Orlando Massacre Leaves Many Questions, But Tragedy Brings Some Resolute Answers

Orlando Massacre

An analysis of the Orlando Massacre and other aspects to consider

By: Mike Givens*/TRT Assistant Editor—

Since the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando that took the lives of 49 people and injured more than 50, I’ve been struggling to find something incredibly profound to say. I’ve spent hours attempting to process those events and articulate my thoughts in a way that reaffirms the worth and dignity of every single person who either died or was injured in what’s now the country’s worst shooting massacre to date.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the shooter, Omar Mateen. There’s been rampant speculation about his sexual orientation, relationships with past partners, ties to Islamic extremism, mental health, and too many other issues to list. We’ll never truly know what went on inside the head of this man, but here are several things we can be certain of:

  • “Thoughts and prayers” are nothing without action: I wrote on Facebook that I’m sick of hearing the term “thoughts and prayers” when it comes to death and suffering. It always feels as though the ones who are most thoughtful and prayerful are usually the ones who have no interest in acting. Prayers imply a belief in a higher power, something greater than each of us. And presumably, when prayers are prayed, their purpose is to ask the higher being one prays to for some sort of intervention (alleviation of pain, bringing those responsible to justice, a sense of healing). It’s funny that we project these hopes and expectations onto a higher being, but rarely are we willing to take action ourselves. Instead of “thoughts and prayers,” we should devote ourselves to “contemplation and purpose.” We should process this tragedy, unpack what it means, and devote ourselves to making a difference through action. And when I say action, I mean the big and small things. Treating each other with kindness, checking our prejudices and misconceptions, and approaching others with open minds and hearts. There are things we can do at a policy level to make sure tragedies like this don’t happen again, but small acts of kindness and grace of spirit can shatter the sheer hatred that exists in this world.
  • Monsters are what we make of them: In the wake of tragedies like this, it’s human nature to demonize Omar Mateen. What he did was horrifying, sickening, disgusting, and without justification or merit, but let us not forget that the same evil that drove Omar Mateen to do what he did is the same evil that drove a Sacramento, CA minister to lament that Mateen didn’t murder everyone in the nightclub that evening. That same evil is behind countless Americans vocally opposing stricter gun legislation. That same evil belies the politicians who’d rather send “thoughts and prayers” then crack down on lax gun laws. And that same evil is behind members of Westboro Baptist Church protesting the funerals of the Orlando victims. Any way you look at it, the same malevolence is behind a lot of the overt and covert acts of violence and oppression, from legislative bills that use religion to attack LGBTQ rights to the hate crimes that put many LGBTQ people in the hospital or the grave.
  • Angels are what we make of them: Survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing attended Orlando vigils and stood proudly and determinedly with the survivors of Omar Mateen’s hate. Vigils around the country saw LGBTQ people and their allies come together with the common purpose of mourning the loss of those who died. We’ve seen an incredible amount of compassion, love, and strength poured out to the victims and their families.
  • Race and ethnicity matter: First and foremost, the victims of the shooting were human beings. But equally important was the fact that 23 of the 49 people who died were Puerto Rican. A bulk of the people killed were people of color. We _do not_ live in a post-racial America and we should never forget the cultural and ethnic heritages of those we’ve lost. Nor should we forget the struggle of those who are still alive and fighting against racism and oppression.
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity matter: I perused the Facebook pages of several high school classmates, family members, and friends who are conservative Christians and have been their whole lives. Not one of them offered any condolences, or even recognition, of the shootings in Orlando. Their Facebook posts on June 12 and after are filled with Bible verses, photos of their children, meaningless prattle about how righteous they are, but nothing else.

Let me be clear: Just because the 49 people killed in a nightclub in Florida were not nine church-going Christians inside of a Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, does not mean that their lives are somehow less worthy of remembrance. Those 49 people may not have been 26 schoolchildren and teachers in Connecticut, but their lives are just as valuable. Respectability politics should never trump the intrinsic worth of human life. Regardless of how you feel about LGBTQ people, their lives matter equally. The day we value some lives more than others is the day we need to re-evaluate the true meaning of our religious and spiritual beliefs.

There’s a long road to healing ahead of us, but we must band together. We recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of a national marriage equality decision in the U.S. Two days after that was the 47th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. There’s still work to be done, though, as the events in Orlando have shown us. We owe it to every single victim of the Orlando shooting to move forward, love each other, and never cease in our commitment to evolving.

*A graduate of the Boston University College of Communication, Mike Givens has been a social justice advocate for more than eight years. During that time he’s worked on a range of initiatives aimed at lifting up marginalized populations. An experienced media strategist and public relations professional, Michael currently devotes his spare time to a number of vital issues including racial justice and socioeconomic equity.

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