When I sat down to write this piece, I didn’t know where to start. The loss of life this week is irreconcilable, and the urgency of meaningful reform seems more fact than opinion. Since Sandy Hook, there have been 2,178 mass shootings. In the days that followed each, there have been countless arguments made demanding that not one more life is lost. Practically, we know what needs to be done to fix this world, but emotionally I’m not sure I know how to live with the world as it is now.
This summer El Paso and Dayton have been my homes. I spent the first month of the summer doing research in El Paso and the second month working on that research in Dayton. I’ve shopped in their malls, and I’ve sat at their bars, and then on the news, I watched people in those same places die. I’ve felt angry and sad and numb, and I so desperately wanted to sit at my desk and outline a five paragraph essay wrapped around a thesis that makes sense of the broken and points toward a repair.
But I don’t really understand how to wake up in a world where a man—nourished by the rhetoric spewing from our nation’s highest office—buys a gun in a state whose governor said he was embarrassed when gun sales fell and then uses it to commit mass slaughter in a Latinx community.
I didn’t really understand how to bear witness to the vile racism that killed Andre Pablo Anchondo, Jordan Anchondo, Arturo Benavidez, Leonard Cipeda Campos, Maria Flores, Raul Flores, Jorge Calvillo Garcia, Adolfo Cerros Hernandez, Alexander Gerhard Hoffman, David Alvah Johnson, Luis Alfonzo Juarez, Maria Eugenia Legarrega Rothe, Elsa Libera Marquez, Maribel Loya, Ivan Hilierto Manzano, Gloria Irma Marquez, Margie Reckard, Sarah Esther Regaldo Moriel, Javier Rodriguez, Teresa Sanchez, Angelina Sliva-Elisbee, and Juan Velazquez.
I’ve felt angry and sad and numb, and I so desperately wanted to sit at my desk and outline a five paragraph essay wrapped around a thesis that makes sense of the broken and points toward a repair.”
And when the same friend who checked in on me to see if I was still in El Paso called me the next day to ask if I was safe in Dayton, I didn’t really understand how evil was able to take root so quickly once again. I wasn’t ready to stay awake so my friends wouldn’t have to worry about me in the time it took to answer their texts. I didn’t want to make room for the reality of every person whose text went unanswered that morning.
During the vigil the night after the shooting, as the names of the lives lost were read off and repeated, I joined a community of family, friends, and neighbors in making record of a damage that cannot be repaired.
Megan Betts was murdered. She was a student at Wright State where she studied earth and environmental science. She had just spent four months in Montana as a tour guide at the Smokejumper Visitor Center, educating visitors about forest fires. Her life mattered, and her death was preventable.
Derrick Fudge was murdered. He was a father to Dion. He loved his dog Lucy. His life mattered, and his death was preventable.
Logan Turner was murdered. He was out celebrating his 30th birthday. His mom described him as “the world’s best son.” His life mattered, and his death was preventable.
Nicolas Cumer was murdered. He went to Saint Francis State University where he was a graduate assistant for the marching band. He had just been offered a full-time position to run a new office for Maple Tree Cancer Alliance. His life mattered, and his death was preventable.
Thomas McNichols was murdered. His four children, all younger than eight, survive him. His friends called him TeeJay, and described him as a “gentle giant.” He loved superhero movies. His life mattered, and his death was preventable.
Monica Brickhouse was murdered. She was a mother and business owner. Her friend described her as the kind of person who “grew up and actually did what she said she was going to do.” Her life mattered, and her death was preventable.
Beatrice Warren-Curtis was murdered. She was from Virginia. She was friends with Monica Brickhouse. Her life mattered, and her death was preventable.
Saeed Saleh was murdered. He immigrated to Dayton from Eritrea three years ago. His wife and his daughter survive him. His life mattered, and his death was preventable.
Lois Oglesby was murdered. She was a mother of two who had just returned to work from maternity leave. She was studying nursing and worked at a daycare. Her life mattered, and her death was preventable.
As a human rights studies major, I spend a lot of time studying atrocity. At an academic level, I get it. In June, I spent a month in El Paso conducting research about the state of our border. I’ve seen white supremacy take its hold within our immigration policies. In a country that relies on militarization for border security, I witnessed the abuse and violence that occurs when racism is armed and weaponized. I understand how the mechanisms of white supremacy have taken hold of and continue to wear down the moral fabric of this nation.
