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Hatred, Rhetoric And The Violence They Spawn

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Hatred, Rhetoric And The Violence They Spawn

A woman throws a bouquet of flowers at a memorial for the victims of the shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young

I am supposed to be writing about a shooting in Orlando, but my thoughts keep circling back to a funeral in Louisville.

About the shooting, you have doubtless already heard your fill of grisly details. Suffice it to say that in the dark hours of Sunday morning, a Muslim man armed with a military-style assault rifle opened fire on Latin Night at a gay nightclub, killing 49 people, wounding dozens more.

The atrocity, the biggest mass shooting in American history, ignited another dreary spasm of Islamophobia, led by Donald Trump. In short order, the presumptive Repugnant Party candidate for president bragged about “being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” suggested that President Obama is sympathetic to terrorists and renewed his call for a ban on Muslim immigration, though he did not explain how that would have stopped the killer, who, like Trump, was born in New York City.

For good measure, Trump’s Islamophobia was met by the homophobia of one Roger Jimenez, a Baptist preacher in Sacramento who told his congregation it was “great” that “50 pedophiles were killed today” and went on to call for the government to “round them all up and put them up against a firing wall and blow their brains out.”

So yes, this is what I need to be writing about today, the hatred, the division and the rhetorical and actual violence they spawn. But I keep coming back to that funeral for Muhammad Ali.

Perhaps you caught some part of the ceremony on television the Friday before the shooting. If you did, perhaps you were struck, as I was, by the fact of ministers, rabbis, Iroquois spiritual leaders, a Jewish comic, a black TV personality and a white politician born in segregated Arkansas, all coming together under one roof to honor an African-American Muslim. Perhaps it spoke to some deep part of you of the potentialities beneath our animosities, the commonalities within our separations.

We are taught to regard the animosities and separations as definitive and unavoidable, part and parcel of what it means to be human. That this is a lie is reflected in all the tributaries of color, faith and tribe that flowed together to honor Ali. Animosities and separations are not conditions you are born with. Rather, they are conditions you choose.

Jimenez, sadly, made that choice. So did Trump. And so did the man who walked into that nightclub and butchered all those people. They are all alike. Only in degree and choice of weapon do they differ.

And as appalled, sickened and repulsed as the massacre leaves me, I am also disgusted by the response from these people in putative positions of responsibility and by the fact that their enablers on the political right will justify, rationalize or otherwise make excuses for these acts of human malpractice. I am tired of chalking this sort of thing up to ideological disagreement.

This is not about ideology. No, this is about the mainstreaming and normalizing of hatred in ways not seen for more than 50 years. It is about how people deserve to be treated, about whether we are a country where the exclusion and even execution of vulnerable peoples are bandied casually about from platforms of authority or whether we are a country with the courage of its convictions.

I don’t expect much from a mass murderer. But you’d like to think you can hope for a little — I don’t know — grace, dignity, statesmanship from a preacher and a would-be president. Is simple decency too much to ask?

God help us, if it is.

Friday saw all sorts of people cross all sorts of cultural lines in order to pay tribute to a man they all somehow recognized as one of their own. It offered shining proof of what human beings can be.

Then came Sunday, and an awful reminder of what we too often are.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)


Photo: A woman throws a bouquet of flowers at a memorial for the victims of the shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, June 14, 2016.   REUTERS/Jim Young 

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

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  1. Andrew Long June 15, 2016

    Well done, thank you for this. What most of us fail to realize is that there are a great number of people in this country who are not strong enough (or simply not intelligent enough to think critically) and are highly influenced by what they hear, particularly when it comes from a pulpit or a candidate that touches their lowest level of fear and hate.

    1. Dominick Vila June 15, 2016

      Great post! That is exactly the reason for Trump’s popularity. His simplistic claims and proposals appeal to those who lack the intellectual capacity to analyze issues. For that segment of our population, slogans such as radical Islam, insinuations blaming President Obama, and our immigration system, for the crimes committed by American born Muslims, and other similar accusations, make perfect sense.
      The sad part is that more people are energized by what Trump said since the Orlando tragedy, than those who listened to Hillary’s objective and well structured speech on this issue. For simpletons, and for those who demand immediate results, complex solutions mean nothing.
      That is, probably, the biggest problem we will be facing in November.

