In the early hours of June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen committed the most lethal hate crime against LGBT people in U. S. history when he killed 49 people and injured 53 others who were celebrating Latino night at the gay nightclub Pulse.
Less than one month later, shortly after midnight on July 5, 2016, Baton Rouge police officers Howie Lake and Blane Salamoni tasered, wrestled to the ground, and fatally shot Alton Sterling six times at point blank range, in a convenience store parking lot. Both officers had prior records of excessive force. Lake was previously involved in the shooting of another African-American man, Kevin Knight.
The next day, in St. Paul Minnesota, Philando Castile was stopped by police officers because of his “wide-set nose,” which was said to look like the nose of a robbery suspect. The confrontation ended with Castile shot four times in front of his girlfriend and her four-year old daughter. Castile died less than half an hour later.
The systematic racism that perpetuates continued violence against marginalized identities in the U.S. is grievous, entrenched in our history. U.S. gun culture and frontier-mindedness provide excuses for an “us versus them” mentality that engenders attitudes of violent white male dominance. Militant voices shouting “Blue Lives Matter” undermine and ignore the need in the voices crying “Black Lives Matter.”
What will it take to stop the killing? Who can reverse the gears on a system of injustice that has been steadily turning for hundreds of years? Justice can only come when we unite our voices in anguish, when we use the power of thought to bear witness to action, the power of words and art to beget radical change on a cultural level.
Ideas matter. Creativity matters. Speaking up matters. The queer authors and and authors of color in this issue have their own weapons. Some authors call for a deliberate turning and holding of attention. Jeanette Beebe forces us to ask, “what pauses when we watch? We don’t even look anymore.” Denise Miller elaborates, “...digging deep is not what you want to do right now. You’d rather slide finger up screen / like eraser across slate, scroll past the hate as if it’s not / sown into the fabric of your pillow.” Some authors show that celebration can be a revolutionary act. Aiden Angle gives us “...figures dance—drinking / gin and herbs mixed by a surgeon.../...who believes we’re all fingers /...connected / by the palm of a hand.” McKenzie Chinn insists, “not even the moon outside / got a better glow up / than so much brown skin /...under party lights....”
Even if we don’t have the answer yet, trying matters. In her author statement, Jennifer Perrine writes, “I hope that we can move beyond the reactive response to violence—run, hide, or fight—to real transformation, to making a world in which more lives are possible, in which more of us survive. What could be lovelier, more wonderful than that?” I agree.
love and respect,
Jen Stein Hauptumann