I had begun to write this column about something happy and light – Christmas, the pancake breakfast on Saturday, “Christmas on Broadway” next week, family plans for the holidays – but something got in my way.
For the third time in as many weeks, someone has gone into a place in this country that should be considered safe, and has then shot and killed people who have done nothing to harm the shooters, reminding me that safety is but an illusion. People should be able to go to work or to the doctor or to school and be safe in their daily routines. But we continue to be shown that to believe so is foolish.
To believe in safety at all is foolish. After all, in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 33,561 people were killed in automobile accidents (www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811856.pdf). The Centers for Disease Control reports that in 2013, 130,557 people died from unintentional injury, 30,208 people died from falls, and 38,851 people died from poisoning (www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/accidental-injury.htm). These numbers belie the idea of safety.
But we want to believe we are safe. And as we go about our business every day, it is easy to believe we are safe. Those car accidents and falls and unintentional injuries are, while not anticipated or welcomed, things we can grudgingly accept as part of life. Things happen.
But there have been 355 mass shootings (at least four people killed or injured in a shooting) in the United States so far this year — almost one every day — and 462 people have died in those shootings (www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/12/03/458321777/a-tally-of-mass-shootings-in-the-u-s). It is more than unsettling to think I could be teaching a class at State Fair Community College, look at the door, and see someone standing there with an AK47 at the ready.
And yet, more than once on Thursday, I cast a wary eye in that direction. I had stopped looking at the door a couple of months ago, after the newness of the Oct. 1 shooting at the community college in Umpqua, Oregon, had worn off. For a week or so after that massacre, I had tried to visualize what I would do if someone came into my classroom and started shooting.
Just as unsettling is thinking about sitting at the bench in the Council Chambers on a Wednesday morning and coming face to face with someone who has decided I have irritated him or her more than can be borne, and has decided that I, and those who sit beside me, or others in the room, should be shot. And yet I know, cognitively, that could happen.
For some people, Sept. 11, 2001, destroyed their ideas about safety in this country, and made them aware, at least temporarily, that the world – the entire world – is a dangerous place. That day for me, however, was April 19, 1995, when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols killed innocent men and women at work, and innocent children and babies who had been taken by their parents to day care, by bombing the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City to high heaven. I was stupefied when I discovered the terrorists in that attack, those who planned and executed it, were Americans. It was months before I could find any peace in my heart.
Now, 20 years later, it takes a couple of weeks for the sting of attacks such as those in Umpqua and San Bernardino to wear off, only a couple of weeks to stop looking furtively at my classroom door, to stop glancing warily at the Council Chambers door, to stop being aware of every car driving slowly down the street.
I don’t think these kinds of assaults are normal or acceptable, but my idea of safety has been forever changed. Regardless, I will not let fear rob me of the joy I find in life. Those who hide behind black masks and assault weapons cannot take that from me. I will continue to write about things happy and light, because I have hope for what happens tomorrow.
So. I’m cooking pancakes today, and I’m planning “Christmas on Broadway.” I’m going about my business. And I’m hoping for safety, whatever that means.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.