The constant trauma of mass shootings: When an unbroken chain of acceptable violence leaves us numb
I am rarely at a loss for words. However, I found myself struggling to process the horrific violence over the past few weeks. It is generally fairly easy for me to take a pause, think deeply about events and then put my thoughts down in an article. I wish this was still easy to do in this instance, but it is incredibly difficult to even think about how to process the world around us.
Several people reached out to me after the racist attack and murders in Buffalo, offering their condolences to me and my community for the losses that day. The fear that has gripped that community has spread to many other places where Black people do not just fear violence, but fear a return to the wonton racial violence that our community had to deal with constantly until just over fifty years ago. Some will claim that the day-to-day violence in some Black communities should be reacted to in the same way as what happened in Buffalo. They are so wrong for saying and feeling this.
This targeted attack, where the random victims where chosen because they were Black, is so different than murders within our communities around the country that cause a great deal of fear and alarm.
To know that on any given day, there are armed and angry White men who want to murder us because of some perceived damage we have done to their standing in life is truly terrifying.
For many years as I have traveled around the state of Wisconsin talking about race and racism, friends and family members alike have warned me that I needed to be careful. Some told me that I would need a body guard. My immediate family literally feared for my life as I travelled to some places like Janesville. I have never been in fear of being accosted or attacked.
I do what I do, because it is important work and requires me to be very honest in what I share. I have had a few occasions where angry White men approached me and called me a racist after a speaking engagement. It has never gotten to the point where I was afraid. There was one occasion where a venue where I was speaking at had a person doing similar work a few weeks before me had some white supremacists approach and try to intimidate the people in the audience. As a result there were really frantic conversations about what would happen when I showed up. The police became involved and there was a question as to whether the space would be safe. In the end, everything worked out okay.
In toady’s world I think it would have been handled differently. It might have been canceled because the level of not just threats, but actual violence by hate mongering white supremacists and those who support them, is at a level unseen since the 1950s and 60s.
Threatening race based violence, and targeting specific groups is the new norm in the minds of too many Americans. Despite the targeted attacks on Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Jews over the past decade, America is still sleeping on the threat. The FBI warned years ago of the infiltration of police departments by white supremacist and everyone yawned. Mother Emanuel Church members were murdered in cold blood and America mostly forgot about it within a few short weeks.
Now the tragic murders in Buffalo have been nearly forgotten, overshadowed by the unthinkable tragedy in Uvalde, Texas. In between these two was the attack against Taiwanese Americans in a church in Santa Ana, California. The level of hate shown by the perpetrators in each case should be another wake up call.
As history has taught us so well within a short time the emotional reactions to these tragedies will dissipate among most Americans and they will go back to life as usual.
The people impacted by these recent violent events will never be the same. The friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers and other acquaintances of the victims will live with this memory for the remainder of their lives. Outside of those who are protesting for stricter guns laws, most Americans will go back to living their daily lives, watching sports, barbecuing over the summer, vacationing and such.
We as a nation will sleep walk until the next tragedy. We will see the same response the next time. We will hear the same arguments next time. We will do little to nothing to spark real change next time. History is the best teacher. We have been here before after Charleston in 2015, after Newtown in 2012 and after Atlanta in 2021. The script played out the same each time for the most part. No real substantive changes happened in each of those cases, with the exception of a federal law about hate crimes against Asians.
America will not learn a lesson from these recent mass shootings that spurs fundamental change in conversations. People will stay entrenched in their way of seeing the world and will continue to pretend we cannot do better.
We were not shaken up enough by children being murdered in 1999 at Columbine High School, or at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 and probably will not be in after the murders at Robb Elementary School in 2022. Only time will tell. My guess is that the shock of the murders for 4th gardens and their teachers will not be enough to force us to demand more from our elected officials, and do something if they do not respond properly.
I have shed tears for strangers in light of these events. My heart has been heavy thinking about the survivors and the families who have unnecessarily lost loved ones. This is not new in this country.
One hundred years ago, 51 Blacks were the victims of lynchings across the country. Fifteen people were lynched in Texas alone in 1922. There were as many as 61 lynchings in America that year. Three Blacks were burned to death by a mob in Kirvin, Texas on May 6, 1922. The Tulsa Daily News reported that the “mob was unmasked and was composed of silent and determined men and a few women.” They went on to say:
“Authorities of Freestone county tonight expressed the belief that there will no grand jury called at least not at an early date, to investigate the lynching of three negroes on a single funeral pyre in Kirvin … at daybreak today.”
The memories of these types of atrocities are in the living memories of Blacks in places like Buffalo. The fear of race based hatred is never too far in the past for Blacks in America. So when people dismiss the racism so evident in the Buffalo shooting, it is literally a double blow to the consciousness of Black people around this country.
I will never stop reminding those who read my column of the connections between past racism and current racism. It is an unbroken line. Violence perpetrated primarily by angry men with guns today is directly connected to that same violence that we celebrated in so-called “Westerns” on television when I was a child. It is an unbroken chain of acceptance of violence that is problematic.
When other countries in recent years saw mass murders take place that did more than just grieve, send condolences and have beautiful memorials. They changed laws and changed the trajectory of the future by doing what made perfect sense to them. Can America do the same? Sadly I doubt it will.
Jае C. Hоng