Culture of Violence

Chicago ABC7

Chicago ABC7

The horrors and lament of mass shootings in the United States have become ubiquitous and many are left desensitized to the epidemic we face as a nation. A generation of youth are born into a culture of violence that is normalized and, sadly, expected. This reality itself is a tragedy. The woes we once again endure in the wake of 31 killed in Dayton, OH and El Paso, TX this past weekend by gun violence remains an unbearable burden. The same weekend in Chicago left seven people dead by gun violence with 46 wounded. It is unacceptable and we must reject this as a norm.

Crosses for each of the victims of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. CALLAGHAN O’HARE / REUTERS

Crosses for each of the victims of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. CALLAGHAN O’HARE / REUTERS

No one should live in perpetual fear of dying while shopping, driving home, dancing with friends or for being Brown or Black in America. A local hospital should not have to close its doors due to an inundation of patients and an inability to accommodate the demand for emergency care. This has become a reality as an unapologetic culture of violence is normalized and hate speech is passively portrayed as freedom of speech or colorful self-expression on social media, instead of being called out for what it truly is – bigotry and white nationalist rhetoric. No family should experience this tragedy or face the mourner’s bench with an unspeakable loss rooted in domestic terror. The fraternity of families experiencing loss by mass shootings grows and the memorials, hashtags and anniversary dates to remember are innumerable. We must hold our public officials accountable and insist on legislation that will reduce accessibility to guns. And while this should go without stating – we must also have executive leadership with enough courage and integrity to denounce hate speech without perpetuating racist antics and racialized violence.

Flowers form a small memorial in Dayton, Ohio.

Flowers form a small memorial in Dayton, Ohio.

This is an issue of socio-economic disparities and this is an issue of racialized violence in America – each meeting at the intersection of a culture of violence we cannot afford to ignore. Gun violence and the urgent call for common sense legislation is a part of this epidemic, but not the sum of it. While we push public officials to act swiftly – locally and in our nation’s capital − we must also insist on a conversation on race and racism in America, which undergird the mass killings. We have witnessed 21st century lynching and this past weekend bemoans the bitterness of strange fruit. How can we discuss Charleston, SC and Mother Emanuel without discussing racism? How can we discuss El Paso and look beyond xenophobia?

Our nation’s leaders have a dutiful call to action and, as citizens, we must remain vigilant in holding them accountable; denouncing normalized cultures of violence, racism, and bigotry; and we may also do so while embodying postures of prayer, hope, and love. We don’t have to choose between our vigilance as people of faith and our resolve to demand justice. Our faith may move us to be restless in our pursuit of justice and a new norm that honors our humanity, rather than threatens it.

In our wake, we also mourn the loss of the incomparable Toni Morrison, who died at the age of 88 following a brief illness. Ironically, this legend taught us the importance of loving our bodies, loving our humanity, and loving ourselves fiercely enough that we would not allow those that would choose to harm our bodies to have the power to define our worth. Her novel “Beloved” taught us to touch ourselves gently with the very grace and dignity we were denied by racism and bigoted violence. She rejected this when her character Baby Suggs declared:

Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you!
30a71a6560f0fe837dfd98dbb2fd6cf5

In this hour of our lament and demand for more than just prayers alone, for Chicago and our nation at-large, Morrison offers us a call to action and a prayer – to love. A call for legislative action is a call to love, which should not be understated. We are the ones who have been beaconed to go forth and be the witnesses of what such a radical love can look like in this very hour. Call on legislators, a president and our neighbors to choose love in this fight to end a culture of violence, inclusive of gun violence and racism.

This is our duty to fight and to win!