On June 17, 2015, white domestic terrorist Dylann Roof used a .45-caliber Glock handgun to massacre nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. In the barrage of news coverage, I vowed never to forget and memorized each victim’s name.
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Ethel Lee Lance
The historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Roof murdered his victims while they attended Bible study, was once attended by Denmark Vesey, a former enslaved man who purchased his freedom and was executed in 1822 for planning to liberate enslaved Africans from Charleston to Haiti. President Barack Obama delivered the televised eulogy for slain church leader Pinckney, who was also a Democrat and state senator.
I learned details and some history as I struggled to make sense of the tragedy.
People vowed then things would change.
It briefly seemed possible. Ten days later, activist Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole at the South Carolina state house and took down a Confederate flag, which sparked conversations and inspired the removal of other racist symbols.
Since then, some shootings have captured the public’s attention, while many others occur without widespread awareness. The racist Buffalo, New York, grocery store shooting on May 14, and the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting 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 several mass shootings in the U.S. during the holiday weekend.
“I recently signed the first major bipartisan gun reform legislation in almost 30 years into law, which includes actions that will save lives,” President Joe Biden said on July 4, in response to the Highland Park shooting. “But there is much more work to do, and I’m not going to give up fighting the epidemic of gun violence.”
While Americans fret over common sense gun laws and argue about the Second Amendment, bullets fly and bodies fall. Hashtag RIP and repeat. The slaughter of Americans in everyday places by gun-wielding men who’ll slay anyone from children to churchgoers can’t continue as an acceptable rite of passage in the U.S.
In downtown Des Moines at the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park near the LOVE sculpture by artist Robert Indiana, people from diverse cultures gather to take photos. Bridal 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 noticeable from its perch along Grand Avenue.
Increasingly, I think about what I would do if gunfire rang out there or at the grocery store or doctor’s office. If Americans continue to gorge themselves on a diet of intolerance and hate, while coveting their guns over everything else, nowhere is truly safe — not even my favorite park.
Miah Cerrillo, the 11-year-old who survived Uvalde, where 19 children and two teachers died, had to smear herself with the blood of her friend and play dead. That is a stain on all of us if we fail to accomplish substantive gun reforms.
The new “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act,” signed on June 25 enhances certain restrictions and penalties on firearms purchases, promotes evidence-based best practices for school safety, authorizes grants to expand access to mental health services and appropriates 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 U.S. just since January. The nonprofit defines mass shootings as incidents in which four people are shot, either injured or killed, not including the shooter. So many tears and teddy bears. Mayhem, then memorials. Memorizing all the names of the victims isn’t possible anymore.
There are just too many.
Dana James is the founder of Black Iowa News, publishing on Meta’s Bulletin platform. James is also a co-host on the new Inclusivi-Tea podcast.