You know that sick feeling you’ve had this week? Kids in many American cities have it — mixed with dread and accompanied by a soundtrack of gunshots— every night and every day. I’m not trying to compare one set of murders or tragedies to another. But it’s worth noting that a large number of our fellow Americans are growing up on a firing range. More than 60 people were shot in Chicago over the Fourth of July holiday. And that was considered a good number compared to past years. Our national disinterest in the plight of these children is not lost on them. Neither is our reaction when the violence spreads to neighborhoods we consider more important. And I’m just talking about America. Imagine you’re a kid in Allepo or Baghdad seeing the coverage of Dallas and Baton Rouge on the Internet.
After Dallas, there was lot of talk about a potential suspect’s image being shared on social media (and staying up long after he was cleared by police). That’s a problem. But let’s not miss the bigger part of the story. The guy was at a public event, dressed in camouflage, and had a long rifle strapped to his back. And we’ve decided that’s perfectly OK in America. We’ve lost our minds. There is a very vocal and very well-funded minority of Americans who will get furious at that notion. But they’re just plain wrong. We’ve got a serious gun problem in America. We spend so much time fixated on threats like ISIS and Al Qaeda. But for decades, we’ve been killing ourselves from within.
Social media played a huge role in this week’s events, from the filming and sharing of recorded and live content, to the way we treated each other on social media after (and in the case of Dallas, even during) the events. Maybe social media has a self-selection process whereby those with the most extreme views are attracted to platforms where such views can be widely shared. But that’s putting the best face on it. It’s more likely that access to social media either increases our level of hate, or merely holds up a mirror to the vile contempt that’s always been there. One gunman doesn’t represent America. But our reaction to him might. The immediate tragedy in all of this is the loss of life we’ve seen this week. The longterm tragedy is fact that these events have been used as just another excuse to hate on each other. People are dead and we’re screaming at each other over their graves. How about a little mourning?
The police shootings in Dallas were horrific and terrifying. But that awful event should not distract us from the national conversation that was taking place in the days leading up to that tragedy. I’ve never met a black person who didn’t express concerns about the way they were treated by police, or who didn’t worry how their children would handle confrontations with law enforcement — a scenario they all view as inevitable. There are a lot of bad things about digital media, social networks, and our always-on society. But there are some good things about it too. One of them is the fact that white America has finally been forced to look at this troubling reality with their own eyes. Was blind, but now I see.