When I blogged about conscious consumption on June 7th, I planned on blogging weekly from then on.
Then, on June 12th, a man killed 49 people and injured 50+ more at a gay night club in Orlando. I cried, I tweeted and retweeted, I devoured reports about the lives of the victims, I walked in the St. Pete Pride Parade, I donated some money. I looked up my congresspeople and representatives and made phone calls, sent emails urging for gun control. Mostly, however, I felt depressed and helpless, as I often do in these situations (See “People Die Every Day” and “On Ferguson”).
In early July, I watched the video of Alton Sterling being shot by police while he was pinned face-down to the ground. A day later, I watched video of Philando Castile immediately after he’d been shot by a police officer while he sat in the passenger seat of his girlfriend’s car. The blood was so bright red and his girlfriend so level headed, it took me a minute to recognize the video was real.
There have been more deaths. I watched video of the shooting at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, a shooting that resulted in the death of several police officers. I’ve been limiting the attention I pay to all of this violence because it wears on me and sometimes pushes me into depression, but I couldn’t help but see that Charles Kinsey, a man who works one-on-one with an autistic man, was shot by police in front of the person he cares for while sitting on the ground with his hands up in North Miami.
More recently, Chicago police shot and killed teenager Laquan McDonald while he was walking down the street. Even more recently, they killed teenager Paul O’Neal. The United States has a lot of problems, and it has become undeniable that the police are one of them. The police-caused deaths we hear about in the news are only a small slice of the deaths that are actually happening–check the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database to see that the police kill people every day.
I am not writing this post to argue for any particular answer or solution, although I, like many people, have some ideas. Essentially, I want to start blogging again, and I wouldn’t feel right doing so without acknowledging what’s been happening. Even though this violence is difficult and heavy, I believe all Americans need to continue facing it and continue speaking up about it. It hurts. It’s depressing. Feeling that hurt, pain, and sadness is what will push us to demand change. No matter how much I want to descend into my own little cocoon, I will not look away.
We need police reform immediately. We needed it years ago. Having police forces mirror the demographics of the communities they serve would be a start. (Clearly this issue disproportionately affects Americans based on race and class.) Or, better yet, require police to be from the communities they serve. Body and dash cameras would be another start. To paraphrase the tweets of many–this isn’t a new problem; we’re just now finding out the extent of it because it’s being recorded. I hope never to find myself in one of these situations live, but if I do, I know to record the police. It seems to be the main thing driving change.
In response to the other shootings–the Pulse shooting, the shootings in movie theatres, schools, etc.–I have become firmly pro-gun control. I used to not care much about the issue. I have relatives who hunt for food and sport, and friends who own hand guns for protection and target shooting. I’ve shot guns before and found it enjoyable, and I know there can be such a thing as responsible gun ownership. Still, things are absolutely out of control. It should not be easier to get a gun than to get a driver’s license. People should most definitely be required to have background checks, psychological tests, and educational training before they can own guns. Also, military grade guns should be illegal, bottom line. There’s no justifiable reason for them whatsoever.
This New York Times article shows just how uncommon gun deaths are in other countries, really emphasizing that this is not an uncontrollable issue. In Poland and England, a person’s chance of dying from a gun is equal to an American’s chance of dying by falling off a ladder. In Japan, a person’s chance of dying from a gun is equal to an American’s chance of dying after being struck by lightning. The massive rate of gun deaths in the US is a direct result of pro-gun culture and public policy. Other countries–many other countries–are not experiencing the same gun violence crisis.
Again, I have no nice and easy clear answer. I will be blogging again–hopefully at least weekly, but ideally more often. Most of my posts should be happier than this one, but as long as this level of violence is occurring in the US, I will keep facing it and using what I have, which is generally writing, to push back against it, to say it’s not okay, to make it clear that this is not the country I want to live in, that we as Americans are better than this, we can do better, we can turn things around, we can foster a space where people coexist peacefully, we can create a place that doesn’t involve a constant turning to violence to resolve problems or express difficult emotions.