Monday, April 18, 2011

Lessons from April 19

Tomorrow, April 19, we remember the sorrowful day in 1995 when domestic terrorism struck upon U. S. soil, killing 168 men, women, and children. Tim McVeigh, aided by Terry Nichols and at least three others, constructed a mighty bomb to strike a blow at innocent people who just happened to be in an Oklahoma City federal building. Misinformation, paranoia, suspicion, and some twisted sense of rebellion fueled McVeigh’s scheme to kill people who had no blood on their hands. They were not perpetrators of injustice except in the minds of their slayers, and in taking their lives, McVeigh made a mockery of Patriot’s Day, April 19, commemorating the first battles of the American Revolutionary war.

From 1882 through 1968, a different form of domestic terrorism known as Jim Crow racism slaughtered 4,000 citizens of this nation, most lynched at the hands of other U. S. citizens. Osama bin Laden’s blow against the World Trade Towers felled 2,977, some 1,023 precious lives fewer than were lynched. As I have said before in this blog, domestic terrorism—that is, terrorism designed and carried out by U. S. citizens against other citizens—has claimed more lives than a foreign invader.

Indeed, twelve years ago, on April 20, 1999, two sullen, angry teens shot to death 13 at Columbine High School in Colorado. Another disturbed young man, acting alone on January 8, 2011 in Phoenix, AZ, took a high-powered weapon to a public forum where people could exercise their First Amendment rights and gain access to their Congresswoman in the House of Representatives. That young man killed seven; his victims spanned the ages from a small girl just beginning to realize she had a voice in this nation to senior citizens and public servants with decades of experience voicing their opinions.

The past 50 years have been stained and spattered with single disturbed assassins harboring grudges and madness. They were also armed with high-powered rifles or hand guns to strike down powerful voices, including those of President John F. Kennedy and Medgar Evers in 1963, Malcolm X in 1965, and in 1968, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Several of these victims had security to protect them, but even the highly trained Secret Service is no match for the lone gunman, anonymous in the crowd. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford were within inches of the same fate as both Kennedys.

According to statistics from 2009, 9,136 citizens died as a result of gun homicide in this nation. These 9,136 represent 67% of the total number of homicides: 13,636 homicides from all causes; in other words, most homicides in this nation are committed with a firearm.

The Second Amendment, according to the latest Supreme Court ruling, gives individual citizens the right to own and carry weapons. But it appears that we are unworthy of this right. In fact, 41% of those firearm homicides were committed during the height of passion; in other words, at moments when men and women were terribly jealous, enraged, or desperate. In these moments of heightened emotion, the perpetrators reached for a gun and used it against an opponent. Most often the opponent is a family member, friend or close acquaintance. In fact, 54% of homicides by gun death is committed by someone whom the victim knows and perhaps loves. That is the sort of person who will aim and fire the fatal bullet.

In 2009 alone, 13,636 murders occurred, and most of those were committed by people known to the victim. From 1882 through 1968, 4,000 African-American citizens were murdered by rope; more often than note, the perpetrators were the victims’ neighbors. Bin Laden’s death toll of 2,977 is such a small number when stacked up against these other figures.

All life is precious. No life is more or less significant than another. No manner of death is more or less momentous, but have the courage to stop fearing the foreign invader, be he here illegally or legally. Have the courage to reject xenophobia, paranoia, and scapegoating.

Do not encourage by sins of omission or acts of aggression the harming of any life, and do not trick yourself into believing that those who are different from you are the most dangerous. It’s just not true.

You, I and we are dangerous, especially if we have access to firearms, cannot think critically, and become angry. We are our own worst enemies.