News of another act of hate, this time a man who opened fire in a nightclub, took many lives and launched the country back into acute fear.
For the past at least 15 years, we have followed the same pattern. Intense shock that someone or some group could hate what Americans stand for enough to kill us; fear that it happened on our soil; and an unquestioned scramble to clamp down on the problem with decisions based in ignorance which only make matters worse.
We become more suspicious of Muslims; we allow our police forces and security agencies more leniency to spy on us all and to further militarize our lives. We give rise to people like Donald Trump who say terribly dangerous things that divide and marginalize us, which only lead to more attacks.
News reports follow the same pattern when reporting this as they have others — this man, Omar Mateen, acted on his own. But, much like the couple in San Bernardino, they were connected to a larger group and ideology that is very scary. This is not a disgruntled high school student. But the results are the same. People are dead. The country is tuned in. We are scared.
We feel like victims, but the truth is that we created the terrifying reality we now know.
This brand of terrorism is only just getting started. Anyone born before 9/11 has not known what it’s like to grow up with war in our own streets. We are now living in a time when our neighborhoods are battlegrounds.
The problem was exacerbated when George W. Bush stepped in front of the camera to look at the vulnerable, tear-stained American public reeling from the fall of two towers and thousands dead, and said two horribly wrong things:
- We must buy cars and shop to keep the economy running
- We’re going to kill the son of a bitch that did this to us
In both instances, he was fueling the very hatred that spawned terrorist groups like ISIS, and teaching the public that consumerism and violence were American values. Neither will ever help us heal.
Toni Morrison stood tall in that moment and pointed a finger at our President. She said what he failed to say was that we should turn and hug our families. In fact, what I think we need at this time more than ever, and what we’ve failed to do time and again, is to hug our neighbors and spread love to smother the hate.
We need to hold interfaith events in our communities and get to know our Muslim neighbors, our gay neighbors, our black neighbors. We need to lay down our arms and our ignorant biases and not let our fear guide our policies.
We need to teach our children that violence and hate are wrong, and that difference is something to embrace.
We need to make deadly weapons less readily available and keep them out of the hands of our kids. We need better access to mental health services and health care. We need to stop killing other people in other countries for vague reasons. And we need to stop thinking that we’re somehow better than anyone else.
“This is not the America I thought I’d find myself and my children and grandchildren in,” Tom Brokov said on Meet the Press. He urged us to take a deep breath and mourn and act rationally.
I’m terrified to think about raising a child in today’s world. Let’s lead the way back towards the light. It’s not too late.