Sadly, we have become inured to nightly news stories about mass shootings at schools, houses of worship, malls, workplaces, concerts and other venues where we gather to learn, pray, shop or enjoy day-to-day pleasures. The senseless carnage is only matched by the countless tragedies that gun violence creates that never make the headlines. Our historic fascination with guns and our inability to legislate sensible gun reform is a plague on our nation responsible for everything from accidental shootings, often of children, to suicide.
But over the past couple weeks, a new element has emerged which increases the depth of sadness already inflicted upon us—individually and corporately—by the proliferation of guns in our culture: the propensity to shoot as a quick response to fear or mistaken identities. Brilliantly summarized by Roxane Gay in the New York Times, she lists the following events:
*** In Kansas City, Ralph Yarl, a Black 16-year-old, rang the wrong doorbell while trying to pick up his younger brothers. He was simply on the wrong street, Northeast 115th Street instead of Northeast 115th Terrace.
*** In upstate New York, a 20-year-old white woman, Kaylin Gillis, was looking for a friend’s house in a rural area. The driver of the car turned into a driveway and the homeowner fired twice, killing Ms. Gillis.
*** In Illinois, William Martys was using a leaf blower in his yard. A neighbor allegedly started an argument with him and shot him dead.
*** Two cheerleaders were shot in a Texas parking lot after one got into the wrong car. Thankfully, both survived, albeit with injuries.
*** In Cleveland, Texas, a father asked his neighbor Francisco Oropesa to stop shooting his gun on his porch because his baby was trying to sleep. Oropesa walked to the father’s house and started shooting, killing five people, including an 8-year-old boy, with an AR-15-style rifle. Two of the slain adults were found covering children, who survived.
*** At a Walgreens in Nashville, Mitarius Boyd suspected that Travonsha Ferguson, who was seven months pregnant, was shoplifting. Instead of calling the police, he followed Ms. Ferguson and her friend into the parking lot and, after one of the women allegedly sprayed mace in his face, Boyd, began firing. Ms. Ferguson was rushed to the hospital for an emergency C-section. Her baby was born two months early.
*** And sometimes there isn’t even a gun involved. Jordan Neely, a Michael Jackson impersonator experiencing homelessness, was acting aggressively on New York City subway. A former Marine held him in a choke hold for three minutes. Neely died.
Roxane Gay raises rhetorical questions: “Was he making people uncomfortable? I’m sure he was. But his were the words of a man in pain. He did not physically harm anyone…How does this senseless, avoidable violence happen?” Her troubling answer: “In most cases, armed assailants deputized themselves to stand their ground or enforce justice for a petty crime. Some claimed self-defense, said they were afraid, though some of their victims were unarmed women and children.
“We have to ask the uncomfortable questions: Why are men so afraid? Why are they so fragile that they shoot or harm first and ask questions later? Why do they believe death or injury is an appropriate response to human fallibility? Public life shared with terrified and/or entitled and/or angry and/or disaffected men is untenable.”
These tragedies were going to form the core of my blog this week. But, due to an extended series of unexpected appointments and multiple computer breakdowns, I lost two days. Hence, I’m posting on the weekend instead of midweek, which is my custom.
Between computer woes and appointment commitments, I had time for reflection and asked myself why I even undertake this weekly task. This month marks six years since I began, missing less than a dozen weeks since. Amidst the pause due to delays and frustrations of the past days, I wondered why I continue. Why do I invest the time and energy to write and agonize over technology challenges to post each week?
I have no job description, no boss to hold me to account. There is no monetary gain at stake, no increase in status or position. Is it simply an ego-driven discipline? A way for an opinionated old man to publicly express his views on whatever topic he chooses? Is it because it gives me a platform? A vestige of a time when I was gainfully employed that I seek to maintain despite my changed circumstances? Am I trying desperately to hold on to something that has worn out its welcome, and that is no longer valuable?
These are serious questions that I debated in my head as I missed my “deadline” this week. But what I ultimately decided was that it is my way of connecting to the people who are important to my life. I know that while some of you, dear readers, are regular visitors to these pages, others only stop by occasionally. Some respond either to me personally or in the comments section on my website almost every week. Others—even frequent readers—rarely do. But, it’s all good. Every so often I hear from someone with whom I have not been in touch for months who has a supportive or insightful comment. I cannot fully describe how deeply gratifying this is.
And so, though my offering this week is a bit delayed, and although I seriously considered not submitting any entry at all (and maybe ending this discipline altogether), the delay has been worth it. It has reaffirmed the motivations behind this continuing (and sometimes arduous) effort. It is a way for me to connect with the people I love and respect most in the whole world. For better or worse, I shall carry on. You can look for my thoughts on Wednesday or Thursday—unless the computer goes on the fritz again!