“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
April 16, 2007 was one of the saddest days of my life. That was the day one of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history took place at Virginia Tech.
Up to that point, I had maintained some level of childhood innocence. I had lived through 9/11 but had not yet grasped the impact it carried. More on that in a bit.
I was old enough, however, to feel the sense of loss and despair of Virginia Tech the same way I mourned the innocents at Sandy Hook, children who had not yet played their role, were never given the chance to make their mark. I remember the broken heart I carried that whole week, many times that month. I wish I could say I didn’t still feel it.
Since 2012, there have been hundreds of mass shootings, though that number varies based on definition criteria. An overwhelming majority have happened in the United States, seemingly the only country on the planet who is still befuddled by firearm regulation. Mass shootings do not happen with regularity in other countries; they generally do not happen at all and when they do, swift action occurs.
In New Zealand this year, two mosques were the targets of mass shootings. 51 dead and 49 wounded.
New Zealand has taken further steps since, including the consideration of a national registration and more stringent vetting process.
It has not been without obstacles. There have been hurdles, as there are with all major legislation but action and progress nonetheless.
No such action has occurred in America.
We had Orlando.
Stoneman Douglas in Parkland.
And yet nothing.
Having a conversation is deemed politicizing an event that is by nature political. It is human to ask how to prevent a tragedy and posing such questions does not desecrate the lives of the lost. Inaction does and the U.S. has been a stagnant protector for a long time.
Avoidance and deflection have become part of the playbook. Among the many excuses paraded: media, video game culture, bad egg, lack of religion and of course, the most denigrating one of all: now’s not the time.
Not the time.
It wasn’t the time in 2007 nor the time in 2012 when parents put their children on the school bus for the last time. It wasn’t the time when the slaughter of homosexuals transpired nor after a man unloaded multiple magazines over a concert ground in Las Vegas. It wasn’t the time last year when my hometown of Pittsburgh had a synagogue shot up.
Not the time.
If a murder occurred and no evidence was collected nor leads investigated for a decade, those responsible would be in prison for dereliction of duty and the cover up of a crime. Our leaders have abandoned their post regarding this matter. All of them.
One party deflects, the other calls for change but ignorance nor press conferences will create gun control or a better mental health system. Neither qualifies as action.
This absolute silence from elected officials has caused a tear in this country’s fabric, one which began with 9/11. That infamous day changed both policy and perception in this country and in that sense, Osama Bin Laden accomplished what he had set out to do: he had made America fearful and vulnerable. This country has been afraid ever since and continues to demonstrate that nearly every day when our politicians and president lash out with derogatory, hate-filled rhetoric towards minorities and people they deem from an other place, people they believe don’t belong in the texture of America. Such a faith directly contradicts our founding principles. Bin Laden punctured a hole in this country’s heart and it’s been unraveling, becoming thin and fragile.
The flag used to be a bright red, white and blue symbol of integrity and prosperity but now hangs from the staff as a distant reminder of what was. Now, the flag cries tears of blood while its wave seizes with the loss of life and direction this country is suffering. Things some believed conquered, such as racism and inequality, seem injected with a new vigor. Steps taken forward have been retracted, deemed unsatisfactory.
For those reasons, it is hard to take pride in standing during the anthem. I confess I purposely knelt during the anthem for a year in protest, because it is difficult to be brimming with zeal for something as lost and far from what you once believed. It is arduous to applaud a place which does not take seriously the murder of its members nor the healthcare or livelihood of all of them, regardless of status, culture, religion or race. That does not mean I should “go back to where I came from”, only that the ideals and values which brought me here, that I long for, I wish to fight for. The first step of recovery is acceptance, the second action but those in authority have become accustomed to the greed and sloth of corruption.
There was a time, perhaps only in my imagination, when politicians and leaders of this country served as stewards for the needs of the people. For most of my life, they instead have stood at attention for private interests, auctioning their influence to the highest bidder. On days and weeks like the ones following tragedy and travesty, it is daunting if not entirely impossible to not look at the so-called system as fraudulent, an assemblage built with the purpose of feigning order and control while chaos makes itself at home. White noise, not genuine language, fills the dead space but does not bring it life.
Instead, that dead space has widened with bigotry, xenophobia and chauvinism from our commander-in-chief. There are now more groups deemed infestations in this country than are welcome. Objective truth is questioned daily and false claims are paraded without shame while scandal, nepotism and controversy drown the administration.
There are human beings caged like animals on our southern border. This is not up for interpretation. This is an event that has happened, is happening and will likely continue to happen. Despite the uproar, no moves have been made, no changes enforced.
White supremacy and elitism have been given a wide platform while the foundations of equality and diversity have been targeted and scapegoated. Division, not unity, has become political policy.
This is America.
The days of me believing the story told to me by this nation, that America is the greatest country in the world, the land of opportunity and the beacon on the hill, are over. This country is not great. It is deeply flawed, rife with prejudice, bribery, denial and disenfranchisement. This place once had nobility, integrity and pride, served as a nation of unalienable rights and unwavering bravery in the face of tyranny. When countries were on the brink of collapse, America took on the role of savior. When people suffered and starved, America was looked upon as a refuge, a house of honor and limitless potential. America had a dream. We the people had a dream but dreamers are not allowed to dream anymore. Now, they’re deported.
There were times we had heroes.
But now, near 56 years later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream is still only artwork of the imagination. Freedom does not yet ring in the land of the free and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not yet guaranteed to all now 243 years after that promise was made. This country for too long has been indignant, for too long has been ignorant of systemic oppression, police brutality and the imperfections of the criminal justice system.
Words used to mean something. Values and creeds used to be cherished. Visions, with hard work, determination and direction, used to become realities.
I do not take joy in writing this. Succumbing to sorrow and sadness is never enjoyable, nor is the realization you were sold a false vision, a faith you wanted with all your heart to believe in undone.
I come from a family of immigrants, like many others in this land and my ancestors came, worked here, prospered here and died here because they believed. My ancestors from England believed life could be more than it was, dared to travel to America and were brave enough to fight for not just the land and the resources and the people but for an idea, the mere figment of independence.
My ancestors from Yugoslavia came to escape turmoil and an impending revolution. My ancestor left Nazi Germany and friends and family behind and everything he ever knew because America was the self-proclaimed land of opportunity. It would not be easy but step by step and brick by brick, he built the life he sought.
They all made the greatest of sacrifices because they believed with their whole hearts in what this country said it stood for. So did I.
But this court cannot be privy to the evidence and still empower false narratives. It is not who we claim we are but what we do that defines us. We have become frozen in our fears, volatile because of our insecurities and blamed our brothers and sisters for problems we all share responsibility for. We have abandoned the badge we once wore with such pride and distinction for a crown of personal gain. The stories of that badge are treated as fairy tales no longer repeatable rather than identities discarded. We have become a nation of “That’s not possible” rather than the country of manifest destiny. We’ve become the populace of “We don’t have the money for that” rather than the people of aspirations but worst of all, we’ve become the speaker of “send her back” rather than the gatekeeper, saying, “welcome to the home of the brave.”
America went to bed mourning a tragedy in El Paso, Texas and woke the following morning to the pain of a new one in Dayton, Ohio. A familiar nostalgia arose: a fierce want for change.
But now is not the time.
And I no longer can say with confidence that time will come again.