This is precisely who we are
For two weeks I’ve been trying to write something insightful about the lynching of 10 people in Buffalo. About how people like Tucker Carlson have used race and hate to gain power and wealth. I was going to write about how politicians have been doing this for approximately forever.
I was going to write about how Buffalo, like most large American cities, is so thoroughly segregated because of the interstate - I-90 in Buffalo’s case - that the Federal Highway Administration blasted through the midst of the city and intentionally and effectively created a white Buffalo on one side, and over on the crappier side of the highway, a Black Buffalo, in a program that displaced over a million Black residences that the FHA informally and callously called ‘Getting rid of Niggertown’.
I was going to write about how Spiro Agnew became Richard Nixon’s vice president by using race to foment hate in the aftermath of the murder of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior and how when he was accused of dividing us Americans his response was, “Dividing the American people has been my main contribution to politics. That is a charge to which I not only plead guilty, but of which I am proud.”
I was going to write about how Richard Nixon’s senior advisor, Watergate bungled burglar, and architect of the utterly unsuccessful war on drugs bragged about using race to foment hate and division. “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or (to be) Black, but by getting the public to associate hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
I was going to write about Lee Atwater. Senior presidential advisor to several presidents, Atwater taught more than one of them how to use race and coded language to foment hate and create division. “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff.”
I might have written about how Ronald Reagan used coded language to subtly prey on white fear and resentment when he campaigned from Philadelphia MS, the same spot where three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, had been murdered by a sheriff’s deputy and his cronies 16 years earlier and then been buried in a dam under construction - spawning the film, Mississippi Burning.
I might have written about our national rhetoric that proclaims us to be the land of the free where all men are created equal and are entitled to the inalienable right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Maybe I would have written about how our national actions belie or national rhetoric.
But I’m not going to write about any of that. In fact, in a first-ever departure from the core mission of The Civil Conversations Project, I’m not going to write about race at all or how this country’s “race thing” has adversely affected every person in America.
I got home yesterday afternoon from a couple of weeks on the Cerro Pelado fire in NM and was cleaning out my truck when my phone beeped with a text from my friend Jeff - “Here I am completely off the grid when I get a cell signal and make the mistake of checking the news. I’m neither surprised nor particularly bothered by another mass shooting and that bothers me even more than the shooting itself. Even dead children aren’t a big deal anymore to the hate-filled country that we live in.” Of course I keyed up the news and read for myself about the massacre.
So it seems appropriate to me to write about today’s one overriding thing of substance – yesterday’s massacre of children in Uvalde Texas – a town that I‘d never heard of and will now never forget.
But what to write? Reading about the mass murder of now 21 people, plus the killer who was himself still a child…I kinda didn’t know how to feel. Angry? Of course. But at whom? The killer? Check. The spinless, gutless, self-serving, cowardly politicians who won’t pass any gun safety or background check bill? Check. The manufacturers themselves? Check. The NRA? Check. America’s fascination with violence and our ‘tough-guy, independent, gun-toting’ self-image? Check.
Sad? Yep, I feel sad. I reluctantly try to imagine a fourth grader – or their teacher for that matter because adult lives matter too – with a couple of bullet holes in them. In our cowboy movies, one cowboy takes a look at the bullet hole in another cowboy and proclaims, “Well ya’ sure are lucky, pard. The bullet went clear through. Let’s ride!” But in real life with real modern bullets, the bullet makes a smallish hole going in, cavitates, maybe tumbles, and expands like a mushroom – picture a tiny white mushroom going in, a giant portabella mushroom going out. Picture that. Now picture it on a 10 year old. Picture the back of her head.
Apathy? Yes, sadly I feel a bit of apathy over something as common as another mass murder.
In the end, my eyes did well up a bit. Then I turned and did what I knew I was going to do. I finished cleaning out my truck.
Today I poked around on the internet. If yesterday was an average day in America, based off of 2020 statistics, the last year that statistics are available, not only did those 21 people die in Uvalde, but 124 additional people in America lost their lives to gun violence…about the same number of folks who lose their lives to gun violence every year in our northern neighbor. Canada has plenty of guns, plenty of people hunt, and their firearm laws are not all that strict.
In Japan you can own a shotgun for hunting, but your right to do so is not enshrined in the law. In order to buy ammunition you have to turn in your spent casings and that determines how many new rounds of ammunition are available for you to purchase. Your gun has to be locked away in a gun cabinet and the police make periodic surprise inspections. Those are pretty restrictive laws. But in 2017, the last year I could find data on Japan, the country suffered three gun deaths. There’s just something about America.
Maybe it’s the NRA. One of the few times in the history of the NRA when they supported some form of restrictive gun laws was when the Oakland Black Panthers figured out that they could openly carry. Other than that and a few other times, since the mid-seventies or so it’s been ”I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead, hands.”
When I think about Sandy Hook I think about a friend of mine. A brilliant surgeon. He replaced one of my hips and it came out perfectly. I think about his first comment after he learned about the massacred little kids at Sandy Hook. “They’ll probably be trying to take our guns away.” For him that was the horror of Sandy Hook. They might take his guns. Sandy Hook…where Adam Lanza killed his mother, 6 faculty, and 20 little kids taught us that in America, guns are more important than the lives of even the littlest of kids.
Maybe I should just write about a hatred that has come to permeate and personify America. The Buffalo shooter had Black racial hatred in his heart and on his brain. The Uvalde murderer? Who knows? Uvalde seems to be a majority Hispanic town. But the shooter seems to have a Hispanic name. Maybe he’d just been taught to hate by those politicians and talking heads like Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Elise Stefanick… the endless list of so many others.
Politicians and talking heads have given us a long list of people we can hate. Blacks, Muslims, Chinese, women, Mexicans, Transgender, Gays, abortion providers, environmentalist, homeless people, poor people, Ukrainians, coastal elites, mid-westerners, southerners, Jews…hell, they’d probably have us hating Big Foot if there was something in it for them.
The small city that I live in in western Colorado is littered with “Go Brandon” signs and bumper stickers indicating a solid dislike of our president. That’s one thing. But it’s also littered with “Fuck Biden” banners and flags, and that’s something else. That’s a now-accepted unhealthy hatred and crudeness fostered by some of our so-called political and thought leaders.
We have unfettered access to guns. We have hate. We have targets. I’m not surprised that we have mass murder. I’m surprised that we don’t have more.
Joe Biden has said several times since Buffalo and Uvalde, “This is not who we are!” You’re wrong Joe. It’s precisely who we are.