One year earlier, some of this same group had been in the Las Vegas concert crowd when a predator carried high-capacity assault weapons to his hotel room over the park. He fired down a hail of bullets on a group of perfect strangers. He rapidly killed 58 and wounded 851. Experiencing such horror can be life-defining, even life destroying. The psychological trauma is impossible to fathom for those who endured it twice in a single year. One victim in Thousand Oaks was a former Marine who had also been among the concert goers in Vegas.
It was 11 days since a perverted misfit, carrying a high-capacity assault rifle and handguns, shouting anti-Semitic slurs, slaughtered 18 worshippers in the Etz Hachayim Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, Pa., wounding four policemen and two others nearby. The motive in Thousand Oaks and Vegas is still not certain, whereas the motive in Squirrel Hill is crystal clear. In both locations, so many said it was unthinkable such a vile thing could happen in their peaceful community. It’s time to admit: we have no safe community in our nation. Even when there is no local threat, a road runs through it.
Though not considered a mass shooting, during the same fortnight, a white supremacist walked into a Kentucky Kroger and shot a 67-year-old black man in the back of the head, left the store and killed a 69-year-old black woman in the parking lot. Walking by a man crouching with revolver drawn beside his car, the killer said: “Don’t kill me. I won’t kill you. Whites don’t kill whites.” It was later learned he’d tried to get into a black Baptist church, but an hour too late. Another 70 souls were safe home, unaware of the new significance.
Only days before the Squirrel Hill killings, a depraved far-right excuse for human being had used our post office to mail bombs out to the residence or workplace of the prominent persons on Donald Trump’s public enemies list, including former President Obama.
Democrats showed no fear of the NRA and stood up for sensible gun legislation in the midterms — and they won. When it’s now clear that none of our communities or schools or supermarkets or concerts or any gatherings are safe from gun violence, I guess it’s finally feeling personal. But this piece isn’t about changing gun law. We can only hope and work for good sense to prevail. This is about ourselves and leadership.
I recall a White House official saying, out loud, that the Marjorie Stoneman High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., killing 17, was a “reprieve” for an administration bombarded more than eight days by ever-growing Trump scandals. It riveted the country’s attention, you see, while they could figure out the best way to shield the president from his own seamy past.
No such benefits though for Donald Trump in this latest two-week killing spree with bomb threats. How dare such events, although “sad,” grab the headlines and spoil the momentum he imagined he was building for a midterm Republican sweep, with his overblown “caravan” rhetoric and dramatic, ridiculously expensive, and unnecessary military response. A pre-election brown-people “threat” played right into his hands, and he couldn’t have been happier for its timeliness. Funny how it’s no longer particularly useful, so he, and Fox News, will make up something else so we don’t cool off.
America’s president weaponizes language. America’s chief executive uses rhetoric and tone to spread the shrapnel of hate and division and, yes, give sanction to bigotry. Just reference the words of David Duke, white nationalist and separatist, and once Grand Wizard of the KKK. The Squirrel Hill killer admires but faults Trump for not going far enough.
It’s time for soul-searching about what we could be allowing ourselves to become. A New York Times writer, and member of the Squirrel Hill synagogue, out of her grief said this about Jewish Americans who support Trump. “They have traded policies that they like for the values that have sustained the Jewish people and, frankly, this country forever. Welcoming the stranger. Dignity for all human beings. Equality under the law. Respect for dissent. Love of truth. These are the things we are losing under this president and no policy is worth that price. Do you want our future to be American carnage, or do you want our future to be a renewal of what our founders were talking about? The way we’ve lived in this country is an aberration. It’s a miracle. And it could go away like the snap of the fingers.”
Potent language for patriots, with ears to hear.
Jennie Young of Elizabethton is a retired language arts teacher.