The patterns of U.S. mass killings show that any group of people are vulnerable: Latino queers in a club, Black church goers, little kids in grade school, people in the movies, high school students, co-workers at a Christmas party. What can we conclude?
While race, sexuality etc. are important in specific choices of victims, the larger reality is that gun availability, fear of identifying mental illness, and rhetoric normalizing violence are the problems. And since the killers are almost all men, there is a lot of thinking to do about male concepts of control. But escalating policing that is already too violent, condemning larger communities of humans, or projecting that we should walk around in fear of strangers, is the opposite of where we should be going. Yet, these terrifying, brutal killings in Orlando have been exploited along many divergent ideological lines, underscoring opposing agendas in ways that do not address the real source of our pain.
The most blatant exploitation of these deaths is by people who dehumanize Muslims.
Voices in all political corners have positioned the killer as an instrument of Islamic fundamentalist movements, or representative of religious extremism. Yet there is no evidence to date that he was recruited, financed, organized, encouraged or supported by any known organized entity. His own claims to affiliation have been contradictory and confused. While reportedly he called 911 and proclaimed himself associated with ISIS, in the past he claimed affiliation with Hezbollah, ISIS’s bitter enemy, and even Al Qaeda.
Like most of the other men who have committed mass murder with legally purchased weapons, this killer was an American, whose penchant for NYPD t-shirts revealed a glorification of domination, and who carried out a distinctly American tradition of pointless gun violence.
The second, and more complex myth that has arisen around this tragedy is that the LGBT community is threatened or under siege.
While, clearly, the 49 men and women murdered in Orlando were killed because they were gay or in a gay space, in the context of legislative attacks in the US south, this was not part of any organized campaign to kill us by a cohered group. Just as the killings in Charleston were not an organized campaign against Black people who go to church, the dead are devastating, evocative, personally resonant, and trigger all kinds of fears and losses for the rest of us.
But there is nothing here beyond one very anxious, angry, conflicted, confused person who could not figure out how to live, and was able to get a gun. If he had not been able to get weapons, these killings would not have occurred. And while the statements of support and solidarity recognize the profound bonds queer people feel with each other, how we identify with each other, any rhetoric about us being in a collective danger from organized shooters is inflated.
What is dangerous here, is that the exaggerated threat becomes a vibrant excuse to increase police surveillance of both LGBT and Muslim communities, spaces, conversations. The false charge that these killings were Islamic, and the exaggerated sense of fear that LGBT people are expressing create a climate in which the police can escalate their reach into the lives of the people. And we know from vast experience that more policing means more violence towards people of color.
We do not have a policing system that is accountable to people with mitigated rights, who face social prejudice. So, increasing police presence is not a functional alternative to gun control and transforming our attitudes about mental illness. In fact, history shows it will cause more harm.
As a result, statements like #StopTheHate really require a thoughtful conversation. Whose “hate” are we trying to stop? Can we honestly say that Omar Mateen “hated” queer people, when evidence showed that he may have been one himself, or at least that he had a history of socializing with us. If he was in fact, agonizing over his own queerness, that may be a consequence of his personal context and painful exterior cruelties. He may have internalized these conflicts through the lens of his own distorted thinking/mental illness.
Over and over again, in every realm of human relationship, we see people, cliques, families, nations, religious/ethnic/racial groups project their anxieties onto other people. The most salient dynamic in intimate and geopolitical conflict is when we scapegoat other people, rather than face ourselves.
If he found being queer unbearable, where did that guilt and rage originate? The man had a history of violence and of threatening violence: to his wife, to co-workers, and he expressed anger and destructive thoughts about blacks, gays, Jews and women repeatedly over the years.
When we say #StopTheHate, do we really mean raising our individual and group commitment to helping each other address mental illness without stigma or punishment? Isn’t that the best way to avoid these very painful kinds of projections and exteriorizing of internal suffering?
Because, since there is no organized campaign at the root of these senseless killings, since this is not ISIS, since there is no reason for more police outside of gay bars, what is this really? It’s a very confused and angry man, who no one intervened to help, who murdered 49 people for no reason, simply because he was able to buy a gun. And the stark simplicity of those facts may be the hardest thing of all to bear.