It’s been over ten days since the mass shooting at US military offices in Tennessee and here in Texas, flags are still at half staff in memorial of the five soldiers that were killed.
Flags have been lowered across town in San Antonio, where I have been visiting this week.
Even the Mexican flag has been lowered, along with the Texas and national flags:
As heinous as this killing was, mass shootings have unfortunately become a common news story in the US with over 200 mass shootings this year alone:
But the reaction to this latest mass shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee seems to stand out from the others. Not only have flags been lowered across the country for an extensive period (with the White House under intense criticism for not lowering them immediately) armed citizens–some reportedly belonging to militia groups– have also taken to the streets to “guard” recruitment offices with automatic weapons:
Mass shootings have continued after the tragedy–as soon as a week later when a man opened fire at a Louisiana movie theatre, shooting 11 people and killing two. But following that brutal crime, I don’t remember hearing anything about armed citizens deploying in front of cinemas to protect movie-goers, despite the fact that this is the latest in a series of shootings at theaters.
There were also mass shootings just before the Tennessee massacre, most notably the massacre at a Charleston, South Carolina church that claimed 8 lives. But I don’t remember hearing about armed men deploying in front of churches, particularly black churches, which have been subject to a history of violence. I also don’t remember hearing anything about flags being lowered nationwide in mourning for the victims of the Charleston murder spree. In fact, a flag many felt represented the type of racist discourse that may have influenced the perpetrator, was still flying high after the killing, despite demands that it be brought down.
So what is it about the killing of the Tennessee soldiers that has sparked such a powerful, visceral reaction, enough to bring armed citizens out into the streets? Is the murder of soldiers more appalling than the killing of civilians? Or are there other contributing factors?
The shooters in all three cases are believed to be disturbed individuals. All are also said to be American citizens raised in this country but only in Tennessee is the perpetrator reportedly Muslim. I can’t help but wonder if the reaction would have been as jingoistic had he identified with a different faith or no faith at all.
In the painful search for answers after such tragedies, perhaps we should be concerned not only by the individual killers but also by the collective knee-jerk reactions to them, which may reveal just as much about the troubled social conditions we inhabit.