On June 17, 2015, white domestic terrorist Dylann Roof used a .45 caliber Glock handgun to massacre nine black worshipers in Charleston, South Carolina. In the deluge of media coverage, I swore never to forget and memorized each victim’s name.
Reverend Clementa Pinckney
Sharonda Coleman Singleton
The historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Roof murdered his victims while attending Bible studies, was once attended by Denmark Vesey, a former slave who bought his freedom and was executed in 1822 for planning to free enslaved Africans from Charleston to Haiti. President Barack Obama delivered the televised eulogy for slain church leader Pinckney, who was also a Democrat and a state senator.
I learned details and a bit of history as I struggled to make sense of the tragedy.
People swore things would change.
It briefly seemed possible. Ten days later, activist Bree Newsome climbed a flag pole at the South Carolina state house and pulled down a Confederate flag, which sparked conversations and inspired the removal of other racist symbols.
Since then, some shootings have captured public attention, while many others have occurred without widespread awareness. The racist grocery store shooting in Buffalo, New York, on May 14, and the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, sparked the familiar American routine of shock, grief, blame, marches and political promises.
Then, during a parade on July 4, celebrating the nation’s Independence Day, at least seven people were killed in a shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, and three dozen were injured. It was one of many mass shootings in the United States over the holiday weekend.
“I recently signed the first major bipartisan gun reform legislation in nearly 30 years, which includes actions that will save lives,” President Joe Biden said July 4, in response to the shooting. Highland Park. “But there’s still a lot of work to do, and I’m not going to give up on the fight against the epidemic of gun violence.”
As Americans fret over common-sense gun laws and discuss the Second Amendment, bullets fly and bodies fall. Hashtag RIP and repeat. The slaughter of Americans in everyday places by gunmen who will kill anyone from children to worshipers cannot continue as an acceptable rite of passage in the United States.
In downtown Des Moines, at the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, near artist Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture, people from diverse cultures gather to take photos. Wedding parties, new graduates and everyday people stop and pose. I even witnessed a marriage proposal in front of the iconic sculpture, its red and purple perceptible from its perch along Grand Avenue.
More and more, I think about what I would do if shots rang out there, at the grocery store or at the doctor’s. If Americans continue to gorge themselves on a regime of intolerance and hatred, while coveting their guns above all else, nowhere is truly safe – not even my favorite park.
Miah Cerrillo, the 11-year-old girl who survived Uvalde, where 19 children and two teachers died, must have soiled herself with her friend’s blood and played dead. It is a stain on all of us if we fail to achieve substantial gun reform.
New bipartisan “Safer Communities Act,” signed June 25, tightens some restrictions and penalties on gun purchases, promotes evidence-based best practices for school safety, authorizes grants to expand the access to mental health services and earmarks emergency funding for mental health resources and school safety measures, according to the White House.
The Gun Violence Archive has recorded 265 mass shootings in the United States since January. The nonprofit defines mass shootings as incidents in which four people are shot, injured or killed, not including the shooter. So many tears and teddy bears. Mayhem, then memorials. Memorizing all the names of the victims is no longer possible.
There are simply too many.
Dana James is the founder of Black Iowa News, which publishes on the Meta’s Bulletin platform. James is also co-host of the new Inclusivi-Tea podcast.