Why We Have Mass Shootings, Homelessness and Empty Churches

1 -- Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, just killed 10 people at a Texas high school -- the state being no stranger to mass shootings or the threat of massive armed resistance.

2 - Poverty and homelessness affect Black Americans in equally bad or even worse ways than they did when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Movement began its Poor People's Campaign in January of 1968.

3 -- Regular church attendance is dwindling, though I suspect that those who tend to keep their pews full do so by attributing popular contemporary thinking to God and/or Christ -- whether or not there is any Biblical or historical basis for their claims. (People don't know how to self-validate and they want to be told a nice fairy tale or bedtime story about a god who supports what they already choose to do -- not to be told that God demands that they change their ways. They should learn to self-validate -- to say, "I am so-and-so; and I choose to live this way, no matter who doesn't like it.....unless they intelligently determine that they should and will do the will of the Almighty by obeying the one He gave this world to save us from Him, God that is.)

All of these matters are strangely but definitely intertwined. They all point to the negative tendency of the current generations (especially millennials) to avoid difficult conversations about grim realities; and, this tendency to want to hear pleasant things leads to the unpleasant things that they cry about all too often -- such as mass shootings -- recurring. Americans love to speak of "empowering" the young people of today to become the "leaders of tomorrow"; but, in the process, we allow these young people to make major preventable mistakes on important issues -- for the latter to beget the former. We're often kind to a fault by not sternly impressing upon these young people the absolute need to ask the hard questions and to avoid settling for the nice or easy answers. Then we wonder why we can't find the answers to longstanding issues like mass shootings, long-term and high homelessness as well as decreased regular church attendance -- for which the "answer" lies not in "updating" God's 2,000-and-so-year old Word so as to make God seem like a 21st-century American.

So, let's start with the most difficult topic. Let's face it: There were two months between the Las Vegas (Sin City) mass shooting and the Waffle House mass shooting. There was almost one month between the Waffle House and the Santa Fe (Holy Faith) mass shooting. It stands to reason that within three weeks and definitely by the end of June we'll be reading about yet another mass shooting, though the latter time frame almost ensures that it likely won't be at a school. They're getting closer together -- the shootings, not the members of society. (In actuality, society's differing reactions to violence against Blacks and Whites has been used to highlight the racial divide that still exists in our country.) One silver lining in this dark cloud of mass shootings is that the numbers of dead per incident have been going down, for the most part -- 58, 17, 4, 10. The anomaly is this pattern was created by a brave soul putting his life on the line to stop the shooter. If it weren't for him, the pattern likely would have held.

Mass shooters are speaking a language that it is imperative for all of society -- not just a few so-called-specialists -- to understand, no matter how badly it makes anyone feel. Let's call it "Gunnish". Gunnish is not all that different from another language which I'll call "Poorish" -- the language which was spoken during the riots of 1968, right after "the great translator" was.....gunned down.

MLK, Jr.:

-- who promoted the non-violent creation of a tension that forces those in power to address the concerns of the needy (and needed) resistance

-- and who called out the church for failing to fulfill its duty to fight for social justice

also told us that "A riot is the language of the unheard".

In all honesty, he wasn't promoting violence as a form of communication, but rather expressing his understanding of why violence occurs. As the new Poor People's Campaign of 2018 addresses the seemingly intractable social ills that have persisted for well over 50 years, a silent (until now) underpinning of their efforts is the grim reality that non-violent pleadings have been about as ineffectual as violence -- if not more so. I have a sneaky suspicion that, if the federal and state governments ignore the pleas of this Poor People's Campaign of 2018, then the poor will be more inclined to use violence than they were in 2017.

