I am seeing, hearing, reading, and finding myself surrounded by the news of the Orlando Pulse shooting. This is a subject that we talked about today during my EDU 310 class, and it is a subject that needs to be talked about. We cannot turn a blind eye to the tragedy that has just occurred, just as we SHOULD NOT have been able to turn a blind eye to other recent mass shootings and tragedies that are plaguing the United States. We have, however, turned away from these situations. Uproar amongst the nation exists for a short time after the incident, and then everyone but people who fall on extreme sides of the political issue behind the tragedy goes silent. This CANNOT be the way we continue to treat issues such as this. For starters, the families grieving the loss of their loved ones, the friends and coworkers and lovers mourning over those who they will never again have the opportunity to hear or hug or speak to DO NOT get to just forget about the issue once the media dies down. In fact, I would theorize that the families and friends of victims of mass shootings and bombings perhaps are never able to reach the ‘final stage’ (acceptance) of the grieving process. Why do I theorize this? BECAUSE IT KEEPS HAPPENING. Imagine the parents of the children of Sandy Hook or the loved ones of those loss in the Colorado shooting after hearing of the Orlando Pulse shooting. Please tell me how someone is supposed to heal when their wounds are continuously being ripped open?
We cannot keep letting this issue go silent. Not for political reasons. Not for any agenda. But because at the heart of these tragedies are people. Not only our fellow citizens, but our fellow humans.
For these reasons, I have decided to speak my opinion about the incident. I do not and will not claim that I have the right answers. I do not and will not tell people that don’t believe in what I say that their opinions are wrong. I only wish to continue the conversation. I want people to read this, and reflect upon their own thoughts of the situation.
It is no longer the time for us to be afraid of speaking our opinions. It is this fear that has caused so much tension in the world today. We are afraid to have discussions or to voice our opinions because we are so scared of somebody disagreeing with us. It is time for me to speak, for you to speak, for ALL of us to speak, and to GRACEFULLY and TASTEFULLY listen to other opinions as they are presented to us. UNLESS an opinion dehumanizes another being, it should not be met with hostility, but instead with the desire to understand that person’s point of view.
You may be wondering, at this point, why I am discussing the importance of creating and continuing a respectful discourse when the true point of this article is to discuss my opinions about the shooting at Pulse in Orlando. To provide an answer for you in the simplest terms, I will simply point out the areas of immense controversy involved in this shooting: gun control, LGBTQ rights, the lives and rights of people of color, the nomenclature utilized in this attack versus those completed by white citizens (bringing both Islamophobia and white privilege to the forefront of this issue as well)… Those are just a few of the issues involved in the discourse about this terrible and tragic event.
The reality is this: if we are unable to civilly discuss these issues in regards to the Orlando shooting, then we will be doing the family, the friends, and those who lost their lives an astronomical disservice. Arguments and hostility will begin, conversations will cease, and the most important issue here, the loss of innocent lives, will yet again be forgotten until we are met with yet another tragic event.
So here it goes, the conversations about the Orlando attack that I believe need to be talked about:
Guns may not kill people, but too many people with UNREGULATED guns are killing people. Now before you write me off as some left extremists that wants to take away our guns, hear me out. I come from a family that owns guns. We have quite a few, actually. My father is a hunter, and also is quite fond of the guns he has received from his uncles who have passed away. My dad has hunting rifles and shotguns that are kept in a locked safe. I do not believe my father is an irresponsible gun owner. I DO NOT think my father’s guns should be taken away. In fact, I often join my father when he does target practice for deer season. I thoroughly enjoy the recreational and responsible use of the guns we own. I am not arguing that we should take guns away from hunters and sportsman or people that own them for self defense. And if you would listen to many politicians, they aren’t either. What I am arguing for is better regulated gun control.
Let’s first look at the second amendment: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
Forget for a second that this amendment is related to the state militias that used to protect the security of the people of the united states, and jump back towards the term WELL REGULATED. It is not the guns I am afraid of. I have grown up around them, I have used them, and I hope to continue to do so for recreational purposes. IT IS THE REGULATIONS THAT TERRIFY ME.
I ask you to please consider the steps needed in order to be able to drive a car: you must go through training, take both a written and practical exam, the car must be licensed and registered at each point of sale that it goes through, you must have certain health requirements, and there is insurance for liability.
Now, the last I checked, many middle to upper class Americans especially see driving and owning a car as an almost “natural” right. When we are growing up, we can’t wait to own our first car and be able to drive. HOWEVER, we also generally don’t argue that the safety precautions we must go through before being able to legally operate that vehicle is an infringement on our “basic” rights.
The man involved in the Orlando shooting, who I refuse to give by name because I thoroughly believe he should not be the name we remember, purchased both a handgun and a semi-automatic rifle in the course of a week, AFTER being present on the FBI wanted list twice. This is what we should be concerned about. Not that people own guns, or that people like to use guns for X,Y, or Z safe and recreational purposes, but that our regulations related to purchasing and owning a gun are so ridiculously lax. In fact, when I was abroad in Ireland, I had children and adults alike asking me if I owned a gun because, well, can’t anyone in the United States?
