An awful story led yesterday's news: A gunman murdered worshipers and wounded more at a Sikh gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on Sunday morning, before police killed him.
Because of tattoos on the shooter's body, authorities are looking into the possibility that this is an incident of domestic terrorism. CNN is reporting that it is a tattoo commemorating 9/11. Sikhs have, over the years, been the victims of hate crimes at the hands of morons who think that they are striking some grand blow for America against the Muslims. Sikhs are not Muslim.
Tennesseans are sadly familiar with the scenario in which a gunman with a grudge and a head full of hate-stoked stereotypes opens fire one Sunday on a congregation. It was almost exactly four years ago that a killer walked into Knoxville's Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and opened fire on churchgoers attending a youth performance.
I had thought then that his actions might cause us as a country (or at least as a state) to consider the level of rhetoric we use against the people we perceive as our political enemies. Not because we might say something that causes someone to go out and shoot people. I don't think that's how it works. But when people spout rhetoric about how so-and-so needs to die, or we'd be better off without people like that, or everyone in that building is an enemy of America, we reinforce to already unstable folks that their actions would be welcomed — that they can do this terrible thing they're thinking about, because that's what other people would do if they had the nerve to do more than talk.
They think they have ideological support. No, it's more than that. They do have ideological support.
People died in Knoxville, and it caused not a single public figure in Tennessee to say, "Hey, maybe I should stop talking about these people like their blood should run in the street. I could just say they should be voted out of office, or that I wouldn't care to go to dinner with them."
So my heart is heavy for the people of Oak Creek — not just because they have lost so much, but because most likely nothing will be done to prevent something similar from happening to others. Not a single pastor, not a single politician, not a single pundit will say, "Wow, I would feel terrible if anyone hears what I'm saying and thinks I'd support this kind of terrible evil. I should tone it down."
These things, as far as we're concerned, just happen in a vacuum. It's always some lone sicko who just came up with the idea out of the clear blue sky, nothing to see here, move along.
Even though the people at the heart of these tragedies deserve better.