And I know how misogyny works. I understand the ways the patriarchy contributes to a culture of violence. A study of misogyny in Dayton helped me understand that “the violence inherent in patriarchy supports the violence in individuals who kill.” I know what happens when men hate women. I can recognize the link between the “Rape List” of the Dayton shooter and the violence he committed.
And, when, during the vigil, I listened to the crowd chant, “Do something,” I understood the need for urgent political action. I’ve read various gun control proposals. I know that people smarter than I am have proposed policies that might work. But I also understand the way the gun lobby has used millions of dollars in campaign contributions to influence policy and mangle access to democracy within Ohio and our nation.
Quite honestly, I don’t know what it is going to take to bring justice to cities like Dayton and El Paso, when Biden and Trump—the two frontrunners in the presidential race—both didn’t care enough about our losses to remember where they happened. I think Democratic leadership has what it takes to make some things better, but the deep ugliness of violence, racism, and misogyny that has been fundamental to how this nation has always functioned runs so much deeper than partisan lines. Even Elizabeth Warren, whose claim to fame is rooted in the fact that she has a plan for everything, faltered in June’s debate when it came to gun control.
But though I am not too hopeful in this moment about justice, I am hopeful about love.”
So I don’t really have an argument to offer, and I don’t have a take that makes sense of any of this. And so I am grieving the fact that these cities that I love deserve a justice that I don’t believe is coming quickly enough.
But though I am not too hopeful in this moment about justice, I am hopeful about love. During the vigil, Daytonian Jason Harrison gave a moving speech, and I’d like to share some of it with you:
“I hope what grows in this moment is the courage for us to examine the violent illness with which this country has always suffered. No longer anomalies, these mass shootings are a reflection of who we are and who we have been. It’s not good enough for us to say ‘we’re better than this.’ Because we’ve not been. But we could be, if we had the courage to reimagine what a just, equitable, and safe society looked like.”
White supremacy in El Paso killed twenty people who lived and visited there. I am not confident that, in my lifetime, we will see an end to that white supremacy, and even if it does end, there is no remedy to the lives already lost.
Love demands we close the gap between the reality people are given and what they deserve. The time I have spent in Dayton and El Paso has convinced me that against impossible odds, love has and continues to triumph.”
But after spending a month talking to those who live in El Paso about the ways they experience safety and insecurity, I have seen that—in the face of systemic racism—those who live in the borderland have managed to structure their realities around love. Despite persisting racism based on isolation and dehumanization, El Paso has been the safest city of its size in America because the people who live there rely on, take care of, and trust each other.
And I’ve watched the same love triumph in Dayton. When faced with the kind of economic decline that has often been associated with the rise in nationalistic and right-wing politics in the Rust Belt, Dayton has opened up its city to immigrants. When faced with one of the largest opioid epidemics in the nation, Dayton responded with community collaboration and a human-centered approach, and between 2017 and 2018, overdoses fell by half. When nine members of a KKK-affiliated group came to Dayton to incite hate and violence, more than 500 people rallied and responded to counter their message with love and peace.
The first step to repair is sitting with the realities of our world—to acknowledge that the violence produced in this nation is not a result of a broken system, but proof that our political system is succeeding in the racism and misogyny that it was designed to perpetuate.
But after sitting with reality, the second step requires imagination. Love demands we close the gap between the reality people are given and what they deserve. The time I have spent in Dayton and El Paso has convinced me that against impossible odds, love has and continues to triumph.
I received an email this morning from an activist in El Paso who I’ve had the privilege of working with. She wrote, “In times of grief and mourning, we take solace in knowing that our lives will be forever intertwined. From El Paso to Dayton, may we muster the moral courage to RISE.”
The grief I feel is heavy, and there have been moments in the past few days where that grief has felt paralyzing. Hate has been built into our social, political, and economic structures, and that reality is difficult to grapple with. Nevertheless, we have the choice to choose love and each other. When we have the courage to sit with pain and grief and let it move us to action, we act with resilient love and choose each other. Today, I choose to hold El Paso and Dayton close and define my humanity in terms of that love.
Photos courtesy of Mary McLoughlin