This past Saturday I went to bed with news of the mass shooting at El Paso, Texas and woke up to news of Dayton, Ohio. There is something obscenely hopeless about how banal that phrase sounds, about how often mass murders happen south of the border that they’re now overlapping each other in news coverage. Twenty-one killed and 26 wounded in El Paso, 10 killed and 27 injured in Dayton. In any other country, such back-to-back massacres would be numbing, horrific, terror-inducing. In the U.S., random body counts have become routine.
Just last weekend, a gunman shot 15 people, killing three in Gilroy, California at a garlic festival. Among the victims, a six-year-old boy and a 13-year-old teen girl. When CNN analyst and former FBI agent Josh Campbell called law enforcement agents for updates on the El Paso mass shooting, the reply was, “You’ll have to be more specific regarding which massacre you’re referring to.” He called it a “punch in the gut.”
Shootings are part of the American landscape so often that three of the people who escaped the Gilroy shootings also survived the 2017 Las Vegas massacre. What are the odds of a Canadian experiencing and surviving one mass shooting, let alone two in one lifetime? Don’t tell me easy access to guns and lax gun legislation have nothing to do with what’s happening over there. We all know better.
I tweeted nothing about these three horrific shootings. Other than the sincere grief I feel for the victims and their loved ones, I am depleted. What can I possibly say that I haven’t already said over the years in reaction to these tragic events? Even as a helpless bystander from the other side of the border, I feel like a hypocrite tweeting out my sadness, my disbelief, my frustration, my “thoughts and prayers,” when I’ve seen the same song and dance — grief, blame, denial, deflection, analyses, demand for change, hopelessness, anger, requests not to politicize the deaths — time and time again, playing out like some demented version of Groundhog Day.
I don’t know how Americans were conned into believing this is an acceptable way to live, and to die; that absolutely nothing can be done to curb this slaughter. I wish they could wake up from their collective stupor and realize that there is no freedom in having the legal right to openly carry a semiautomatic weapon in public — only greater potential for mass murder in mere seconds. That doesn’t taste like freedom to me. That tastes like mayhem.
I am utterly exhausted by the inaction of American legislators who continue to kowtow to the NRA and its blood-soaked allegiance to the almighty bottom dollar. I am tired of the political unwillingness to call out the white supremacy that seems to guide so many of these terrorist attacks (seven separate massacres inspired by far-right hate in the last 18 months alone) and I’m utterly grossed out by some media’s constant fixation on mental illness as the probable cause the minute the shooter is determined to be white and male, which is overwhelmingly the case lately.
While not much is currently known about the motives of the Dayton shooter (the latest reports focus on his misogyny — he chillingly had both a “kill” and a “rape” list and his own sister was among his victims) we do know what compelled the El Paso shooter. He readily admitted to law enforcement agents that he drove nine hours to the Texas border to “shoot as many Mexicans as possible.” The manifesto he released before embarking on his killing spree was laden with hateful anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic, white-supremacist rhetoric, which endorsed the “Great Replacement” theory and clearly pointed to “the Hispanic invasion of Texas” and his desire to defend “his country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion” as his motivator.
This wasn’t some random man with mental health issues and easy access to guns, as some would like to believe. This was another Christchurch killer, another white supremacist out to kill those who are not like him, protecting against those who were “invading” what he believed to be rightfully his. Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of U.S. history will find the arrogance of someone “defending” Texas from Mexicans particularly offensive. The U.S. is rightfully treating the El Paso shooting as a domestic terrorism incident, and really… what else can it be with a confession like that.
Saying that the #1 terrorist threat in the U.S. remains white supremacist males is not hateful hyperbole. It’s a fact. Statistics clearly prove it to be so. Yet the amount of pearl-clutching that takes place the minute that term is used is, frankly, jaw dropping. What do people in deep denial of the truth aim to accomplish exactly? How are we supposed to solve something we can’t even bring ourselves to name? Is it because the minute we acknowledge that most of these actions are motivated by far-right white supremacy, we also must acknowledge the public political rhetoric that purposefully and irresponsibly stoked it?
When the Christchurch killer’s manifesto hailed Trump as a symbol of “renewed white identity and common purpose,” did the U.S. president rush to condemn white nationalism? Nope. He just referred to a man who gunned down 50 Muslim people in cold blood as an oddity, someone with “very serious problems.” As far as he was concerned, his words treating Muslims or immigrants as dangerous invaders were in no way related to a disturbed white nationalist’s deadly actions, even though the killer mentioned the words “invasion” and “invaders” a whopping 53 times. The correlation does not exist in his mind and in the minds of others spewing the same ugly rhetoric. Hate speech has no consequences if it’s draped in the flag of nationalism and protection of free speech, right?
Why the morbid attention to something that does not directly concern us here in Canada? Because it does. While constantly occurring mass gun shootings are a uniquely U.S. phenomenon thanks to the country’s abysmally irresponsible gun laws, the hate and the motives behind the shootings are not. We, too, have politicians stoking the same intolerance, the same hate, the same threat of an “immigrant invasion.” The steady rise of hate crimes across the country, including right here in Quebec, targeting religious and visible minorities is no accident. Alexandre Bissonnette was no accident, and to think that it was is to tell yourself comforting lies. He was responding to external stimuli (politicians and pundits) who routinely told him he should be afraid of Muslims, and because he didn’t know any better, he believed them. Having politicians deny Islamophobia and racism exist is a dangerous and counterproductive game. It will lead to more acts of hate and intolerance, many of which will inevitably be violent.
I think the saddest thing I read involving the El Paso shooting coverage was CNN reporting that local officials in the town believed some mass shooting victims didn’t seek medical attention because of their immigration status. Imagine being injured and being too terrified to seek medical treatment because of ICE. The unconfirmed rumours prompted immigration lawyers and hospitals to tweet out that they would ensure victims received treatment regardless of immigration status, but the behaviour of ICE officers and the horrendous conditions of holding facilities might motivate many to take their chances. The news struck me as particularly heartbreaking, a sign during a dark, hopeless weekend that we humans keep finding ways of descending lower than we ever thought possible. ■