It would not be a far reach to argue that the United States is one of the most violent cultures that has ever existed on the face of the earth. Just speaking of war, according to Dr. Grassman, the United States has been in conflict overtly or covertly for more than 90% of its existence[i]. It may surprise you to know that we have more military bases and installations than any other nation in the world and in history. In 2021, we bombed at least five sovereign nations. But how many of us can name all five? That is not all. We also produce and sell more military equipment than any other country. Perhaps most grotesquely, as noted by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute[ii], we have enough active nuclear warheads to end life on this planet 55 times over. 55 TIMES.
This candid violence is not just abroad, it is all around us. We are surrounded by military installations, Camp San Luis, Vandenberg Space Force Base, Camp Roberts, Fort Hunter-Liggett, examples of what President Eisenhower warned as the Military-Industrial Complex[iii]. These are four of the thirty-two bases–about equal to the number of public universities in California. It is also not confined to the military. The San Luis Obispo city police, fired tear gas[iv], a chemical weapon banned in war by the Geneva Convention[v], into a group of peaceful protesters in 2020. The city has military-style weapons and military hardware that are ready for deployment at any moment–here in the happiest city in America.
Are we surprised that this macro-level candid violence by the federal and local governments trickle down to society—214 mass shootings in 124 days (Jan. 1-May 26)[vi], 1,20 police killings 2021[vii]), the highest gun suicide rate in the world[viii], and now firearms are the number one killer of children in our country[ix]? We shouldn’t be.
But these are only the visible manifestations.
Much of the violence in our country is invisible. This concealed violence is deeply rooted in our American institutions and social structures—the violence of mass poverty where one out of five[x] children in this nation do not have their basic needs met, of mass incarceration where we are 5% of the world’s population but imprison 25% of the world’s inmates[xi], deep systemic racism[xii], of inadequate schooling, lack of political representation, inadequate health care, discriminatory policies and laws, irreversible damage to ecosystems, among so many others. It is in embedded in our economic system—does not the coffee that we drink, the shirts we wear, the oil we consume, the gold in our smart phones, the cocoa in our candy, come from the sweat and blood of mostly people of color laboring in conditions that we, U.S. consumers, would never work in? Is this not also violence?
Indeed, we should not be surprised that the violence all around us bleeds into our thoughts, our words, our actions. Indeed, it is “normal,” imprinted on our soul.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Let us take these most recent tragedies, in the long line of tragedies due to gun violence, as a moment to ask the critical questions about the violent norms and values in our society. Let us demand more than words and political spin from our elected leaders to transform the deep-rooted causes of candid and concealed violence to make our county and nation a safer and more just home. We only need to look to, well, ANY other industrialized nation to find macro- and micro-level effective strategies. Board of Supervisors, would you create a taskforce to identify and potential actions? Would you follow through with recommendations? More importantly, I challenge each of us to move beyond thoughts and prayers, Facebook posts and sad-faced emojis, to be self-reflective of our own choices. How might you and I begin to recognize the violence we perpetuate every day? Can we begin to envision and then build a community that is compassionate and supportive to ensure no one is marginalized and alienated? Perhaps, maybe, this latest tragedy in Uvalde can motivate us to model change we wish to see in our community and country.