I do not care if you are a Democrat, a Republican, a left, a right, or a moderate. This is not a political issue. This is a public safety issue. This is not about taking away guns and infringing upon Constitutional rights. This is about helping to make our country safe from people who should not be operating or owning guns who chose to use them wrongfully.
Please stop believing that LGBTQ lives are safe simply because Supreme Court passed an amendment allowing us to marry one another. And for God’s sake, PLEASE SPEAK UP. This is an issue that is very close and personal for me. Ever since the ruling of the Supreme Court, and even before then, people have significantly minimized the experience of being a member of the LGBTQ community in America. Please stop doing this. In fact, while we’re on the topic, let’s stop minimizing the experience of ANY group or individual. LGBTQ lives, the lives of people of color, the lives of those of certain religions, and so on, do not stop being in danger because legislation is passed. Legislation such as the ruling last year by the Supreme Court do help progress the nation, but it does not magically create a safe and welcoming environment.
I say this to you because perhaps if you are aware of the threat that still hangs over these groups’ heads, you will make a more conscious effort at being a vocal ally. Not just for the LGBTQ community, but for every community that has reason to feel unsafe in this country and in this world. It is ONLY by speaking up and speaking out when you hear or see people being treated cruelly that we will be able to create a more safe environment and country. Use the privileges you have, and help speak up for the voices who are either too small or too afraid or even just not enough to stick up for themselves.
If the everyday experiences of the LGBTQ community are not enough to make you see the constant tribulations met by these individuals, then maybe this horrific event will. If you are unable to sympathize with me when someone screams “faggot” at me while I am walking down the street at night, or you are unable to sympathize with me when I am verbally or even physically assaulted out of a public restroom because my features are not feminine enough, then PLEASE at least sympathize with the people who lost loved ones because of the immense homophobia in certain individuals that is often left undisturbed. Please sympathize with the mother of Eddie Justice who received text messages from her son when he realized the shooter was coming into the bathroom, and that he was going to die. Please sympathize with the partner of Edward Sotomayor who was outside the club putting something in the car when the gunfire started, and who received a text telling him not to come back in. Sympathize with the families and friends who do not know where their loved ones are, and who are anxiously awaiting news to know whether or not they are okay. Do not stand back idly as these individuals suffer and grieve.
Stand up. Speak up. Be an ally. Educate others and have the intent to create a more open minded world. You have a voice, and you more than likely have some sort of privilege. Use it. I have white privilege, let’s say you have straight privilege but not white privilege. We stick up for each other. I use my privilege to help make the world a safer place, and you use your privilege to help make the world a safer place. That is how this is supposed to work. Privilege is not something to be ashamed of. It is something to recognize, and use for a force for good.
NOMENCLATURE MATTERS. This was an act of terror, but so was the Charleston shooting. If you are going to label one individual as a terrorist, do not label the other as someone who was suffering from a mental illness. I do not care if the individual is or is not actually mentally ill. I am fully aware that many, if not all, of the individuals who perpetrate mass shootings are in some way or another, mentally ill. The issue here is the nomenclature used. The media is perpetuating Islamophobia by choosing to only use words such as “terror”, “terrorism”, and “terrorist” when the shooting is carried out by someone of the Muslim faith.
Now before we get into an argument, let me just say that I am fully aware of the definition of terrorism. Terrorism is defined as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” Therefore, shooters such as the individual who perpetrated the mass shooting at Sandy Hook, who appeared to have no political aim in his shooting, would technically, by law, not be considered a terrorist. This is not because he is white, but rather because of the technicality of the legislation defining the latter part of an act of terror. However, the individual who perpetuated the Charleston shooting, which was an act that was clearly designed to communicate a message towards a particular group of people, would be considered a terrorist. It does not matter if he is white. It does not matter his religion. What matters is that he had intentions to intimidate and use violence in the pursuit of political aims, which in his case was a race war to achieve segregation between whites and blacks.
I will admit that I do not know all of the distinguishing features between hate crimes, what the Charleston shooting has been named, and acts of terror, which the Orlando shooting has been named. What I do know is that the media treats white perpetrators far different than perpetrators of any other race/ethnicity. This needs to stop. In our post 9-11 society, people of the Muslim religion and with cultural/ethnicity ties to the Middle East are already under fire. The media choosing to label it’s Christian/White perpetrators as “mentally unstable” and it’s choice to label Muslim/people of Middle Eastern descent as “terrorists” only makes this issue worse. So please, media, call it for what it is. White, Black, Middle Eastern, Asian, Christian, Muslim, atheist, Jewish… IT DOES NOT MATTER. If they are not, by law, terrorists, they are still killers. They are killers. They took the lives of innocent people, and if/when they are still alive, they show no remorse for it.
