The massacre of children

By Adrian Murillo
Reader Contributor

There are some crimes that are so monstrous it hurls you far beyond your fear of the perpetrators or those agitators who urge them on. Staying silent is not an option anymore. It’s like trying to hold your breath forever.

Those who talk of heightened security in schools, armed guards, armed teachers, are trying to normalize atrocity as something we just have to live with now. How can hearing that not make you puke with disgust and alarm? Do we really want to live in a society where children are afraid to go to school, wondering if this is the day they will be killed?

I’m aware that there are places in the world where this is what children live with, along with checkpoints in the streets with soldiers, suicide bombers, violent drug cartels, brutal police and militaries doing the bidding of dictators bribed by corporations killing human rights and environmental activists. This is why scores of Latin American mothers, children and youth seek refuge here. The rule of the gun has wiped out democracy, justice and social security in their countries. And we have the nerve to take a merciless attitude toward them when they reach the border, sending a message to the world and at home.

Now we see where that merciless indifference to the suffering of others — of children — leads us.

Laws don’t change until the hearts and minds of the people change, until people find the moral conscience to be courageously opposed to violence, injustice and the talking heads who advance it, whether they are in public office or on TV. We are up against the scourge of toxic male behaviors and the weapons industry that profits from endless war, anywhere, in any form.

How many people of color have to be killed en masse before we admit racism is a serious cancer of the heart in America? White supremacy is the socio-political equivalent of methamphetamine. It tweaks the mind with grandiose self-delusions and groundless paranoia, an obsession with the power of guns which is, paradoxically, a weak yet deadly form of power.

To talk about finding common ground, building bridges, being kinder to one another, asking the abused to forgive the abusers, is naïve at best and doesn’t stop other abusers. Why would it if they’re going to be forgiven? It’s a failure to address the root, historical, sources of American violence. That failure leads to the fanatical anti-critical race theory politics or any discussion of race, gender or sexual orientation. An authoritarian gun culture silences discussion, debate and dissent — a condition only dictatorships benefit from. 

How do you find common ground with people who deny your humanity as moral equals? We know it’s wrong to cry fire in a crowded theater when there is none. How do we hold those accountable who cry fire in the political theater when there is none, pointing to nonexistent threats in social justice movements? 

Just as with personal relationships, so too with politics: show me some signs you’re trustworthy, safe. Give me some references. Walk the talk.

I’m part of a lot of discussions with BIPOC people across the nation about our shared trauma. I’ve come to believe that is not the best common ground to stand on. It’s important to heal together, yes. But there’s something in the American mind that risks getting stuck there, as if only our suffering gives us agency, cachet. 

People get caught up in who is more oppressed. I think for white people, it’s about the opposite, refusing to see how the system of white supremacy harms them. Instead, they drink the Kool-Aid that right-wing demagogues hand them and insist it’s the social justice movement that harms them. They want to be seen as the ultimate victims.

Not that I can’t see they’re traumatized, too. (The patriarchal socializations of boys, in particular, often involves brutal bullying, shaming for being sensitive, having feelings deemed feminine signifying weakness and inferiority). But they are in denial about the source, depth and scope of this socialization that makes them anti-social, distrustful and racist, even as it fuels their rage. That is what makes them dangerous. Like addicts and alcoholics, they need to hit bottom before they will admit they need help. But too often, that bottom is a bloody mess, too late to make amends.

I’d prefer we emerge from these violent times in solidarity against this corruption of spirit, with the same attitudes post-war Jews had. “Never Again.” Centering ourselves with a critical analysis of what led to or exacerbated the multiple crises that brought us to this mourning place and with the additional commitment to handle outrage and adversity with collective tenderness, our shared humanity. Like poets do.

The prayer of grief is meant to be expressed in meaningful actions. There’s no Moses on the horizon. It’s up to us.

Recovery is a long exodus and the first step is commitment to make the journey and acknowledgement that it can’t be done alone. A movement for peace and justice doesn’t just need more of us, it needs more from us.

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