    2. AmFem101 June 15, 2016

      Andrew, your response was also well done. Even with all the terrible things that are going on in this world, I still find it hard to believe, or stomach, that such hatred exists.

      1. Andrew Long June 15, 2016

        I am also in that corner, AmFem – as an ER physician I see daily the results of hatred and uncontrolled anger; every time I see a broken person on my table I am shocked at how another human could have done this. Hopefully we will never allow it to take away the hope and love that is in our hearts.

    3. darkagesbegin June 15, 2016

      It is my thought that a lot of people prefer being told what and how to think over reasoning for themselves. It makes life so much easier.

  2. FireBaron June 15, 2016

    And, ironically for him, “Pastor” Jiminez will be one of those targeted for deportation by Trump should the country be foolish enough to elect him. Put a Z on the end of your last name, and your a Trump Target!

  3. Eleanore Whitaker June 15, 2016

    If Mateem was your typical Lone Wolf, disconnected and disaffected American citizen, his anger and hate was directed first at his parents with whom he had distanced himself and an ex wife upon whom he began to commit his physical violence and a second wife and child he refused to be reasoned with.

    How did we go from a Love Generation to a Hate Generation? And just what is it they all hate so much?

    1. Andrew Long June 15, 2016

      You ask very profound questions, Eleanore, questions we should all ask and not stop asking until we can answer them and then find a way to solve the basis for such hate.

      1. Eleanore Whitaker June 15, 2016

        Andrew, most of my life I have had younger people always around me. Either I worked “with” them or “for” them. It was an interesting opportunity to understand their mentalities. Yet, always it came down to open minds vs. narrow minds. So hate seems to be a mental state in which the physical state compensates with violence.

        Whenever I hear people say they do not believe “hate” is “evil” and that they do not believe “evil” exists, this is an abuse of our greatest freedom: responsibility for what we say and do.

        Every day, we see individuals attempting to reinvent the necessity for responsibility because they simply feel it is too much work to keep an orderly, continuously advancing state of mind. So, they rely on antiquated rhetoric and stereotypes o continue to act and speak irresponsibly to support their suppostions of their “freedom” to balk at society’s need for order and justice.

        1. Andrew Long June 15, 2016

          Well thought out, thank you, Eleanore. I see clearly your point and it makes very good sense. I often hear someone say “that is not the way I was brought up” and I cringe because I know I am dealing with a person who has not thought about who they are or what they believe probably never. Lazy. And we know that a lazy mind is an open invitation for evil to slip in, followed by ignorance and then arrogance. They seem to go together.

          1. Eleanore Whitaker June 15, 2016

            As a Boomer Woman, I have never quite gotten around to being one of the sheep. I believe that there is such a trend in society today for fast cash earned with as little effort as possible and as little time. Not that any of these result in quality time with family.

            I so agree. Laziness these days is paramount to the reason why the nastiest, most hateful individuals are raring to go when they can get in on another hate fest.

    2. Paul Bass June 15, 2016

      I’ve found the kids are alright.

      In general, more open, accepting, and culturally diverse as never before. They appear to be doing better then most of the boomers.

      In fact, to me, it appears the BOOMERS are the ones who went from Love to Hate, within their own lives! Except for a few old style Yellow Dogs….

  4. stsintl June 15, 2016

    Have always respected Leonard Pitts for his Op-Ed columns and his positions on sensitive issues. However, I’m disappointed with the following sentence.
    “Suffice it to say that in the dark hours of Sunday morning, a Muslim man armed with a military-style assault rifle opened fire on Latin Night at a gay nightclub, killing 49 people, wounding dozens more.” Instead of “a Muslim”, all he needed to say was “an American” man armed with a military-style assault rifle opened fire……… If the assassin’s name was Oliver Martin instead of Omar Mateen, would he have written “a Christian man”? As the details have come out, this mass killer was no practicing Muslim and according to the FBI surveillance of him over 10 months, he was not connected to any terrorist groups. Isn’t the problem with dozens of newly acted laws against LGBTQ in Red states twhich have spread this poison of hate?


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