When I was in middle school, my older stepbrother had a Nintendo 64 and the game “Goldeneye,” a first-person shooter adventure based on the James Bond film. My first reactions to the deaths of the WDBJ employees this past Wednesday were that it couldn’t be real, this must be a video game; only those have that gun barrel sticking out of the bottom of the screen that way.
I am in no way tying video games to violence, or to this particular act. I’m merely trying to wrap my mind around someone not only planning to shoot two people but filming himself doing it, later posting it on social media alongside the videos of cats falling off of slick desks and the first time a baby laughs and that moment someone’s friend wakes up after someone else has drawn on his face. It is boasting, straining for the attention the shooter felt he didn’t get on his own merit, taking to the wide embrace of the Internet to proclaim he has Done Something Big.
And it is sickening.
It is also sickening that it surprises me that I am as broken about this as I am. I grew up in the schools fettered and frightened by Columbine, adding active shooter drills to those that taught us what to do in the event of fire or tornado. There have been more than 57 mass shootings in the United States in my lifetime, nearly half of those from 2006-2012. Even the satirical publication The Onion has half-heartedly jabbed at the frequency of such events in America, the nation of freedom where God and guns are both invoked as inherent rights of (hu)mankind. I am used to this, used to hearing of yet another series of deaths by the power of fire-hot copper tearing through skin and muscle and bone at 1,126 feet per second.
But on the news this morning (I always have “CBS This Morning” playing in the background as I prepare for work), there was an interview with the boyfriend of one of the dead. Chris Hurst, fiancée to Alison Parker, spoke of love and plans and hope and life and at the end of the interview he said, “This was two of us, guys. This was two of us, gunned down. We will not forget them.”
Somehow, that has stuck with me. Part of it is that I am always interested in the way that people band together within their careers—it is not only the police who have the thin blue line, although they may be the only ones who give it a color. Nurses, pastors, journalists, teachers, artists, coaches, scientists, maintenance workers, doctors, writers, firefighters, and so many others continually stand at each other’s sides, supporting those who know what their days are like, who understand what it is to be worn thin and still get up and go to work the next day.
But part of it, I think, is the visibility of this. The two gunned down worked in television; they were part of a community’s visual understanding of itself, bringing the news each and every morning. I think of the local morning show I watch, and of “CBS This Morning,” and how attached I have become to these people I don’t actually know by virtue of laughing at their banter and hearing their voices while I try to figure out what to pack for lunch. The WDBJ murderer was also in television and, to the end, decided what he did needed to be on camera.
I have no wisdom on this, Reader, no soapbox speeches of gun control, no staunch defenses of hometown journalism. I have only a deep and abiding sadness, a horror that somehow someone thought this was the way to handle feeling left out, downtrodden, insulted.
And I have a fierce, fiery rage at the people who are captializing on this.
My Facebook feed is always an interesting adventure because I have many “liberal” friends who are very much for things like choice in the matter of abortion, gun control, gay marriage, universal healthcare, and so on. And I have many “conservative” friends who are on the opposite end of the spectrum of all of these. I very much appreciate being able to connect with this diversity and hear more within an argument than just one facet. But there are times when people will post things that make me so incredibly frustrated and angry that I have a hard time not yelling at the person for being so dense (which is something I’m planning on looking at in a couple of weeks, actually). Like this:
I wanted to punch my screen when I saw this, not only because I disagree with everything about it but also because this takes the live broadcast of the execution of two people and makes it about platforms, hashtags, and concepts. NO VICTIM SHOULD EVER BECOME LESS HUMAN SO THAT OUR LABELS CAN GAIN TRACTION. Adam Ward and Alison Parker have names, loved ones who weep for them, friends who will never hear their voices in real time again, hopes and dreams and dances that will never happen. For anyone, anyone to deconstruct them or any other person shot, burned, beheaded, bombed, hanged, drowned, beaten, or any of the myriad of creative ways we have to destroy each other into pieces that we can put into our little boxes of understanding is to take the complex gift of humanity and make it less. It is to look at a creation of God and say that this is not a person but a composite.
It is this that allows someone to film himself killing someone in cold blood, because that is not a human being and his pain is more important than theirs.
Much must be done in the realm of how we view weaponry and the availability of tools for causing harm to others. I quite appreciate this other image I saw today:
But before any action, we must always return to the space of looking at another soul wrapped in skin and say I recognize that you are human, too.
You want what you don’t have, so you kill to get it. You long for what others have, and can’t afford it, so you start a fight to take it away from them. (James 4:2a-b, TLB)