This is the gravest danger of non-violent resistance: that, if it doesn't reap sufficient results, it leaves many to wonder how much more violence might accomplish -- a question that they might not have even mused about if the non-violent resistance hadn't formed in the first place. But most of the poor will only muse about the issue, as opposed to resorting to violence. That is, until non-violent compliance with the law puts them on the brink of death by way of state-sanctioned racial violence against the poor (who might just happen to be Black, though they come in other colors too) or cuts to social service funding -- cuts that are not accompanied by sufficient supports for reaching economic self-sufficiency or for obtaining socioeconomic justice on any level. The oppressed poor have already been forced from merely musing about the possible benefits of retaliatory violence to actually testing the limits thereof -- and reaping measurable results -- "measurable" being the operative word here.

For what it's worth to you
,  LBJ began the National Advisory Commission on Social Disorders (the Kerner Commission) in July of 1967 to study the causes of then-recent riots and other forms of civil unrest. The resulting report blamed "White racism" for the social ills of the time. Violent retaliation by Blacks made privileged Whites at least try to understand the plight of poor Blacks. It can be argued that, since 1968, the system has ignored the findings of the report and has resorted to merely locking up Blacks who commit acts of violence. It can also be argued that it wasn't just any old form of violence that made privileged Whites try to understand poor Blacks -- that it was the presence of a discernible grievance and the corporate nature of the riots of 1965-67 that caused people of privilege to want to learn more. It shouldn't bewilder anyone as to why the leader of privileged Whites (LBJ) felt some of the pain when poor Blacks lost their leader (MLK, Jr.) in 1968. After all, it was the killing of the previous leader of privileged Whites (JFK) which led to LBJ's becoming president in November of 1963. It would seem that he mused about the different ways in which privileged Whites and poor Blacks responded to the deaths of their respective leaders -- the fact that both killers were White notwithstanding.

Even at the conclusion of this post, much will remain to be said about what Blacks and Whites each want and need in a leader. A single chapter can't do the topic justice. Even so, it's worth noting that, a full 50 years after the latter killing, Blacks still need a leader to force the conversation around economic justice (most likely in one of the non-violent dialects of Poorish); while, White men have held the White House for 42 of the last 50 years. Quite appallingly, an indecent portion of Whites (Evangelicals) still support their distraction-in-chief (their symbolic "figureass") -- who, to the great dismay of Dick Cheney, has been unable hereto now to unleash the foreign violence which characterizes the Republican Party. The 35-year run of "Reagan-Bombics" (1981 through the Trump campaign and ending once 45 took office) brings to mind the fact that both the foreign and domestic violence of 1968 occurred as results of Blacks and Whites "losing their leaders". Blacks lost MLK, Jr. to the bullet of James Earl Ray. Whites lost LBJ to the politics that led to his decision not to run for re-election -- a decision which he announced in March of 1968, in effect making himself a lame-duck president whose opinion didn't matter to those who would remain politically relevant beyond my (Eric Sheptock's) birth on February 15th, 1969. It was this announcement which did the most to unleash the forces that got us into Vietnam. Fast forward to the present and we have:

1 -- a new Poor People's Campaign founded by a leader whose health threatens to take him out any given moment,

2 -- a movement whose eventual failed efforts toward economic recourse (should they fail in that respect) could unwittingly do more to spur race riots than they do to usher in social justice, and

3 -- a president who entered office as a lame duck (irrespective of the 2020 election outcomes and whether or not he runs again) and whose policies are more likely to create civil unrest than foreign war -- despite his party affiliation.

Johnson's political death contributed to the U.S. going to war with Vietnam. King's death led to civil unrest domestically. Trump's continued political (and physical) life is more likely to have the effect of King's death than it is to lead to international conflict. The proliferation of international agreements and peace treaties since the 1960's all but ensures that someone of Trump's intellect (.....err lack thereof) won't ever garner enough international support to lead America into war against a perceived foe. He won't ever reach the bar that's been set for the "moral" arguments that must be raised in order for other militaries to, in good conscience, join ours. He's not a real republican -- or politician, for that matter. This means that there is only about a one percent chance of Trump leading an international coalition into battle. It also raises the specter of him deciding to become "tougher on crime" -- even the crimes of survival that his cuts to social services force the poor to commit.....especially the crimes of survival that his cuts to social services force the poor to commit.

