February 2, 2023

A Sign of the Times?

[Cross-post from The Daily Journal]

By Kevin R. Johnson

Having grown up in the San Gabriel Valley, I know Monterey Park, a tight-knit bedroom community on the eastern outskirts of Los Angeles. Last weekend, the relative peace of the city was disturbed by a mass killing of eleven by a gunman. Two days later, a mass shooting in Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, left seven dead, the apparent result of a workplace dispute. Those and similar tragedies have been occurring with tragic regularity. Sadly enough, the truth of the matter is that mass shootings, deaths, and tragedies have become a regular part of U.S. social life. The nation in the last few years has seen a spate of violence at schools, churches, nightclubs, shopping malls, workplaces, and many public places. Together, they reveal much about the way we have become willing to resolve disagreements.

Hatred abounds and no doubt fuels gun violence, with guns generally available. However, guns have long been available in U.S. society. And California, where the latest mass tragedies occurred, have relatively tight gun safety laws. In the end, there appears to be larger social forces at work that have contributed to the spike in gun violence.

We should learn from the events of Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. and the concerted effort by a small group to overturn a peaceful presidential election and orderly transition of power through violence. In effect, some of the perpetrators disagreed with Donald Trump’s election defeat. Anger, disappointment, and political frustration in some quarters is understandable. The inability to allow for respectful exchanges of ideas, readily accessible guns, and the belief that violence is a viable alternative to achieve change by silencing others together are a combustible mix.

The events of January 6 show a group of politically disappointed people who thought it acceptable to threaten to take power through violence. Although few really want to “kill the umpire” at a baseball game, some truly did want to kill some political leaders on Jan. 6, such as then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (and later one man nearly killed her husband Paul in their home). Similar passions appear to have fueled many of the mass shootings.

Unfortunately, as has happened at various times in history, anger, frustration, and disagreements with others has led to violence. For a while, violence, for example, was part and parcel of the struggle over access to abortions, with abortion clinics bombed and doctors who provided reproductive services killed. A long political fight followed, with the Supreme Court ultimately stepping in.

More recently, violence against members of the gay, lesbian, and transgender communities has followed recognition of their rights by political opponents of those rights. For many, unhappiness with political outcomes or other matters did not trigger violence. Recent events show today that violence may be viewed by many Americans as a viable political approach.

As history teaches, racial tensions can lead to violence. Throughout the pandemic, Asian Americans have been on edge in light of the spike in hate crimes against members of their communities. Some claimed that President Trump’s verbal attacks toward Chinese people encouraged violence against them. The spike itself shows the flaws in the claims that Asian Americans (called by some the model minority), even those whose families have been in the United States for generations, are fully accepted in U.S. society. Undoubtedly, some might well blame immigration and migrants for the violence in Monterey Park. They won’t assimilate. “They” live separate from “us.” But some of the culprits in the various attacks apparently have assimilated into the culture of violence that has become a new form of alternative dispute resolution in the United States.

Violence today is viewed in many circles as a form of expressing disagreement. That view affects all of us as a nation.

The tragic events in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, two California suburbs known for peace and tranquility, provide an appropriate time for a national soul-searching. Our fabric is frayed and violence has spread like a wildfire. Change must happen if the nation hopes to never see again anger and frustration erupt into violence.