As a nation we have become trapped in a strange theater, spectators gaping at the horror that unfolds before us, horrors that are anything but new. In October, a Jewish synagogue is riddled with bullets. Numerous pipe bombs are sent to political enemies. Two grocery shoppers in Kentucky are gunned down in a hate crime. These events shock, disturb and disorient — yet their impact — if we are mere observers, fades quickly, readying the slate clean for the next tragedy barreling toward us. As we reeled through these large-scale acts of violence, here in Seattle they were mirrored on Thursday, Oct. 25, when a man who lived in the Licton Springs neighborhood encountered a young man named Danny, who lived on the streets and was beloved to the Aurora Commons, a drop-in neighborhood living room for our unhoused neighbors and friends on 90th and Aurora. A man in his car with a loaded gun, searching for those he believed were responsible for, months earlier, breaking one of his windows, reached through his passenger side window and shot Danny in the chest.
The prosecutor in this case, Jason Simmons, writes in charging papers that the perpetrator “harbored significant animosity towards the victim Alberto and the local homeless community for months.” This harbored animosity became angry rhetoric, advancing and culminating in a bullet shot straight into the heart of another human being. The words we use reveal themselves to be an engine, a vehicle, taking our bodies to places we might be surprised we have ended up at, driving to confront a homeless man with a loaded gun. We should be shocked. We should also not be — as acrimony cannot sit inactive for long, becoming words, becoming embodied action, moving outward in some way. Underneath all our language and the ways we take up space is a foundational ideology, the structure of us versus them. This polarizing and divisive way of seeing the world is the fuel perpetuating the global and national and our local inability to see that which is other as equal and worthy of humanity itself (instead of as an invasion to be protected against).
After the deadly shooting, Aurora Commons witnessed and received an escalation of vitriol toward our unhoused neighbors. In response to the shattering moment of violence? Cruel emails and comments, hate speech, racial slurs, glaring prejudice and hatred. Where national calamities and neighborhood violence do shake us awake, it is only momentarily, for things will not truly change unless we allow these incidents to not only disorient us, but in reflection, allow them to reorient us — looking critically into the ways we think, the words we use and consequently the actions we take. Real despair is that in the aftermath of this violent act the reaction was a retreat into the polarizing divisiveness of the oppositional positions of us versus them. Did we not learn anything at all? For hate speech only increased, revealing we might be in danger of an incapability for true moments of reflection and change. Are we able of defining who we are only by what we are not and no longer by what we share?
I was asked by someone if I thought this situation was a “one-off” — a devastating but unique moment of singularity. It was a hopeful question but of course, the answer is no. As akin to the moments we have witnessed lately this was a culmination of the rampant hostility toward that which we divisively see as an invasion of the other. Two lives were tossed away on that dark day in October. Will we continue to turn our eyes away from the actuality that, enclosed in our fear of the other and hidden behind our ratcheted-up rhetoric, we all end up paying a great price, we all lose? Our systematic structures of belief (often unexamined), become thoughts that become language, which becomes embodied dogma and our words can become fists, bullets, bombs — an earth fully scorched. As we have seen and will continue to see, vitriol eventually becomes vigilante violence and there are no alarm bells big enough to warn of the trajectory we are on.
Jacqueline Moulton is an artist, Ph.D. candidate studying philosophy and art, and has been at the Aurora Commons since 2012.
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