You’d have thought the death of Skittles-eating teen Trayvon Martin and other senseless acts of violence would have shaken US citizens enough to catalyze a national movement against hate. But here it is years, many shootings–by police officers and random citizens–several mass murders and church massacres later and the United States is no less vitriolic. Among the most shameful rhetoric comes from political candidates.
The first update to this essay featured police in Connecticut still counting the bodies of the dead after an elementary school shooting there. The second was triggered by news about George Zimmerman selling the gun he murdered young Trayvon Martin with. Then there was NRA’s Ted Nugent posting a video of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders shooting his-then competitor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Now it’s Donald Trump.
Clinton’s opponent for the presidency inspired Trump to suggest that ‘the 2nd Amendment people’ would have ways to handle Clinton’s choices if she wins the election. Which many took as an incitement meant to inspire a future president’s would-be assassins.
Please read on for troubling examples of how our we continue to plummet to new and more horrific lows. No longer can any of us ignore our abilities to to do something–everything, anything–we can to stop this behavior.
I must first admit it took me over a year to first publish the ugliness below. It’s about a similarly shocking and highly symbolic shooting by real people. In fact, I know them. What pushed me to finally bring myself to get the story down was my realization that I’m responsible to do everything I can. I hope after you read this you will, too.
Seasoned police chaplains aren’t easily shaken. But one Minnesota group was shocked into silence by disturbing photos depicting a full-sized image of Hillary Clinton decimated by bullet holes.
Posed by the then-Secretary of State’s gutted likeness was a 40-something white man. His arms were around two youth, drawing them into the scene. They could have been anyone’s children. Another child and a female adult in some photos appeared, like the man, to be laughing.
The chaplain group includes full-time pastors and police who volunteer their spare time and ministerial touch to officers and others after unthinkable experiences—deadly accidents, domestic assault, drug abuse.
Though comforters, caregivers and communicators by temperament and training, they struggled to articulate their reactions. One former pro-football playing Captain, one rector of a large local parish called Grace, one Conservative senator whose church community supported his knock-down political campaign, one practicing therapist, one police-chief-to-be and one tough young officer—all speechless.
The photos illustrated a culture coming undone by vitriolic norms.
Which seems illogical and incomprehensible, until witnessed up-close. As it was by the children posed in the ugly tableau. Children unwittingly, if not unwillingly, inserted as proxies to adult depravity. Immersed in the kind of hate we’ve all witnessed coming from multiple corners of partisan and personal continuums. Leaving us half paralyzed, half paranoid. While it soils our homes, neighborhoods and national esteem and degrades into a national pastime.
It’s easy to see how. With non-stop pathogens of rage-rhetoric emitted round-the-clock to all in range of a computer screen, cell tower or radio antennae. Perpetrated by professional personalities, politicians and, in reality: real people, too. Many carry the corrosive themes into online incivility campaigns. Others perform them for pay. Some spread them in social settings gone seriously anti-social.
Including events intended to uplift our national ideals, like this family’s Fourth of July celebration. Where grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends gathered for a traditional picnic and fireworks. And apparently to obliterate Clinton’s image.
While children watched.
Most adults at the yearly reunion were professionals, not generally perceived as fringe-types. Past family gatherings might have included nothing more dangerous than teaching kids how to shoot clay pigeons.
But the man in the photos, a Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump fan, has been known to deride Clinton and other women with Limbaugh’s trademark slur “femi-Nazis.” It’s unclear if any attempted to step in and stop the spectacle. Though everything we know about relational behaviors suggest had any, the man and the more fervent others like him would have attempted to shut them down. Dissenters would likely have been roundly taunted for their quaint ideals–perhaps never to live down their entirely rational and pro-social dissent.
Bipartisan police chaplains aren’t naive Kumbaya-types. They’ve seen too much. Still, those who saw evidence of the effigy were head-shakingly stunned. When they finally spoke, sobering words: “sad,” “sick” and “Why?” were uttered.
They worried for the children.
