you can't fix crazy..." -- than accepting responsibility. One does not need to be on the bullhorn calling for violence to incite it.
Paranoia consistently lends more than a helping hand to ignoring the plague of true violence, sexism and racism. Women who make claims and accusations of rape are often first met with skepticism and concern about ulterior motives. Knee-jerk reactions to calls for increased awareness about on-campus cultures of sexual violence cite concern for a society obsessed with political correctness and in-vogue activism. The Black Lives Matter movement has been countered with All Lives Matter, as though the two sentiments are mutually exclusive. There is a culture of aversion in facing real issues of personal safety while embracing the sanctity of our "individual freedom". What is more critical to the quest for individual freedom than individual safety?
We can point the finger at those who have a stage for this rhetoric, those who somehow legitimize it as the rhetoric of principles. And we should. But we must also demand better from ourselves, for ourselves. Demand that those who see feminism as an attack on men give reasons for feeling that way. Demand that those who refuse to acknowledge that we have a gun problem give reasons for why waiting periods and background checks are so fascistic. Demand that those who insist that the culture of sexual violence is not a problem give reasons for why the statistics aren't good enough for them. Because I'm sick of looking at yet another story of death and violence in my newsfeed and recognizing it as typically American, as just another day in the greatest country on Earth.
Rhetoric has consequences. It goes beyond clapping hands in a room or likes on social media. For the people who believe they are merely applauding a voice in a dialogue that has sought to exclude them (often mistakenly), there are others out there who believe they have been charged with a righteous vigilante mission. It is time that we hold those who plead ignorance to this phenomenon accountable. It is time for us to demand better from everyone around us. It is time to actually help those who need help. It is time to elevate the conversation. Enough is enough.