As a homeless advocate, I've heard many poor people over the years say that they'd resort to crime before starving to death -- though they tend to highlight stealing over violent crimes. This shouldn't surprise anyone. It's the Law of the Jungle. Fact of the matter is that the inhabitants of the jungle will forage for sustenance therein only until the supply runs out or developments from without destroy the jungle. That is to say that poor people will sustain themselves within their poor communities and through their social networks until the source of (or supplement to) their sustenance (possibly food stamps) runs out or an outside force (gentrification) comes into the "jungle of poverty" -- like the jungle of poverty that was created during slavery and continued by Jim Crow which was soon followed by mass incarceration and by government creating a "culture of dependency" which they now admit to, as they ostracize poor people for remaining on Welfare. Then, like any carbon-based life form, the needy will be forced to fight for survival -- to speak Poorish after their demands are not heard and heeded. That brings us back to Gunnish.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold spoke Gunnish loud and clear as they killed 13 people after forming a "Trench Coat Mafia" to oppose being outcasts among their peers. Some 19 years later, we have Dimitrios Pagourtzis emulating their style, while claiming to have been an outcast. Interestingly enough, he deliberately avoided shooting people he liked, so that they'd be able to tell his story -- if only he'd had the "courage" to commit suicide like his idols. Mr. Pagourtzis, who wasn't even alive in 1999, studied about the Columbine mass shooting and brought it back to remembrance -- much like a school principal in Prince George's County, Maryland who wanted to train his faculty to deal with mass shootings. (Imitation is the highest form of flattery -- at least if the imitated is still alive.) In a stroke of diabolical consistency, Pagourtzis expressed a desire to be remembered by people he liked -- whom I'll stop short of calling his "friends", being as he was a "loner". That said, the message of Columbine lives on in law abiding citizens as well as more recent mass shooters -- irrespective of whether or not we take that message to heart and act accordingly.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis also spoke to the issue of gun control. After Las Vegas and Parkland we heard the debates around AR-15 rifles. He silenced that rambling by using a .38 revolver and a shotgun. The gun control advocates who maintained that assault rifles should be banned as a way of reducing mass shootings or the number of dead will have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to embolden more people to do like the "savior" at the Waffle House -- being as guns of any type or caliber can wreak much havoc when in the hands of a good marksman with a bone to pick. That's not to speak of the fact that, like Adam Lanza, Dimitrios Pagourtzis used the guns of a parent who owned them legally. Not only did Dimitrios silence the conversation against assault rifles; but, he also made it clear that we must have the conversation about how parents who own guns legally will keep those guns out of the hands of their teenage or adult sons who can't own those guns legally. While we're at it, we need to ask how it is that parents who, by all known standards are good and sensible people, raise such screwed up kids. (There's a hard question we can teach young people to ask.)

So much for the apple not falling far from the tree -- parent who can own a gun legally and son who was prevented from owning a gun legally but who ends up murdering many. Maybe, before we try to figure how to keep an adult son from accessing a parent's gun, we should ask how the apple fell so far from the tree. Maybe the son was "encouraged" to lead in ways that the parent wasn't. Maybe this effort backfired, stressed the kid and made him into a killer. Peaceful movements can turn violent. Law-abiding gun owners can raise mass murderers. Adults can fail to ask, much less answer, the hard questions. Adults can then influence children who clearly don't have the answers, being as the adults didn't teach them to ask the hard questions, to now go out and lead while lacking the necessary answers to the big problems these teens will be faced with. To top it all off, we have churches that find out what people want to hear instead of telling congregants what they need to know. Some of the more sensible people avoid church, rather than paying a preacher to tell them what they can say to themselves for free.

We have more frequent mass shootings, increasing homelessness and decreasing church attendance because people won't ask or find the answers to the hard questions -- the ones that really matter.



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