On June 12, 2016, the US and, by extension, the world woke up to reports of a mass killing in a nightclub in Orlando Florida. Initial reports put the number of deaths at 20; however, by evening of that day, the death toll had risen to 50, including the shooter, and 53 wounded - most of them critically. As someone who has, over the years, become immune to these stories of mass killings, which seem to have become an accepted fabric of the American culture, what caught my attention were the patrons of the place the killings occurred –a nightclub largely patronized by gays, lesbians, and trans-gender people, or LGBT for short.
I had largely ignored the LGBT community, and their complaints of discrimination, abuse, assault, condemnation, and taunting by the so-called straight people. I have always wondered why ordinary human beings should congregate themselves into an association, group, or community, design their own flags, form their own churches and schools, and seek special protection from government when, in my eyes, there is no reason to do so. In my mind, their complaints were largely exaggerated and their demands misplaced in a society like the United States. I argued in my mind that if this was Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Kuwait, or Guinea then their complains and quest for special designation and protection will be well-deserved; but this is America where freedom reigns, where liberty is preached from the rooftops, highways and bye-ways; where you can be what you want to be, say what you want to say (as long as you are not in politics), and do whatever it is that brings joy to your heart – just as long as you remember your tax obligations to Uncle Sam. This was until June 12, 2016.
Hate is real
The mistake we make (at least, I do) in life is our belief that as long as we hate no one, no one will hate us in return; as long as we are friendly to everyone, and bear no grudges against anyone, no one will do so against us; or that if we look the same or come from the same tribe and/or tongue, we are incapable of hating one another. Oh, how wrong we could be. I had my first dose of hatred in the month of July, 1987; the day remains so clear in my head because I was barely six months in the country and a novice when it comes to cultures and norms in my new home. I worked in a family-owned restaurant on Skillman Street in Dallas as a busboy, and one of only two blacks; one would have expected a fraternal bond, right? Wrong. To an African, every black man is automatically a brother, and I (mis)took my colleague as one, expecting guidance from him. Unfortunately, not only did our conversations never go beyond brief greetings, nothing else developed. His true feelings for me came out the day one of the chefs asked him if he has been teaching “your brother” the ropes (he was a waiter). He went off on this horrible tirade on the poor Hispanic chef and admonished him for calling “some fucking African” his brother. I was shocked and horrified, and that comment stuck to my heart like a knife till this day.
In college, I experienced and witnessed some more of the ridicule and hate generally directed at African students, not so much by the white community but by fellow blacks. I also witnessed the reciprocity, though veiled from African students. I remember writing a paper in one of my English classes that played down the importance of the Civil Rights struggle, especially the policy of non-violence response in the face of violence, and suggesting that blacks acted out of fear instead of need; it drew a firestorm from my fellow blacks, and a lecture on the history of black suffering in this country. Remember, all these happened in my first two years in this country.
As the years went by, events began to gradually move the veil of indifference and denial from my eyes, and a clearer picture of the level and types of hatred which pervade the American society began to develop. Hatred in the American society is not one-dimensional, it is multi-dimensional and reciprocal; it cuts across religion, culture, race, ethnic origin, social beliefs, and even class. It is insidiously encouraged by politicians, businesses, religious leaders of various practices, grandparents, and interest groups. That is how society ends up with pitch battles between pro and anti-gun groups, pro and anti-abortion groups, pro and anti-immigration groups, pro and anti-Israel groups, and pro and ant-Muslim groups; the pro and anti-police groups, Oath Keepers versus Black Panthers, and the Bloods against the Crips. Right in the middle of these warring groups and factions are politicians and business owners playing one against the other to amass profits and campaign contributions.
“Even if they elect a president today who ……..
Just as the case with every one of these mass killings, out-pouring of emotions, words of solidarity, unity and support followed the Orlando mass killing. Politicians blamed and defended each other’s gun policies; gun rights advocates defended their rights to bear arms as provided in the constitution, and blamed the person, not the guns, for the massacre; long and winding speeches fell over themselves in eloquence, and all kinds of “experts” – America is never short of them – offered analysis and opinions on what went wrong where and why; psychologists, as they are wont to do, offered possible reasons on what could have triggered the shooter, and law enforcement turned up every stone in search of external links to ISIS and the hundreds of terror organizations that generate huge revenue for arms merchants. The president, as expected, visited and made his plea as he has been doing for 8 years, and many charity organizations set up tents and supplied priests to assist, counsel and console grieving families. All of these, though commendable, will pass along with the last burial ceremonies; the LGBT will gain a few sympathetic minds during this ordeal, and some politicians will make the expected attempt to tighten gun laws, but all of these will last until the next mass killing.
The Orlando shooting and the many stories by survivors, friends and family members of the deceased, and many others in faraway cities and states, of the sufferings of the LGBT community in America and other parts of the world finally convinced me of the existence of a similarity between their situation and those of Black Americans before Civil Rights (and beyond), Jews, and many other social, cultural or ethnic minority groups in the world. It offered a better understanding of their need for special classification and protection. As a patron of the Pulse night club admitted during a radio interview: “we know we live in a time and society that hates us and wants to kill, but we will not give in to hate. We cannot die, because we are not a person; we are a spirit. If we elect a president in this country who wants to kill us all, I will be in front of the line…” I personally hope we never degenerate to a state where we would elect a president that will order the killing of all LGBT people, just for their lifestyle.
