Barack Obama statement
Oregon and our routine violence
“Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this.”
Yes, Mr. President. “Somehow” these terrible mass killings like the one in Oregon this past week have become – to our shame – mind-numbingly routine.
But context is everything.
This past Sunday, a U.S.-drone strike killed 85 suspected ISIL militants located in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan.
On Monday night, another unarmed man was shot by a police officer – this time, in Baltimore.
The following day, U.S. forces launched airstrikes in the outskirts of Kunduz, a northern Afghanistan city seized by the Taliban.
Early Wednesday morning, Georgia executed Kelly Gissendaner. Richard Glossip, scheduled for execution in the state of Oklahoma, received a last minute stay because the physician whose job it was to kill him noticed that his cocktail of death was incorrect. Virginia, however, executed serial killer Alfredo Prieto on Thursday – the day a young man decided to go on a killing rampage at Umpqua Community College.
The broader and perhaps more pernicious routine to which we are subject, it seems to me, is our national violence, which we have by and large rendered mundane and certainly less important, less worthy of our consideration and reflection, than Donald Trump’s hair. As a nation-state, we kill and maim and bomb and torture and execute as if the free exercise of violence – whenever and wherever we choose – is the meaning and measure of democracy. We view our constitution’s Second, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments as doctrines that enshrine a right to kill (a right too many of us consider blessed by a god who – quiet as it’s kept – commanded unequivocally: “thou shalt not kill”) and thus as above critique and correction.
And so it is preposterous to decry the violence of our ordinary, everyday citizens, for if we are honest with ourselves – and we are not – we must admit that they perform the very essence of our national character.
So let’s just say it: we are a violent society. What we do the world over collectively through the state we do as well individually in our small towns, our suburbs, our urban centers. And unless and until we as a nation take up the challenge to undergo what Martin Luther King, Jr. called (in his critical speech on Vietnam) a “radical revolution of values” – a willingness, that is, to be outraged enough about our hate and violence to love one another into peaceful coexistence, with all of the economic and political policies that that requires (including an all-out ban on guns as well as the adoption of a foreign policy premised on nonviolence and reparations for the damage we have caused from our proxy wars) – then these terrible routines will surely destroy us all.
I invite you to explore my recently published book, Nonviolence Now! Living the 1963 Birmingham Campaign’s Promise of Peace (Lantern Books, 2015), at www.amazon.com/author/alyceelane.