The chaplains despaired about today’s polarizing tones that find seemingly respectable people at historically friendly events blatantly, brutally caricaturing our country. Though our Constitution (and common sense) calls all to identify as proudly diverse, and yet, all equally “same” people, too. Called to see and synthesize our abilities with and for our common “oneness.” Co-caring for our place, country, people, children.
Not destroying our undergirding by upending our shared Rights. Rights meant to insure all have a say and all succeed. And t remind us we’re all responsible for scaffolding the successes of all, especially our children.
Not by indoctrinating them in communal contempt.
The chaplains—fathers, uncles and grandfathers, spoke of consuming lives and work that offer little opportunity to change a country that’s slipped over the edge into craziness. It’s a reaction too many of us harbor. But, if we ignore destructive behaviors, we imply we condone them. Say nothing to indecent, imbalanced behaviors we legitimize them. Don’t do all we can to end uncivil, undignified behaviors, we betray cowardice unbecoming a “country of the brave.” If we as citizens and country let hate thrive in our own backyards unaddressed, we are complicit in the spread of more.
Though struggling with their emotions, the chaplains did try to offer reassurances. That people like the man in the photos are unfortunate anomalies. Only the chaplains know much more. They know guns are the weapons most likely to succeed in US malevolence. That anti-government hate groups grew eight fold in just three years. That politicized polarization is propaganda that not all that much less troubling today in our country than it was in Nazi Germany.
The photo was taken July 4, 2010. Six months later an Arizona senator, the wife of an astronaut, was gunned down. A grandmother and little girl from a real families like ours and an esteemed judge were among others who didn’t survive the assassination attempt.
Ominous trends presaged their deaths.
Arizona hate crimes rose dramatically between 2008-2010. A 2009 warning by the US Department of Homeland Security cited the “charged economic and political climate” as “fueling a resurgence of Rightwing radicalization and recruitment.” It outlined how groups were “broaden(ing) their scope and appeal through propaganda (…) across the country. The overall number of hate groups in the US grew again in 2010. Though some believe they’ve receded somewhat in the past year, most experts admit that the more likely reality is that they may just be more diffuse–harder to discern due to their looser structures–but no less dangerous.
Which was the case with Gifford’s gunman, who was a “lone wolf,” an anomaly. The county sheriff acknowledged the killer’s “mental instability.” Adding an often-overlooked detail. “People who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol (that) we hear day in and day out.”
The FBI agreed. “(H)ate speech and other inciteful speech,” said its director Robert S. Mueller III, “absolutely presents a challenge to us.” (Video) Just weeks before the shootings, an unavoidably vitriol-inciting message was erected just five miles away. The billboard featured pictures of stray bullets holes, with the words: “Rush Limbaugh Straight Shooter.” “[Limbaugh] attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials,” said the sheriff, adding such rhetoric “is not without consequences.” (Video)
“I think of how our youngsters are being raised,” said the Sheriff. Who worried about communities “becom(ing) the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”
As, it seems, has the rest of the country.
Minnesota police chaplains agreed. After they saw photos of a favorite target of Limbaugh symbolically shot up. Including even by young children recruited to obliterate one of their country’s leaders image.
And, one must conclude, by fellow citizens who abet—even with only their silence—hostile expressions. Which corrupt our country’s freedom to thrive. Accelerating malignant divisions that catch on via social means, infecting private lives. And, as they do, invade children’s innocence.
Like radio shows that play on and on. While lone wolves grow more vulnerable to the incendiary noise. And police chaplains play catch up to console more people caught in the crossfire.
Last year the federal government decided that Trayvon Martin’s death was not hate-crime. But the possibility must still be considered in a country where non-reflective “shoot first” reactivity is now justified in both literal and figurative ways. By powerful voices that whip up fears so fierce that once reasonable people, among them parents and well-meaning professionals, are all but coerced to play along.
I am with this Arizona sheriff. He’s holding firm to something that takes more time, but, on reflection we, too, know is nothing short of life critical. In his words:
“It’s time that we all do some soul-searching.”
© 2012 DynamicShift Andrea Morisette Grazzini is a consultant and leader. Her work has influenced numerous national and global conversations on co-productive change. She founded the cross-partisan initiative DynamicShift in 2009. And, in 2013 the civic engagement company WetheP.