written by Valerie Morales
Exhale if you can. The terrorist murders of 31 is the wind blowing in circles. Because we’ve been here before, seen this before, wept quietly, screamed at feckless politicians, raged at the NRA, numbness has settled the bone. The execution of black church members was one step up the thorny hill. And the vicious death of Heather Heyer was another. A happy 6 year old boy was ambushed at a garlic festival and nothing changed. We don’t care about children in the United States. A 14 year old and two others were gunned down at a Jewish center in Kansas in 2014 because the killer believed diversity was genocide. But diversity doesn’t murder masses. White men with guns do.
There’s more. Two years ago, Timothy Caughman was killed by a white supremacist in New York. His killer wanted to kill a black man as part of a “practice run.” He wanted to persuade white women not to enter into interracial relationships. Two months later, in Portland, two men were stabbed to death after helping a Muslim woman who was being terrorized. Ten months ago, a 69 year old black man with a generous smile named Maurice Stallard was shopping with his 12 year old grandson when he was murdered. So was a 67 year old black woman named Vickie Lee Jones. They were terrorized in Kroger’s. The murderer allegedly yelled, “whites don’t kill whites.” Minutes before, he tried to enter a black church but it was locked.
11 were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was October 2018, the season of gold and salmon and amarillo leaves, and crisp nights. That shooter called immigrants “invaders”, a word white supremacists have rebranded. Six years before that horror, in Wisconsin, six were killed in a Sikh temple. Near San Diego, on the last day of the Jewish Passover holiday, a terrorist attack killed a 60 year old woman. That was in March.
But when sports journalist Jemele Hill called Donald Trump a white supremacist because he adores other white supremacists, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said she should be fired.
The tail is wagging the dog.
Last week, FBI director Christopher Wray warned the Senate about this very thing, that domestic terrorism is a consequence of white nationalism. White nationalism is another rebranding. In America-speak, it means white supremacy. Only white lives matter.
The White House won’t say the obvious and so I will. Young white men have started a race war and are abetted by their assault weapons fetish, and are enabled by a political class that does nothing.
Sure, there is a lot of venting now. But what about when James Byrd was beaten, urinated on, spray painted, throat slashed, and dragged to his death by white supremacists? His head and arm immediately severed when his body hit a culvert. The condition of his skull was intact which led investigators to believe he was conscious before he died.
Domestic terrorism by way of white supremacists isn’t new. But the cancer has shifted geographically. It is all over the body, in every place. It has metastasized and the patient is dying.
The day after seventeen children and adults lay venerated in their own blood and a 19 year old was in custody for his barbarism, I was in line at the local post office to mail birthday cards. Behind me was a couple. The woman asked her male companion why was it that the men in the Senate, mostly white men, why were they so fannishly passionate about dead embryos but grotesquely silent when teenagers die? Her companion searched for logic but didn’t really have an answer. It is a grand paradox of our modern times. The fetus is precious and beautiful before it is born, the rest of us are beautiful after we are dead.
Three weeks before the 2018 massacre on Valentines Day, the United States Senate failed to pass The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act that would have restricted abortion after 20 weeks. Republicans could not nail the 60 votes needed after Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) voted against it. The bill’s sponsor, Lindsay Graham (South Carolina) told supporters, “You are on the right side of history.”
Protection of the vulnerable is a sustainable value of any civilization. But here is the problem. In the aftermath of the Senate failure (and the murders in ____________), the question must be posed to the Senate body: where was the Pain-Capable Born Citizen Protection Act that would have saved those in Walmart, or at a garlic festival, or in a synagogue, or at Bible Study. Are they not on the right side of history too?
American lives are transactional chess pieces in a zero sum game that rewards hatred and punishes the absence of it. We matter theoretically. But money and power matter practically. To elevate one is to diminish the other and so this is where we are, a beloved country that eroticizes the NRA and its employees, US congressmen, and blames gun carnage on mental illness. White men cannot hold other white men accountable.
Congressmen aren’t made of stone but they do cherry pick who deserves empathy. After 9–11, they created TSA and began a system of security checkpoints in order to avoid another terrorist attack. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader shamed them and Congress legislated airbags once the evidence was clear it saved lives. Congress is all in on traffic checkpoints during the holidays when drinking and driving create a death trap. They warn about blizzards and hurricanes and tornadoes and rising rivers. They research and regulate and test drugs. Children cannot buy beer at 15, heroin at 16. Babies are vaccinated. There are hundreds and hundreds of safety regulations to protect citizens.
But within this same scope of welfare, the men who take a gross amount of money from the NRA approve the sale of guns and assault rifles to white supremacists, all the while accepting the Faustian bargain that hate breeds more hate. White supremacists either slaughter others, or celebrate those that do.
We are not a land of the brave. We are not. Brave. We are complicit in the genocide of us. We are solitary figures and the world around us is cracking. And yet, there they are in communion. The gun porn folk. The elected ghosts in their opaque and silent rooms watching us die.
Highway 10, a two lane Michigan road my grandfather helped engineer, meets Forman Road in rural Northern Michigan. Past the yellow light that blinks, past the Welcome to Idlewild sign, is a white house on the right side of the road as you are driving west towards Lake Michigan. On one side of the house is a brand new Trump 2020 banner. On the other side are two Trump 2020 banners and a military banner. Nowhere is there a banner for the dead. A wreath. A memorial. A prayer. Or even anger.
White apathy has returned from its hiatus, a memory of how it was during slave auctions and lynching parties and 4 dead black girls in a church because a bomb went off. Trump sycophants are that neighbor that turned their back when Kitty Genovese was being raped and she begged for help from her Queens neighbors. Genovese was ultimately murdered as neighbors decided not to get involved in her stabbing and rape and that is where we are right now in this genocide. A lot of folks don’t want to get involved in our stabbing and rape.
While Donald Trump has not pulled the trigger on one assault weapon that has slaughtered hundreds, he has given his approval to white supremacists primitivism and he grotesquely sips at the hate that drips out their pores. He oxygenates their evil. It’s not a surprise that the El Paso killer who wanted to kill as many Mexicans as he could was a Trump supporter.
In all fires, there is a fuel. The most dangerous wildfires rage out of control because the fuel is enabled by a terrible wind that blows it wildly. Trump is the fuel. The GOP are the wild wind. And innocent Americans are the tortured ground that is charred by a fire that is no longer under control.
You die if you go to church. You die if you go to the movies. You die at synagogue or temple. You die at a bar. You are murdered at school. Your life ends at a music festival. You bleed out at the grocery store. You are a victim at the mall. You are killed at Walmart.
Not long ago, I entered a religious sanctuary for a Good Friday service and after I settled myself into the pew, I scanned the exits and wondered about a shooter coming in. How would I survive his terror? All of us in the congregation were brown skinned folk. We’re targets in our safest spaces.
This is the darkest hour. For a country that distinguishes itself by claiming greatness and superiority, there is a reckoning. We are not what we say we are. We have never been that moral or perfect or kind or decent. This is now a country that enables genocide. That allows a baby’s bones to be broken because his mother gave up her life to save him.
Our bones are breaking. And no one is saving us.