Mixed messages from the pulpit
Much of the hatred directed at LGBT people is borne out of the misinterpretation of the teachings of the bible. Yes, as a Christian one is taught that homosexually is not acceptable, and I believe that. Ironically, the same bible and Christian teachings impressed upon us that it is against our beliefs to treat someone differently; we are supposedly all children of One God, and discrimination against another is discrimination against God. Love one another, the Bible said, as God loves us. Unfortunately, most of our religious leaders us their opportunities at the pulpit to preach division and hate, and many of their followers and listeners act upon such preaching. It was heart-warming for me to hear a prominent Dallas pastor, on the day of the Orlando massacre, strongly insist that Christians are only required to understand that homosexuality is unchristian, and not to hate or harm such persons.
The US constitution emphasizes the importance of freedom of choice and equality of all creation. The separation of people by race, gender, ethnic origin, and religious preference is nowhere in the constitution; however, politicians, in their quest for influence and votes, have divided the people along these lines and the result is the frequent massacre of Americans that we witness weekly, in the guise of one thing or the other. We have even appended causes for these mass killings depending on race: if you are a white mass killer, you have a mental problem and forgot to take your medication; if you are a born or converted Muslim, you are a terrorist with links to major terror organizations based in some foreign land. If you are black, you are angry and frustrated, and if you are a police officer, you feared for your life.
The Second Amendment, as originally intended, was in support of the right to self-defense, resistance to oppression, and civilian involvement in the defense of the state. You can agree with me that none of the mass killings in the US today has any relationship with any of the original intents; not Columbine, not Newtown, not Virginia Tech, not Charleston, and definitely not Pulse night club in Orlando. Yet, the National Rifle Association, and many politicians who benefit financially from the NRA and gun manufacturers have stoked alarm and fear of disarmament in the minds of mostly gullible citizens who, in return, have boosted sales of guns and fattened the pockets of executives of gun manufacturing companies and their families, while leaving a trail of blood, tears, and broken families crisscrossing the entire US landscape.
An abridged chronicle of US mass killings and fatality counts:
Camden, New Jersey – September 1949 – 13 people
University of Texas, Austin – August, 1966 – 16 people
San Ysidro, California – July, 1984 – 21 people
Edmond, Oklahoma – August, 1986 – 14 people
Killeen, Texas – October, 1991 – 23 people
Columbine H.S, Littleton, Colorado – April, 1999 – 12 people
Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, VA – April 2007 – 32 people
Omaha, Nebraska – December, 2007 – 8 people
Geneva County, Alabama – March, 2009 – 10 people
Binghamton, NY – April 2009 – 13 people
Fort Hood, Texas – November, 2009 – 13 people
Manchester, Connecticut – August, 2010 – 8 people
Tucson, Arizona – January, 2011 – 6 people
Sea Beach, California – October, 2011 – 8 people
Oakland, California – April, 2012 – 7 people
Aurora, Colorado – July 20, 2012 – 12 people
*Newtown, Connecticut – December 14, 2012 – 26 people
Herkimer, NY – March, 2013 – 4 people
Santa Monica, CA – June, 2013 – 5 people
Washington, DC – September, 16 – 12 people
Umpqua Community College, Oregon – October, 2015 – 9 people
Alturas, CA – February, 21 2014 – 4 people
Isla Vista, CA – May, 2014 – 6 people
Marysville, Washington – October 24, 2014 – 5 people
Charleston, SC – June 17, 1015 – 9 people
Roseburg, Oregon – October, 2015 – 10 people
San Bernardino, CA – December 2015 – 14 people
Colorado Springs, CO – November 2015 – 3 people
**Orlando, Florida – June 12, 2016 – 49 people
A couple of things are worth noting here:
1. This total – 371 - number of American casualties occurred not in the hands of an outside enemy, during a war, or from series of natural disasters; instead, these were American citizens killing each other out of hate; frustration with their lives, the system, or their relationships; for adventure, and/or just testing out their new guns and,
2. This does not include other murders committed by gangs, the police, scorned spouses and jealous lovers, business partners because of deals gone badly, and suicides. It does not, also, include the 168 people who died in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which was clearly a terrorist act.
It will be forlorn to hope that the recent massacre in Orlando will awaken the American conscience into action, because Newtown did not achieve that; it is equally self-deceiving to expect the outpouring of support and emotions for the LGBT community to ease or reduce the level of hate directed against them. Because ours has become a nation determined to beat itself back into the age the Second Amendment was written and passed into law, the recent mass shooting will result, like others before it, in increased gun sales and usage. We are all waiting with bated breath for the next mass killing, because it has become an American culture like baseball and apple pie. At least, for me, the veil of ignorance is finally off.