The Horror in Orlando: And Black Lives Still Matter

Updated Jun 30, 2016
Dr. William Small, Jr.Dr. William Small, Jr.

As it is with most of the world community, I find the massacre that recently occurred in Orlando, Fla., to be extremely disturbing. The degree of hatred and psychological displacement reflected in the events of that evening should be sufficient to compel a thorough examination of the motivational forces that contribute to such outbursts of savagery and human destruction. To honor this responsibility well and effectively, we as a nation must ensure that our response and analysis is not a knee-jerk reaction to the pain, injury and disgust that frame the original event and its impact.

Blame should not simply be projected onto a foreign cause, country, object or religion. A fair analysis will require more thought and objectivity. Let us be reminded that there is no major religion of record that advocates this type of behavior and justifies the mass killing of innocent people. There is no weapon that self-activates without the will and intervention of the human spirit. We ask, in shock, how could this happen? Others ask: how could this happen in America? Perhaps the greater question is the question that we do not ask and take the time to answer thoroughly: How can this happen again and again and again in America?

At the center of the Orlando incident we have a United States citizen, born in New York. He has post- secondary educational credentials in criminal justice awarded by an accredited college in the United States. He possessed credentials and the legal authorization to purchase weapons with fewer restrictions than the average citizen enjoys and he was employed in the security/law enforcement field. Importantly, he was an individual who had been previously examined on more than one occasion by the FBI and other government agencies.

To me, the profile of the shooter in this instance bears an eerily strong resemblance to the profile of the Uni-Bomber and the shooters in Fort Hood, Texas, and Virginia Tech University. I see similar stripes worn by the shooter at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., and the bombers of the Federal Building in Oklahoma. These are some of the examples of rage, hatred, frustration and fear appearing with increasing frequency on our national landscape. My inclination, reinforced by history, is to examine the causes at home before I search for causes that might be negative forces and factors operating from abroad. In my view, to restrict the home grown analysis, of this tragedy, to the politics of the gun control debate is an equally flawed and narrow minded attempt to understand these nationally erosive events.

These killings, at their center, are very much about hatred, personal insecurity and institutionally structured inequality. They also reflect the historic unwillingness or incapacity of the government to acknowledge the importance of those influences and ascribe to them the requisite degree of attention in order to produce sustainable solutions. This failing, and its legitimization by an insufficiently critical press, supports the continuation of the process and ensures the continuation of and the adherence to old policies and practices that contribute little to our increased understanding and/or analysis. This failing also further ensures that we never sufficiently “connect the dots.”

The packaging of the Orlando massacre as the deadliest shooting in modern times is a clear example of our failure to fully appreciate the pattern of recent tragedies and to make the critical linkages in understanding both cause and effect. In a June 27 Time magazine article, examining 40 years of massacres, the 2015 massacre at The Emanuel AME Church in Charleston is not significant enough, in context, to be highlighted for more than having generated “a mile long chain of brotherhood” as a response. How can Americans hope to understand this current “maniacal mass shooting phenomena” and simultaneously accept that kind of disjointed framework for analysis? Moreover, any analysis that relies on an attempt to numerically quantify pain by counting bodies will never enable America to examine its eager use of violence as a “conflict resolution strategy.” This very sanitary framework of analysis ensures that we never connect violence with poverty or under-education or institutional racism or with social and political inequality. It instead ensures that we look for a different set of causal factors, such as assault rifles or religious, physical and cultural differences in people. We look for what we do not like to explain what we do not like. However, we rarely look deeply enough into the problem to examine what we should find unacceptable in our own behaviors.

When will today’s Patriots recapture the courage to acknowledge the pathological conditions of contemporary America as a major cause of gun violence in America? The answers to these questions may prove to be difficult, but the questions will never be answered unless we can find the courage and endure the pain necessary to wrestle with them. Perhaps America needs to reexamine the findings of the hastily shelved report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders 1968 (The Kerner Commission).

Before we become comfortable using and internalizing language such as the “worst ever” or the “worst since” in order to describe the tragic and horrible massacre at the Pulse night club, let us not forget some important events in history. While conducting this quick examination, let us also be mindful of the connection between “then and now” and the many issues that remain unrepaired and unremedied.

America and her allies should never be extended the luxury of being permitted to forget the inhumanity that was visited upon the continent of Africa and her decedents as a consequence of the horrors of the system of chattel slavery. This slave system being the most vicious system of slavery that the world had to date seen. It was also a system that the colonial powers designed and implemented.

Neither can the continuing legacy of pain and human destruction that accompanied Western chattel slavery be forgotten. Let us also not forget the horrible violence that was visited upon the Native American nations, after many helped to ensure the survival of early European settlers. Let us not forget the three Seminole wars that were waged to force the return of so-called slaves who were living with and among the Seminole. These wars were also intended to push the Seminole off their lands, in order to be relocated to some distant and often desolate place. This was to be accomplished as a small matter of White supremacy and convenience. Let us be sure to remember the massacres of Black people and the destruction of Black-owned property that occurred, particularly, at “Greenwood,” Oklahoma and in Rose Wood, Florida, and the uncountable instances in which Black families, their property and future were literally mugged under the color of law. There is also the history and legacy of lynching, convict leasing and mass incarceration and intimidation that frames much of the Black experience in America. None of these injustices, historic, present or perpetual, has led America to make a single sustainable programmatic gesture of apology or repair.

I speak in this manner not to arouse anger or angst. I speak in this context to emphasize the folly in trying to frame a remedy to address an injustice without understanding the broader historical context and the larger pattern and climate of injustices that historically continue to stand in need of repair. In doing so , I call upon all Black leaders, and all people of conscience, to unapologetically push for the construction of a 21st century agenda for the restoration, preservation and protection of Black rights and Black empowerment in America and abroad. If the question is “why,” the answer is because our political experience of the past 10 years makes the renewal of that conversation and the identification and pursuit of that agenda imperative. If we as Black people truly love ourselves and perceive a viable future for the well-being and de-marginalization of collective Black interests in the African Diaspora, we must take the responsibility to insist upon the construction of an agenda to ensure the attainment of those desired ends. We cannot and must not continue to let our patience ensure, for us, a place at the end of the line. Let the Process of Repair enjoy our new and best energy.

Dr. William Small, Jr., is a retired educator and a former Trustee and Board Chairman at South Carolina State University.