Back in March, I attended an anti-violence rally in Elizabeth, NJ as a representative of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. It was one of many humbling and heart-breaking moments I would have this past year. At the rally, filled with people talking about what has been done, what can be done, what must be done about gun violence and domestic violence and violence in our communities, a mother stood up to speak. She was raw and angry and unapologetic.
She said that yes, she was sorry for “the babies killed in that Connecticut elementary school,” but that she is hurting too. And, she wondered, where is the attention to her family? Five years ago her son was shot dead on his way home from friends. This mother described still waking up every night just before 1 AM, the time when her son was shot and killed and left on the sidewalk. She half-wailed, “Where is the sympathy for my dead son?” She wondered where was the outpouring of help for the son she still has with her? It was painful to watch and hear. It was honest, unpolitical, furious, and desperate. Five years later the pain was still tender and raw.
It’s the horrific mass shootings — the Tucsons, Auroras, Columbines, Washington Navy Yards, Oak Creeks, Newtowns — that get the most attention. It’s difficult to distance oneself from going to movie, attending religious services, hearing a public official speak in a public place, going to school. So when these massive and public atrocities occur, we are forced to confront — if only for a moment — the reality that it really could have been us in those theatre seats or behind those desks or in the benches of a house of worship.
It’s much easier to blink twice and say, about the vast majority of the gun deaths in the United States, it’s a dangerous neighborhood, it was late at night, he had been hanging out with a bad bunch of friends, he should have just handed over his jacket, and so on and so forth. All the excuses and arguments our brains make to allow us to maintain our sanity in this insane world.
But the pain of the mothers, the families, the communities is the same pain. And it lasts much, much longer than the attention span of the unflappable public. These survivors are left to fend for themselves with the stress of knowing that their neighborhood does pop up as dangerous in the statistics, or that they have to come home late from work, or that some of their friends can be trouble.
But it’s all of us. There is no separation. And there is always an excuse or rationalization…until it’s you. And then others will do the same and separate themselves from you. People who don’t know you will find a way to blame you, at least a tiny bit. Yes, they will.
But we mustn’t. And as uncomfortable and sad and guilt-inducing and potentially condescending it is, I ask you to no longer be silent. Do more than SMH at horrors that pass by on your screens. Educate yourself and others. Speak out to legislators. Take responsibility for your family and your community. Speak for people who are barely holding themselves together. Speak up now — to keep ourselves together.