So I’m sorry, but I do not want more labels about how the white shooter was mentally ill, and the shooter who practiced the Muslim faith is a terrorist. I do not want mental illness to continue to be used as a crutch for white perpetrators. We do not need to sympathize with people who clearly did not sympathize with the lives of others. Will I sympathize for their family and friends who did not see it coming or who are living with their loved ones decisions? Yes. But, sympathizing with people who take the lives of innocent people, no matter what their race, ethnicity, religion, etc… IS NOT something I believe is necessary to do.
The individuals who lost their lives in the Orlando shooting were predominately part of the Latinx population: THIS MATTERS. First of all, I use the term Latinx because that is the term that I have seen utilized to remove the gendered aspect that is present in Latino/Latina. The members of this club, largely due to it’s location in Florida, were of the Latinx population. Now, whether this is an issue of demographics or an added motivator behind the attack doesn’t matter. What does matter relates back to privilege. The members of the Latinx population are fighting many battles at once. They are not only fighting against stereotypes against them because of their ethnicity/race, but they are also dealing with LGBTQ and gender issues.
I bring this up because it is important to realize that for a lot of people, just because one battle ends does not mean the larger war is over. The individuals of the Latinx population that were involved in the Orlando shooting are not just worried about fighting for LGBTQ lives, but they are also worried about fighting for the lives of people of color and women’s rights, to name a few.
This should force our eyes open to our privileges. Do not stop being an advocate because your own personal area of concern is being addressed or is making progress, because the truth is if you only have one area in your life where you are severely underprivileged, YOU ARE FUCKING LUCKY. Just because I am a white, gay woman does not mean that the lives of people of color or the lives of Muslim individuals are not my problem or concern. They are very much my concern. And they are your concern. They are each and every one of our concerns. Why? Because those are our brothers and sisters. Our mothers and fathers. Our friends and our family. Our coworkers. Our classmates. Our fellow citizens. Our fellow human beings. That right there should be enough for each and every one of us to realize that it is our concern. It is our problem.
And it is about time we stand together and do something about it.
With that, I will move to my final point. The driving point behind the title of this article:
We must stand together.
We live in a time in a country where certain political candidates are begging for division (sorry Donald Trump supporters). People are playing on the fears of individuals to create a world that is divided by hatred and terror. And I’m sorry, but I’m here to say that this game that people such as Donald Trump are playing NEEDS TO BE FINISHED.
Stop letting these issues drive us apart. Stop letting these issues cause more hatred towards certain groups. Just stop.
It may sound easier said than done, but no, it’s not. The actions of an individual or certain individuals should not reflect the entire population. ISIS does not reflect the true spirit of Islam anymore than Hitler reflected the true spirit of Christianity.
I ask you to look at the media’s portrayal of certain perpetrators in the past: does their excessive referencing to the mental health of the individuals at hand illicit a hatred in you towards every mentally ill person in the world? Probably not. If it does, it shouldn’t. I suffer from three mental illnesses, and I am very open about it. Never once has somebody expressed fears that my mental illness is going to cause me to become the next perpetrator in one of these crimes. SO WHY, why on Earth does our society look at Islamic individuals as a danger to our society when in the past 50 years of mass shootings, there have probably been more mass shootings carried out by white “mentally deranged” individuals?
The answer is simple: we continue to let these situations play on firmly held societal fears. As a society, we are falling trap to a massive confirmation bias: we are actively seeking information to fuel our fears of a post 9/11 America.
So, I ask you to stop. I ask you to stop searching to confirm your fears. Mass shootings are not a problem specific to any religion or race or gender. Mass shootings are just, excuse my language, a fucking problem. It is as simple as that. It is not a Muslim problem. It is not a male problem. It is not a white problem. It is a problem.
So please, for the sake of the future of humanity, do not let this incident drive us farther apart. Please come together. Please hold the hand of your white neighbor, your black neighbor, your Middle Eastern neighbor, your Asian neighbor, your African neighbor, your European neighbor, your gay neighbor, your trans neighbor, your Christian, Muslim, agnostic, atheist neighbor. Reach out your hand, and remember that at the end of the day what matters to those who have lost loved ones in this horrible tragedy is not the specific groups the perpetrator belonged to. What matters is that they lost someone that meant the world to them. They lost someone who they cared about.
We need to come together in order to help them grieve. We need to stand as a nation and as an entire world in solidarity. Just as we did with Paris. Just as we did with Beirut. Just as we did with Sandy Hook, Charleston, Colorado, Columbine… Honestly need I continue?
The goal of this nation is to be ONE nation. To be united in times of trouble and in times of peace. The goal of the United Nations is to work together as the people of this Earth for a better world. Are we always going to agree? No. Are we going to have to respectfully discuss the issues relating to these massive tragedies? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, what matters is that we stand with those who have lost a loved one. We stand with them and we offer our hands and our help to as many people as we are able to.
Division will only cause these events to trouble and torment the citizens of this nation and world. Unity, compassion, and love will push us forward.
My heart is with the survivors, the victims, and the loved ones of this terrible tragedy. For their sake, and for the sake of all of those who have suffered from these horrible events in the past, let’s stand together and do something about it. You would be amazed what happens when we come together.