The Daily Vigil, 6/16/17: Alexandria
Yesterday’s Vigil didn’t have a single mention of the Alexandria shooting. This was not an accident. Shootings like this are a symptom of so many of the problems we have in America, I needed an extra day to collect my thoughts. Plus, everyone and their mother was already talking about it; there wasn’t much more for me to add at the time. But now with a better idea of what’s going on, I’ll try to add what clarity I can to this tragedy. Note- this is a long one, so buckle up.
Thoughts and Prayers: I hate this phrase. It’s used equally often by people who mean to convey heartfelt empathy, and by people who couldn’t care less. It is simultaneously touching and distancing; it is required to be spoken while begging not to be. It contains so many opposing connotations that it becomes semantically nullified, a statement that doesn’t convey any more real meaning than filler words like “um” or “uh”. I absolutely hate this phrase.
Because the discussion usually ends there, doesn’t it? A politician offers their “thoughts and prayers”, wears some stupid fucking pin or ribbon, and that’s the end of it. No action is taken. And I don’t believe in rash, reactionary legislation just for the sake of doing something, but the finality of saying “thoughts and prayers” illustrates how truly and utterly gutless our Congress is. They remain unwilling to address the roots of the problem, and thus this whole infernal plant of violence and hate continues to grow. Maybe that’s their intention. But whatever the reason, we as a nation need to address the roots of the problem.
Progressive Blasphemy: I firmly believe that more gun-restricting legislation will do absolutely nothing to end the violence and hatred that grips the country. Whether we try to legislate what kinds of guns a person can own, what kind of magazine or bullets- all of that is laughably worthless. I don’t believe people need to own rifles that would be more at home in a theater of war than in someone’s living room gun cabinet, but I don’t believe guns are the root problem. I know that’s going to piss off some people that read this, but there you have it. I’m open for constructive discussion if you want to hit me up.
Regardless, I don’t believe gun-restricting legislation will work because I don’t believe that we actually want to reduce gun ownership. I believe what we want, as a nation, is to reduce violence. And to do that, we’re going to need something more than a gun bill.
A Second Language: This particular quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.- “a riot is the language of the unheard“- has been getting a lot of press recently. (The quote is around 1:40 but you should listen to the whole thing). If we generalize riot to be mass violence, I wonder how many perpetrators of mass shootings would have told you at some point before their actions that they feel unheard. Mind you, I am not implying that violence is in any way, shape or form acceptable as an outlet for one’s feelings of being unheard, but consider what would be possible if we addressed the underlying causes that make a person feel that way.
Disenfranchisement from one’s government is rampant; only 20% approve of Congress’ job as of May of this year. Confidence in the President is similarly dropping like a stone, with 60% disapproving of his performance just earlier this week. How can one believe they have agency over their life, believe that they are heard, if they have no confidence in the people they’ve elected to represent them? The job outlook for many is equally grim- whether you used to work a manufacturing job that got automated, or you’re stuck with a degree that isn’t worth what it used to be, many who would have found their identity and their security in their work now find only more uncertainty and anxiety. This is likely only going to get worse as income inequality rises from stagnant wages, a rotting social safety net and automation coming to more and more industries. Those very same stagnant wages and degrees that bring only debt are further preventing people from believing their hard work will at least allow their children to lead a better life than they did.
And we’re supposed to fix this problem with a gun bill? With thoughts and prayers?
No. If we’re going to solve this problem, we have to approach it at its very roots; we have to stop speaking politically and start speaking the language of the unheard. And that is not a quick fix.
The Plan: Believe it or not I wrote this article in the hopes it could reach people on both sides of the aisle. Progressives: A gun bill is a bandaid, and will not prevent these tragedies from happening. Conservatives: you are not going to “law and order” your way out of this. We need effective solutions; here are a few.
First, not to toot the horn of my own profession, but I firmly believe that America needs to dramatically increase its funding of mental health care. The current Trump budget cuts almost one TRILLION dollars from Medicaid, which is the largest provider of mental health funding in the country. As my clients will often tell me, a lot of their benefit comes just from the fact that they feel they’re being heard, and that they have a safe place to talk about the stuff in their life that won’t come back to bite them. We learn new ways of approaching problems, we learn coping skills, and we get to the root of their problems and- with just a little luck- they overcome their demons. If I had to pick one single area to fund in order to help reduce violence, it would be community mental health services. (As a side note, we need to increase not only the quantity of therapists, but also how much they are paid; CMH is bleeding therapists to the private sector because public services pay less than half what they could make in a private practice).
Next, we need to address environmental justice. As I mentioned in yesterday’s Vigil, exposure to lead is heavily correlated with violent crime. Environmental lead contamination is also heavily correlated with areas of poverty. This is not a coincidence. If we want to address one of the single greatest sources of violence in the country, we need a massive investment to clean up all areas exposed to lead and other toxic chemicals/heavy metals- be they urban, suburban or rural. Lead doesn’t care where you live, it’ll mess you up all the same. (This issue is tied with expanded MH services for “most pressing root cause”).
Speaking of justice, we’ve got to address our prison population. In a word, its fucking ridiculous how many people we jail- more than any other country. Almost half of US federal offenders go on to commit another crime once they’ve gotten out. For stupid crimes like marijuana possession, states waste more than 3.5 BILLION dollars a year locking up people who were never a threat anyway.
In Closing: Look, I could go on typing the statistics until my fingers fall off; this article is a beast already and I haven’t even mentioned concerns like a living wage or universal basic income, universal health care… see? The list goes on. But I wrote out this long-form behemoth to illustrate that if we want to address the actual causes behind events like Alexandria- if we want to really address mass violence- we can’t see them as a series of independent tragedies. We have to make a permanent commitment to force our government to treat our people better; to hear them and view them as worthy. Because for the government to continue its abject indifference to the suffering of its people is nothing short of violence committed against them; sometimes outright, in the case of police killings minorities, and sometimes insidious, in the leeching of our healthcare. We either address the root causes or Alexandria will happen again.
Hey guys. I’m gonna be out of town for a few weeks; the Daily Vigil will return on July 10th. I hope you’ve enjoyed it thus far!