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“He was definitely not accepted at our school socially,” 17-year-old Ocean Parodie told The Daily Beast.
Douglas High has a place students call “the Emo Gazebo,” he said. “That’s where all the kids that are considered weird or not accepted sat. Kids at the Emo Gazebo didn’t even accept him there. He was just an outcast…He didn’t have any friends.”
Cruz always had his hair short and had a penchant for wearing patriotic shirts that “seemed really extreme, like hating on” Islam, Ocean Parodie said. The suspected gunman would also deride Muslims as “terrorists and bombers.”
“Most kids ignored him at school. They pushed him off to the side as if he was garbage.”
“Honestly, a lot of people were saying that it was gonna be him,” one student told WJXT of Cruz. “Actually, a lot of kids joked… saying that he was gonna be the one to shoot up the school, but it turns out, you know, everyone predicted it, that’s crazy.”
All of this represents a troubling sign of the times.
Cruz was oppressed by his exposure to anti-Islamic hate and Islamaphobia, twisted notions of patriotism and masculinity, alt-right ideology and other toxic beliefs rampant in our culture, and no one was able to help him before it was too late.
While the national discourse turns its attention to gun reform, which has tragically left us spinning in circles for years, I’m afraid we’ll miss the opportunity we have to shine a light on the deeper roots of this epidemic.
Without a new surprising narrative to shake up the habitual motions we go through each shooting, we can expect a gun reform debate to stoke the masses on both the left and right into fighting against one another in predictable fashion. We will press our politicians to enact gun reforms or prevent them, all while we ironically give up any agency we have to solve the problem ourselves.
I believe we need gun reform. It’s an obvious solution that could have been implemented a decade ago while we got to work on deeper causes. But tragically, even after 271 US school shootings since 2003, we know that even majority-supported, basic-sense gun reforms are not tenable for too many politicians who take their orders from the nation’s powerful gun lobby. We know that we cannot count on them to pass even modest legislation, and yet we continue to act as if national policy is the only solution and we are otherwise helpless to do anything.
We need to reclaim our agency. We need to attack this problem at its cultural root.
A mountain of guns are of no use to a culture that has taught its children how to love.
Elders, healers, lovers of this world, rise up!
Excluding anyone from society must no longer be considered tolerable, wise or civilized. Rather than witness the growing social ills of our culture with cynicism, despair or powerlessness, we need to reclaim the ways that we have the power to act.
We need to recognize that the roots of all violence is oppression – that people who commit violence, who hate, who cause others to suffer are also victims of this toxic culture.
We need to have a new cultural protocol for disturbed, outcast, hateful and wounded people… We need a culture that is taught how to bring hateful, wounded and victimized children and adults back into the “beloved community,” back into the “community of us.”
We need to create a culture that does not discard or forget any human being. We need to be the elders, mentors and guides for this new generation growing up. We need to start talking openly about how much the children growing up in this culture are oppressed by the toxic values which we have yet to heal ourselves.
All children in this culture are being oppressed in some form or another, as the recipients of all of our inherited suffering, which we received from our parent’s generation and which we continue to pass on to the next.
We need to become the models of who we wish others to be – we need to model it as activists, as citizens, and as role models for those growing up.
It’s time to reject the thing which both large portions of the left and right of our society both believe in: the belief in selective care and conditional compassion – the notion that it’s bad to show compassion for the “other.” Segments of both the left and the right believe in the existence of “garbage humans” that aren’t worth caring about.
Things like restorative justice, reconciliation, compassionate activism, pro-active, preventative activism, mainstreaming nonviolent communication training, prosocial educational campaigns, expanding school counselor resources so that every student has access to free therapy for an hour every week – none of these ideas have yet to hit our mainstream discourse. It’s barely discussed within activist circles.
But I think this is the role to play for anyone that is aware of the need to alter the direction of our national discourse.
We need more people who believe in the dignity of every human being and are actively putting this belief into deep, explorative, experimental practice. What would our lives, our speech, our actions look like if we fully embraced this principle?
Fortunately, we do not need to explore all these questions from scratch. Pioneering thinkers, healers, visionaries, writers and activists have been developing beautiful answers to these questions for decades. Some of this wisdom is thousands of years old but was marginalized over centuries of empire and conquest. It’s simply time that we help amplify these voices from the margins and take them into the mainstream.
The wisdom of nonviolent communication, Kingian nonviolent activism, the Maori’s philosophy about humanity and our relationship to all life, the work of prison abolitionists practicing restorative justice, moving us beyond the paradigm of punishment and into an era where everyone wounded by the barbs of this culture have been made whole – this is the wisdom that we need to lift up.
May it be so!
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