by Harry Parmenter
I went to Walmart today, less than a week after the tragedy in El Paso. Tragedy/bloodbath/mass shooting, call it whatever you want, but maybe pure evil fits best. Another young man with an assault rifle and an insane manifesto creating a theatre of hate culminating in an orgy of killing. Dead bodies, traumatic life changing injuries and innocent people and their families scarred for life. And the hits keep on coming. Right now someone, somewhere, is sobbing uncontrollably, suffering forever sorrow for their irreplaceable loss. It could be me, or you.
This is America today.
The flag flew at half-mast outside the Walmart Golden Valley store. The parking lot looked sparse and inside I could feel the sober, subdued vibe of grief, fear and uncertainty. There was minimal chatter, no buzz of humanity, bantering or bargain hunting. Instead, most of us were probably thinking about the hunting that went on at the El Paso store, then the next night in Ohio and the week before in Gilroy…
It all seemed to begin at Columbine 20 years ago. Young men with hearts and minds blackened by malevolence, the early days of the anonymous sewer of social media, the internet and its disturbed extension, the dark web, poison seeping into our lives with the blood of innocent children, women and men of all ethnicities and faiths.
I was in Orlando last December and one day when I found the nearest Starbucks I looked across the street and saw, quite unexpectedly, the now infamous Pulse nightclub where, not long before, young gay men were executed by another demented killer armed with high powered artillery and ammunition.
The club shuttered after the incident and is now an abandoned shrine, the walls covered with photos of once happy faces now gone, their lives cut short through no fault of their own except, to their sick assassin, “the crime” of homosexuality.
These sick “landmarks” show what our country has become, a place where no one is safe anywhere: not the mall, not the gym, not the movie theatre, not the school, not the playground, not the concert venue, not the casino—and we are all culpable because we have done nothing to change the situation. We simply take it for granted, are horrified when it occurs, but return to our lives over time…until the next one. Unless we fall in the victim family pool. Then the torture never stops.
What can we do? Blame guns? Mental illness? Increase security? Decrease liberty? All this astounding technology yet we cannot stop these slaughters, the country churning beneath the surface with disaffected outcasts so twisted they kill for pleasure, for anger, for some inexplicable cause.
In times like these you wonder God where is? How can this happen? How does this make sense if the universe has any semblance of order?
The world has lived through dark times and continues to turn. America itself has seen the devil repeatedly and put him away. But this contemporary epidemic is insidious, serpentine, much like the conspirators of 9/11 and their hijacking of Muslimhood. Hitler and the Japanese we simply destroyed with bombs, boots and brawn, breaking their will. Those who took the beach at Normandy 75 years ago (or died trying), one of the greatest victories in military history, would be equally vexed by this dilemma, this amorphous disease infecting our nation.
Words are powerful and can be used to inspire the strong to saintly pursuits or turn the weak into vicious, soulless murderers. High powered weaponry is accessible in more ways than we can fathom. Consensus and collaboration are non-starters. Division and disdain carry the day.
We must somehow find the truth, the source of this malignant hemorrhage, these corrosive crimes. The prime suspects line up: guns, mental illness, young men raised without fathers, social media and the internet. None of the above, all of the above, who knows; we have to start somewhere. However, we must resist the temptation to turn any of these into political bogeymen. Everything matters, anything can have ramifications. Childhood is where it usually begins.
Above all I pray we can coalesce as a people and seek common ground. This is not a black and white conflict. We have somehow birthed this ideological evil and must pause our political differences to take steps in the right direction, ANY direction, just not accept this violence as the new normal.
I often think our country today is collectively incapable of the sacrifice and unity it took to assemble, let alone fight and win World War II. Now we face a new challenge and, while we need leaders who will bring us together, it’s not just on them. All of us play a part. Simply listening would be a start, but if we keep arguing the killing will continue.