I have a number of friends who seem to find my general level of outrage just the teensiest bit risible.
I can understand why, in a way. Certainly I get tired of it myself. Sometimes I think wistfully of just ceasing to give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut. It would be restful to be able to just sit there and watch the little fried treat roll right on past me. If nothing else, I could relax secure in the knowledge that there will be another along in a minute.
I recently posted a piece about the aftermath of the Elliot Rodgers incident, more specifically about the pervasive unacknowledged misogyny in American culture it had brought to light. I had actually written it a few weeks earlier but I wrote it for a print magazine, and wanted to wait to share it until after its publication there. I gambled that the outrage over the American media’s failure to address the plain and obvious cause of the mass killing would still be around, after the initial shock of the killing itself had faded.
I lost that gamble, of course. It was not the first time I’d overestimated the attention span of America.
I’m an optimist like that. I keep thinking this one, this incident, will be the one that gets a sustained response. That we will finally be tipped over into reacting with sanity, into doing something.
It’s hard to hold on to that kind of optimism, especially as it pertains to shootings. America seems to have an infinite capacity to absorb gun-related tragedies.
Columbine High wasn’t enough, Sandy Hook Elementary wasn’t enough, North Panola High, Sparks Middle, Arapahoe High, Raytown Academy, East English Village Preparatory, St. Mary Catholic School, Provo High, Reynolds High… weren’t enough to persuade us as a country to so much as reduce the number of bullets a shooter can spray schoolchildren with between reloading. Those aren’t even close to all the shootings just in schools, I only included K-12 schools where there were multiple fatalities.
Every time one of them happens, I hear the same stupid disingenuous arguments: if only there had been good people with guns around (because everyone who watches the movies knows that the good guys always hit the exact target they aim at while rolling and dodging bullets in the middle of the firefight, while simultaneously preventing the bad guys from getting a clear shot at anything), hammers kill people as much as guns do (yet somehow I suspect compromise legislation restricting guns while allowing unlimited hammers wouldn’t satisfy the people who make this dishonest comparison), it’s necessary to keep the government at bay (when the government is the only group that has the gun enthusiasts overwhelmingly outgunned), any infringement on the holy right to bear arms is blackest tyranny (even measured like serialized ammunition that would have no effect whatever other than to help solve gun crimes after the fact), et cetera et cetera et nauseating cetera.
I’ve written pieces on sensible gun control before, and nothing ever changes with respect to gun control, so when I wrote about Trayvon Martin, I focused specifically on the insanity of the so-called Stand Your Ground laws and their inherent susceptibility to abuse through uneven application. Over the Elliot Rodgers killing spree, I thought it more potentially helpful (or at least interesting) to focus on the motive of the shooter, and the pervasive misogyny that goes far too unremarked in our culture, and that too is fading into the background.
When I sat down to write this piece, which was going to be about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, I thought I might do something similar with a focus on the particular danger of police being allowed so much leeway to gun people down, especially young black men. I thought I might suggest ways in which the police can be made more accountable, such as by requiring that they be outfitted with continuously running video recorders on their persons and in their patrol cars – after all, the government keeps telling us that if we’re doing nothing wrong we shouldn’t fear the Panopticon, so surely that must apply equally to the police with the special levels of privilege and presumption of veracity we routinely grant them.
As I began actually thinking it through, though, I realized that the question I really wanted to ask is the one in the title; how do we stop this from being just one more tragedy, one more injustice, given its fifteen minutes of fame and then forgotten, like Oscar Grant of Oakland, or Duane Brown of New York City, or Aaron Campbell of Portland, or Stephon Watts of Chicago, or Manuel Loggins of San Clemente, or Timothy Russel of Cleveland, or Kendrec McDade of Pasadena, or Dante Price of Dayton, or who the hell knows how many others.
All those cases are of unarmed men shot dead by police under circumstances at least sketchy enough to raise serious questions of why, in a variety of cities across the entire nation; some of them very likely may have been understandable mistakes, but when it’s that easy to come up with a list of sketchy shootings it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there’s a systemic problem that we ought to be looking into ways to mitigate.
They were all seen as baffling, enraging travesties in the news coverage of the time, and it took me only a few minutes of Internet searching to find them, and at best a few of the names might be vaguely familiar. How do we keep our national attention on Michael Brown of St. Louis (or Ezell Ford of Los Angeles, another even more recent case), long enough to DO something?
How do we stay outraged? Can we, even?
I’m feeling a bit less optimistic this time.