This past weekend's events in Orlando, and even in our own backyard, have certainly struck a nerve with everyone's consciousness. While the sadness weighs heavy on our hearts right now, the grief for a large amount of our population will last far beyond the easily-distracted 24 hour news cycle.
It will be felt by the Muslim student, who is heckled while walking down Green St. on his way to class. It will be felt by any LGBTQ individual who fears for simply gathering with their friends on a weekend; a simple pleasure that was easily enjoyed before Sunday. To a lesser extent, that same fear will grip our entire country, as it is becoming exponentially more clear that in a nation with such archaic stances on open violence, no place is truly safe any more.
In such times of pure hate and fear that leave us all in a stupor, I often am reminded of a speech from Robert F. Kennedy, aptly named: On The Mindless Menace of Violence. Even today, the words ring just as true as they did in 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Because it's 2016, I've embedded the speech and an excerpt below, but for those that care to read the full transcript, it can be found here.
This same menace, as spoken about by Kennedy above, grips our nation once again, and it's absolutely heartbreaking. It even grips our own town, which experienced one of the most violent weekends of the year this past weekend, leaving a 29 year-old man that many were friends with, a mother, and a 16 year old all with gunshot wounds; the former and the latter being fatal.
Why is this acceptable?
It's as if we're doomed to be stuck in a perpetual nightmare of mass shootings, and our politicians don't care enough to try to pull us out. Physically, there's nowhere we can go to be safe, and I'm saying this as a white male. I can't even imagine how unsafe a minority — no matter what kind — must feel when they are targeted, whether it be by radical extremists, or our own country's right wing. None of us can escape the constant fear of violence; it permeates every public space, sidewalk and street in the country.
Why weapons like that used on Sunday in Orlando are even available to the public never fails to baffle me. While the conservative right continues to argue that more guns are the solution, common-sense reform that could save lives doesn't seem to matter. It didn't matter enough when a shooter had access to an AR-15 rifle in 2012, and killed 26 people, 20 of them being innocent children. Instead, the debate was mired in stagnation after the attack, stifled by lawmakers who hold the interest of the gun lobby and "personal freedom" over the safety of every single American.
It really does seem quite simple to me: if mass shootings happen in America on a grand scale, maybe we should limit access to the deadliest weapons. That's not infringing on anyone's freedom, that's common sense safety. At some point someone has to put their foot down and say that Americans don't deserve these vast gun freedoms; we can't be trusted with them. Too many innocent people have died at the hands of objects that should be in the hands of no normal civilian, and how this is continually ignored confuses me to my core.
To end on a good note, even though we live in this crazy country, where anyone next to you on the street could be carrying a legally concealed death machine, the outpour of support at last night's vigil for Orlando victims at West Side Park was a gleaming silver lining in unfortunately necessary circumstances.
To see hundreds of people of so many different orientations, religions, races, genders and walks of life coming together in one place to spread the simple message of hope and love was inspiring to say the least. Whether it be the Imam of the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center or the pastor from McKinley Presbyterian Church, every single person seemed to be legitimately driven by peace and harmony.
So thank you, good people of Champaign-Urbana who I saw in the park tonight. In such bleak times, you all are a beacon of harmony. You've restored my faith in humanity in a nation that actually nominated a reality TV star who said that all Muslims should be documented for Commander in Chief. Tonight I was once again reminded that real change is possible. Maybe I'll eventually get to stop listening to RFK's speech multiple times a year. One can dream.
One thing is for sure: violence, whether it be throughout the country or in Champaign-Urbana, will not be tolerated by this community. Its spirit will not be broken by the actions of a few.
Photo by CNN.com