There are no words to describe what happened last night in Orlando. I cannot imagine the terror and confusion felt by those who were brutally mown down by what appears to be an ideologically-driven gunman. There are no words to console the hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who right now are in hospitals or morgues, ICUs or funeral homes. There are no words for the shock. For the sudden sense of loss. For the lack of any discernible reason why the biggest mass shooting in American history happened. Not a political analysis, but a real, comprehensible reason for why.
When the shooting at Mother Emmanuel occurred, I think I was shaken more than at any other time; I was in college for the OKC bombing, and it seemed a distant and foreign event. On 9/11, I had friends in NYC and I tried frantically to get a hold of them. Eventually, after a couple or three days, I had established contact with them all and I grew more afraid of my government than I did of a terrorist attack. Dad and I flew to NYC about a month after the towers fell. The shootings at Columbine shocked me, but Virginia Tech terrified me, as I was teaching at Xavier University and I was so concerned about my students. I prepared myself mentally for the possibility of needing to throw myself at a shooter in order to stop a tragedy. I went to trainings on how to handle a locked down campus. Soon, I grew used to thinking about campus strategically in the event that I would be caught in an outdoor shooting. Fort Hood was frightening, as I live very close to Wright Patterson AFB, and I have friends throughout the world stationed on bases.
But Mother Emmanuel? That was tough. Weekly I lead a wonderful Bible study at the church, and I cannot imagine anything more violating to the spirit than gunfire in God’s house. I feel safer in church than anywhere else except my home. The thought of a shooting there is too much to bear. My doctoral mentor taught Rev. Dr. Clemente Pickney, and with that personal connection my sense of fear threatened to change the way I relate to people, something unacceptable for a follower of Jesus. I began to think about what I would do if…
News of Orlando reached me this morning as I was preparing for worship. My eyes scanned over the details and filled with tears. I thought of the dozens of friends I have who have been the victims of gay bashing or threats of violence. I thought of my own nights at at gay clubs, the last thing on my mind being the chance that I might be shot. I thought of all the struggles we in the community have undertaken in the past fifty years, from Stonewall to current resistance to transphobia. Now, part of our history is the largest mass shooting in American history.
There are no words to bring sense to this. There are no words that will uproot those who see the Second Amendment as more important than human life. There are no words to mitigate the Islamaphobia that will arise in response to Sunday morning’s shootings. If Sandy Hook did not change anything, I hold out very little hope that the needless deaths of our brothers and sisters in the queer and ally communities will strike upon the heart of America. There are no words. Dozens and dozens of Harvey Milks could have been killed last night and nothing would change. No words.
I just know that I’m tired. I’m tired of being afraid. I’m tired of people gripping onto guns, of people pulling them out when they have road rage, or a woman says no to a proposition, or of the other countless, bullshit reasons that people are shot in cold blood each and every day in this country. I’m tired of having a violence problem no other nation on earth seems to have in this way. We can correct this; we can stop it. But it appears there are no words to get it done.