Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people and wounded 53 more in the Pulse dance club, a club for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) people in Orlando, Florida.
What do we know about Mateen, the 29-year-old man who carried out the attack? He worked as a security guard and as a guard in a Florida state prison. Supposedly he wanted to be a cop. He posted pictures of himself wearing New York Police Department shirts. He had an assault rifle and was said by his former wife to be a disturbed and violent man.
Why did he carry out this horrific attack? What was the consequence of the way the police responded? What did the declaration of allegiance to ISIS that he supposedly made to the police really mean? These are all questions that may never be really answered.
When a tragedy like this happens, the media goes into high gear, repeating every comment or shred of information as news. The comments of politicians and so-called experts heighten the fear people feel in the face of such a senseless act. Prejudices fuel rumors and speculation which, when repeated over and over by the media, seem to become fact.
Donald Trump jumped in, attacking Obama and bragging that this showed that he was right about Islamic terrorism and that Muslims should be barred from entering the country. Of course he didn’t mention that Mateen was born in the U.S. or that we don’t know anything about his religious beliefs.
Obama, Clinton and other politicians expressed concern for the victims and their families, but said that this must be investigated as an act of “terror”.
This certainly seems more likely to be a hate crime directed at LGBTQ people, by a very disturbed individual, than an act of political terrorism. Anti-gay prejudices are widespread. A significant number of politicians have built their careers attacking gays and lesbians and are now saying we should be worried about what restroom transgendered people might be allowed to use.
This was not an isolated incident. Later that day, 20-year-old James Howell of Indiana, was arrested in Santa Monica. He had three assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, ammunition, and chemicals capable of making a bomb in his car. He said he was on his way to the Los Angeles Pride Festival.
Violence is common in our society. It is the response carried out every day by those in power in this country to maintain their order. From the death penalty, to drone strikes to kill people declared as “enemies”, to invading and overthrowing governments which leaves thousands or hundreds of thousands dead, to the police violence in our cities, violence is held out as an acceptable way to resolve problems by those in positions of authority.
Unstable people, feeling powerless and marginalized can decide to strike out in a similar way. We have seen this with mass shootings over and over again. We should be concerned about the conditions that foster mental illness, which leave people who are unstable in isolated conditions. They are open to being influenced by those who foster hate and promote the use of violence as a way to establish and maintain order.
The responses of Trump and many who are promoted on the media are not the responses of most people. The people of Orlando, like many others reached out to help those who were the most impacted. Thousands of people responded to a call for blood donations to aid those wounded. Others came to the hospitals with food and drinks for those standing in long lines waiting to give blood. Donations poured in to help the families of those injured or killed. Counseling centers were expanded to assist the families and friends of victims. Vigils were held across the country to show solidarity and support for those directly affected as well as to bring together local communities.
The people of Orlando and across this country have shown a humane and thoughtful response to this tragedy. We need a society that reflects and encourages those values, not those of war, militarism, hate and violence.