In my former life as a newspaper reporter, I was occasionally assigned to cover various tragedies of different scopes and magnitudes. A house fire that claimed the lives of a few college students. The murder of a pair of policemen by a suspect who grabbed a gun off one of the officers and started blasting. Killings tied to street crime, drugs, domestic disputes, robberies, petty arguments. A serial killer named Henry Louis Wallace who raped and murdered 10 young black women in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, in the early 1990s.
There was a lot of murder and mayhem in that place, in those days. I was the main news reporter for an alternative newsweekly at the time, and so by default I handled the crime beat in addition to covering government and politics. If you want to get a jaded view of life, try covering those things every day and week for a few years.
I always felt inadequate writing about cruel and senseless deaths, cruel and senseless murders, like there was nothing at all I could add that could possibly be of any use to anyone. After a while you get tired of trying to document the murders, and even more tired of trying to parse out the reasons behind them. Because that was your job, too: to lend insight into the why of it, the social/psychological constructs that contribute to random violence in large numbers.
Today this headline arrived in my inbox from the Washington Post:
19 children, 2 teachers killed in deadliest U.S. school shooting in nearly a decade
I had to look at it twice. Not because I was unaware of the shooting – I had heard about it the night before. But because of the last part: “in nearly a decade.”
Nearly a decade.
In just about any other nation in the world, the random slaughter of 19 children and two teachers by a gun-toting psychopath on a normal school day would be a one-time event. The authorities would immediately come together to pass laws to ensure it would never happen again, as they did in Scotland following a school shooting in 1996 than left 16 students and one teacher dead. The UK government immediately passed stricter gun laws. There hasn’t been a school shooting since.
This century alone in the United States, there have been more than a dozen school shootings where at least five people were killed. Some of the numbers are staggering.
· Yesterday, 21 were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
· In 2018, 10 were killed at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas.
· Also in 2018, 17 were killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
· In 2015, 10 were killed at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon.
· In 2012, 27 were killed at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
· In 2007, 33 were killed at a university in Blacksburg, Virginia.
That’s just in the last 15 years. And they don’t include all the other mass, random shootings in other places. Less than two weeks ago 10 black people were slaughtered at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, by a white supremacist teenager.
A U.S. senator from Connecticut spoke on the floor of his chamber after the Uvalde killings yesterday. In a speech designed to convince his fellow senators to finally do something, anything, to try and prevent these kinds of tragedies, he rolled out this alarming stat: There are more mass shootings in the USA than days of the year.
I didn’t research this stat to see if it’s true, though I’m betting it is, based on one of the definitions of mass shootings: that they must involve four or more victims (injured and/or killed) at one or more locations close to one another.
A May 25 article on the NPR website said there have already been 213 mass shootings during the first 21 weeks of the year.
The fact that we even have to research how many hundreds of mass killings take place in the USA every year says all that needs to be said about the USA and guns and killing.
I’m not even sure why I’m blogging about this. I blogged about the same thing less than three years ago after we returned to London from a trip to the United States. I’m blogging about it now ahead of a planned trip to the United States. I could blog about the same thing every day for the next decade, and it would still be topical, still be in the headlines, still be a problem that America is trying to get its blood-stained arms around.
I feel just as inadequate writing about this now as I did as a reporter three decades ago. There is nothing I can add that will make any difference, do one bit of earthly good. America is a violent country with a gun obsession and a bunch of cheap, gutless lawmakers who just allow it to keep happening, while the general population moves on to something else in about 36 hours.
I had a book review blog all ready to go for this week’s blog. Something easy and harmless, that almost nobody will actually read.
But I’m writing about this instead. Maybe because I snuck a peek at photos of the young victims of yesterday’s massacre, even though I wasn’t going to. A decade ago I spent hours looking at photos of the Newtown massacre victims, and I wept, the only time I can remember doing that in forever. I decided I wasn’t going to look at the photos of the young Texas victims who showed up at school yesterday, and never went home.
But I looked, anyway. I forced myself to. The fuzzy, grainy photos of their smiling faces and goofy clothes. One young girl with long black hair proudly holding a couple of award certificates. Another girl with face paint and a sassy pose. A little boy with a cherubic face and “please take the photo already” half-smile.
They’ll never have a photo taken again.
But America will keep on being America. It’s a fabulously rich and deeply fucked-up country, down to its core, and it’s my homeland, and my daughters’ homeland, and I wish I could wish it out of my head, but I can’t.
I couldn’t even weep this time, even though I should. We all should.
*the photo originally appeared on Vox in 2018