There are two national headlines gnawing at my brain right now.
The first is about the murder of three police officers in Baton Rouge.
The second is about WV State Delegate Michael Folk tweeting that Hillary Clinton should be hung on the National Mall.
Both are senseless acts of violence.
An expression of hate is the ammunition that fuels physical assaults and attacks. It turns the words and actions of someone who looks, thinks, acts, or believes differently into a significant threat to individuals who have been programmed to protect their own closed-minded fortresses of right, wrong, and justice.
Making a statement that any person deserves to be hurt at the hands of another does absolutely nothing to improve anyone’s circumstances. Yet this type of brutality is quickly becoming the norm in the United States.
As a country, we are sinking fast in the rising waters of spiteful words, and no one throwing us a life jacket.
Only we can get ourselves out of this mess, which means we have to hold the haters accountable.
I’m not encouraging censorship. Freedom of speech is a core value, and our nation can only improve when we listen to ideas and thoughts that are different from our own. But freedom of speech must be treated with the same respect that we give to anything that is fragile and prone to break when it is mishandled.
And, as a country, we are being anything but gentle with each other.
Having a right to say what you want and not being held accountable for your words are two entirely different issues.
When I was a child, I lived with the taste of soap in my mouth because I was constantly saying things that provoked my parents. There was no law against the words I used or the tone with which they were said. But my words were disrespectful and inappropriate, and I paid the price by becoming a connoisseur of a wide variety of soap brands.
The soap in the mouth punishment isn’t feasible with politicians, community leaders or others who choose to continue to pollute political events and social media with their hateful and violent words.
But the rest of us can ensure that there are consequences.
We can choose not to vote for them.
We can unfollow them on social media.
We can call other leaders and lawmakers and express our concerns.
We can write letters to the editor.
We can even write blogs about them.
Collectively, when each one of us speaks up, our voices are bound to drown out the nasty ones.
My family had just celebrated my son’s first birthday when the nation’s attention focused on a high school in Colorado where two students killed 13 people.
My daughter was less than a month old when terrorists struck the Twin Towers .
I’ve been a mom for 17 years, and I have absolutely no concept how it feels like to know my children are safe.
I can only hope the odds that they are more likely to graduate than they are to be the victims of horrific crimes.
My children grew up in a world where violence is a constant. They’ve seen news footage of shootings in elementary schools, high schools, colleges and movie theaters. They only know a life in which such events are just another blip in an ongoing story about how unhappy, angry and unstable people resort to horrible acts to express their feelings. Phrases such as gun control and school shootings are a part of their every day vocabulary.
But despite practicing school lockdowns and opening their bags for inspection everywhere they go, my kids don’t focus on what others might do to them. My son is concerned about his SAT scores and my daughter is trying to decide what song she should sing for an upcoming audition. The threat of violence is just the constant white noise that constitutes the background of their lives.
But not so much for their parents.
On the same day that a television reporter and cameraman were shot during a live newscast, my son wore a blazer to school.
He is part of the morning news crew at his school television station, and he was going to be on air.
He left the house at about 6:45 preparing for a live broadcast while at the exact same time, another live newscast had just ended in violence.
White noise for him, another reason to worry for his parent, and another opportunity for pundits, politicians and every day people to argue about how to prevent another such incident.
By the end of the day, my Facebook feed was full of posts from people arguing for and against gun control and pontificating about mental illness and violence.
And I said nothing because I’ve come to realize my words wouldn’t matter.
People argued after Columbine. People argued after Virginia Tech. People argued after Sandy Hook.
And despite all that arguing, the shootings and violence continues.
I’m not writing this because I have a brilliant idea how to prevent such events.
I’m writing this because when my kids left for school this morning, the white noise in their lives was louder than usual and my concern for their safety was heightened.
I am writing this because I am tired of everyone talking at each other, disagreeing with each other and embracing their hatred and anger toward anyone who doesn’t think like they do.
And I am writing this because my children have grown up with such behavior and have come to accept it.
And that is the greatest tragedy of all.
On an emotional level, I have to write it.
Over the next few weeks, volumes will be written about the shooting that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. My own thoughts will be just a mere drop in a sea of ideas and opinions.
And since I usually write to inform, persuade or sometimes to simply vent, having my voice heard should matter.
But there are times when I write just to get my thoughts in order. This is one of those times.
I, like so many Americans, am overcome with grief and frustration about an event that involved no one I know yet affected everyone I know.
I am also filled with guilt because, initially, I didn’t even take notice of the shootings. I was logging into my email account to send a message about my children’s latest accomplishments when I saw a headline that there had been a shooting at a Connecticut school. Absorbed in my own life, my only thought was, “Here we go again.” And then I forgot about headline until later in the day.
How sad is that?
Shootings have become such common events that I, a person who hates violence, wasn’t initially shocked or curious.
There is something fundamentally wrong with a society in which many of us don’t even pay attention to violence until multiple people are shot to death. We should be upset with every violent word, gesture and action. Instead, we are immune to all but the most heinous of events.
And when such events do occur, we turn to each other and ask, “how could this happen?”
In reality, we already know the reasons. We just fear addressing them because anything we say might turn into a political debate rather than a rational discussion.
The time has come for rational discussion.
We know that too many people suffer from undiagnosed, untreated or mismanaged mental illness. Sometimes the families dealing with such an illness don’t know how to cope or where to get help. Sometimes they can’t get the help anyway. Services are expensive, and waiting lists far exceed the need. Often, mental health services aren’t even integrated with other health and social services. And then there are the people complaining about their tax dollars being used to pay for services for people who can’t hold down a job. Guess what? People with mental health issues often have a very difficult time maintaining employment, and, as a society, we lack a comprehensive system to deal with the complicated issues. Time and time again, the warning signs are obvious, but we either don’t know what to do, don’t know where to turn or realize there simply is no place to turn.
We know that too many people who should never have access to guns obtain them anyway. Yes, sometimes people will find ways to access guns even when barriers are in place to prevent it. Sometimes, there is no way of determining who will use guns inappropriately. And sometimes guns can be used to prevent, rather than commit, a crime. But that doesn’t excuse us from identifying more effective ways to better prevent gun violence.
The bottom line is that gun violence involves two things: people and guns.
Guns are material possessions that can be manufactured, sold and replaced.
People can’t be manufactured, shouldn’t be sold and can never be replaced.
Americans need to make a choice about our priorities and how to balance them. Only then can genuine discussion about preventing future tragedies realistically begin.
If we don’t have those discussions, we won’t develop effective solutions and will continue to believe that our only common ground is providing prayer and support for victims, their families and first responders.
If we continue down the path we are on, we might as well start praying right now for all the future victims who could have been protected.