Trying to Not Be Numb to the News…

Last April our twin boys had their asylum interviews scheduled and I took them to Wal-Mart to buy their dress clothes. It was the same Wal-Mart that I would go to 1, 2, 3 times a month to send money to Guatemala. Toward the back of the store we found some $12 black dress shoes, with plastic molds on the soles that looked like stitching. We found plastic wrapped packs of neatly folded dress shirts, complete with adorable, brightly colored clip-on ties. As we tried on the shoes and looked around for the right sizes of black slacks, we laughed and talked in Spanish, trying to distract ourselves from our fears for the next day. And around us, it was all Latinx families, mostly indigenous folks from Central America, looking for shoes and clothes for their kids.

Yesterday, a Saturday, in El Paso, Texas, a young White man entered a Wal-Mart with the express purpose of massacring Latinx “invaders.” He killed more than 20 people, and injured 40 more. He was arrested unharmed and without incident.* Prior to the massacre, he posted a 3 page statement on 8-Chan, a racist discussion site. I read it. It could pass as an op-ed for Breitbart, or something that you could expect in the comments of a Fox news article. Really it reads exactly like someone who regularly follows Tucker Carlson. That is, it’s heartbreakingly stupid, filled with contradictory declarations about corporations and automation, and a Democratic one-party dictatorship that’s fueled by open borders and free healthcare for undocumented people, as stated in the 1st Democratic primary debates (the murderer actually referenced the debates as a justification for this!). And at the center, the lone patriot who feels justified in defending his country, because he learned the lesson from the Native Americans of what will be lost if he doesn’t. People died for these ideas.

I take these two thoughts together, me and the boys in the back of the Wal-Mart, shopping anxiously to have just a slightly better chance for them to stay safely here, and the internal calculus of this killer as he terrorized people just like us. Individuals, families, friends on their Saturday. I take these thoughts together, and I want to recognize the panic and fear in the moment, but also the wrenching realization of the Latinx survivors afterwards: that all of this pain, blood, fear was a direct attack on their being. It was a targeted attack on them, it was genocidal in nature, and it’s evolution was absolutely traceable to the targeted attacks of public figures like Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, Steven Miller, Jeff Sessions, Steve King, Donald Trump.

In other times, a massacre like this would be set for the history books. If it had happened to Irish to Slav immigrants in 1919–60 people shot by a nativist radical while shopping at a store–would it become a pivotal event, marked and highlighted on timelines? Yesterday’s massacre wasn’t even the headline for the whole night, as another mass killing happened in Ohio. What do we do with that? What do we do with the numbness and complacency that comes with the frequency of these murders? I feel like we are given so little time, space, context, or meaningful discourse in the current affairs cycle to really internalize what these killings mean. We don’t get or take enough opportunities to articulate how they are changing us and our world. In this and numerous other cases, the massacre was part of an established, articulated White supremacist movement strategy of “lone wolf” terrorism (William Luther Pierce), it was not just an isolated thing. And beyond that, almost all of these shootings are part of a larger pattern of modern masculine relationship to guns that feels like it’s just part of my generation and my demographic. I mean, the 80’s and 90’s action movie scenes of armed White men loading up clips and bandoleers, then methodically entering spaces and shooting with precision from room to room, were part of even my formation as a young man. The clicks and jangles of weapons and gear was viscerally satisfying, almost existentially fulfilling, to the preteen me. This is all big, and it’s significant, and I don’t know how to fully talk about it, especially politically, without it going to just the same surface conversations about gun control or mental illness.

So I try to write about this in order to keep from being numb to it all, but I just keep coming back to…for some reason…those clip-on ties in the Wal-Mart shopping cart. I keep imagining them falling to the floor and laying there. A stupid, cheap product, laying there on a dusty linoleum floor. And I think about the people who I love laying there, too. Their lives treated just as cheaply.

*When I think about this arrest of a White supremacist terrorist without incident, I remember in 2014, when John Crawford III, a Black man, was shot by police in a Wal-Mart because 911 was called for him carrying a BB gun that he had picked up off the Wal-Mart shelf in order to purchase it.

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-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi