As a Unitarian Universalist, as a person of faith, as a decent human being who cares about human life, I share this belief with a good chunk of humanity: shooting people – with the exception of extreme circumstances – is never okay, and even when the circumstances are such that shooting a human being is unavoidable, it is always a tragedy.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Yes, of course, that’s obvious”, and I hope you are. But I start that way because it seems worth stating before discussing the narratives that emerge around shootings, before naming some of the sicknesses in our society that contribute to such unjust violence.People just shouldn’t shoot people, because being shot isn’t something humans deserve. It isn’t something an unarmed black teen deserves during an altercation with police. It isn’t something two police officers deserve when they are sitting in their squad car in Brooklyn. It isn’t something French satirists or their fellow staff of many backgrounds deserve. It isn’t something a young black woman deserves because she needs help after a car accident. It isn’t something a black man shopping in a WalMart and holding a toy gun deserves. It isn’t something elementary school children and teachers deserve as they learn and teach together. It isn’t something sorority members or pedestrians on the street deserve as they go about their day.
People do not deserve to get shot. People just shouldn’t shoot people.
When people are shot in situations where we should reasonably expect them not to get shot (for example, all of the above situations), we humans tend to be deeply unsettled. Not only do we mourn the loss of life, we get afraid and angry and confused. We try to make sense of the events.
Sometimes narratives emerge that try to discredit the victim of the shooting, that point out their flaws and their petty crimes as if that somehow means they deserved to get shot. That is crazy. Nobody deserves to get shot because they smoked pot or engaged in petty theft or got in a fight one time. If that were true, much of our population should be executed.
Other times narratives emerge that lionize the victim of the shooting and suggest that everyone ought to agree with everything they’ve done or honor a group they are a part of with unmitigated praise. That is also crazy. I don’t have to like Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons in order to agree that their staff did not deserve execution. I can openly and repeatedly critique our policing systems while simultaneously being sure that murdering police officers is wrong.
A third thing also happens sometimes, where a group with which the shooter identifies gets blamed and demonized in the processing of a shooting. And this is also crazy. The idea that black people’s lives matter did not murder two police officers. The religion of Islam whose holy texts speak of peace and compassion did not murder French cartoonists. Good and holy ideas do not kill people, even if they are critical of power structures, institutions and cultures.
This is not to say I do not believe that ideologies affect the ways we enact violence. Ideologies and biases affect us deeply and we are called to do what we can as a society to prevent such horrific violence, to prevent it through a wide variety of means, but most of all to prevent it by healing our world and healing each other.
I believe that racism contributes to many murders and that we must heal our society from the deep sickness of racism. I believe that misogyny contributes to many murders and that we must heal our society from the deep sickness of misogyny. I believe that poverty and classism contribute to many murders. Our lack of gun control contributes. Our stigmatization of mental illness and lack of resources for treating it contribute. Religious and political extremism contribute. The way we socialize men to be tough and violent, the militarization of police, transphobia and homophobia all contribute to murders, to violence, to shootings.
We have so much healing to do, so much work that must be done. It is difficult, nuanced, long term cultural change work and it isn’t easy. But the first step isn’t really so hard. The first step is to remember, whatever the narrative, whatever the rhetoric, whatever your feelings about the identities and lifestyle of the shooter or the victim, that people shouldn’t shoot people. Nobody deserves that.
Human life is far too sacred.