Looking for Answers to America’s Violence? Look Inward.
As a nation, we must look inward. In the span of one-week, American communities have been the scenes of three mass-shootings, killing thirty-two people and wounding dozens of others. This is eight more deaths than American service members who have been killed in combat and non-combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, according to the Military Times. It is “a uniquely American phenomena”, as one pundit called it.
Hatred, anger, madness. All in abundance in these unrelated events. And there’s no external villains – an ISIS, Al Queda, Mexican drug cartel, or other force - to point the finger at. The perpetrators, apparently, were all Americans. To quote cartoonist Walt Kelly’s character Pogo who said nearly 50 years ago, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Before we could even fully contemplate the first incident in California that killed three people – two of which were children – and wounded twelve at the Gilroy Garlic Festival last Sunday, committed by a 19-year old (who took his own life) with no clear motive but was armed with a WSAR-10 7.62 mm semi-automatic assault weapon, we saw twenty people murdered at a WalMart in El Paso, Texas, shot by a 21-year old alleged "white supremacist" and “xenophobe” reportedly armed with an AK-47-style assault rifle. And then, we woke up to learn nine more were killed overnight by a 24-year old gunman, armed with a .223 semi-auto rifle and wearing body armor (who was killed by responding police and whose motives remain unknown) in Dayton, Ohio. Another two-dozen people all together were wounded in the violence.
There have been 32 “mass-killing” (defined by the Dept. of Justice as incidents where three or more persons – other than the perpetrator – are killed) so far this year in the U.S. That’s more than one a week, if you’re keeping “score.”
Easily lost in this chaos is the day-in, day-out violence inflicted in communities all over the nation. Chicago, Baltimore, Saint Louis, and my home town - Philadelphia – all have endured outbursts of violence this Summer that strain credulity. For instance, last week, two people were shot at a "ticketed pool party" at a house in the Bustleton section of Philadelphia following a brawl among the attendees. And on Friday, another man was arrested in suburban Philadelphia after purchasing .223 ammo and propane canisters, apparently planning an attack at the city’s Temple University. These are just two of hundreds of incidents; through July 28, Philadelphia has recorded 175 homicides and over 1,400 aggravated assaults by firearm occurring, according to Philadelphia Police data.
We know the drill quite well by now. We'll hear the politicians offer their "thoughts and prayers", but no solutions. We'll hear the Brady Center call for strict gun control measures, while the NRA calls for more citizens to carry firearms to defend against these attacks. We'll hear mental health advocates call for more attention and less stigma to be paid to people with behavioral disorders. We'll hear some "experts" point the finger at ultra-violent video games, while others blame Hollywood's love of all things bloody. We'll hear calls for the death penalty and calls for "criminal justice reform." We'll hear from liberals who'll blame conservatives, and conservatives who'll blame liberals. The Sunday morning news programs are already awash in punditry and politics about these events. More heat and smoke, but no new light.
What we WON'T hear is a conversation that, instead of laying blame, offers meaningful solutions to the violent propensities far too many Americans of all sorts seem to possess. The vitriolic rhetoric in the more extreme media and self-promoting political discourse adds fuel to these fires. Our collective obsession for being "right" about all things that leaves little room for reconsideration of new information impedes our ability to formulate positive change. And, maybe most lacking is faith - in our leaders, our institutions, our fellow citizens, and ourselves – in our ability to be better. To inspire better of all of us.
We pray for those who've been killed or injured, for those who lost loved ones, for communities, for peace. But we rarely look inward - to pray for enlightenment, for understanding, for courage in the face of evil.
We - all of us - need to look inward and see what we - in our thoughts, words, actions – sow like seeds that contribute to growth of these horrific events. And we need to open our minds to changing that which engenders, emboldens and enables those who perpetrate them. The change comes from within. And unless we come to terms with that, nothing will.