Under U.S. capitalist culture, mass shootings like Uvalde are becoming normalized
Cat Perez lays flowers at a memorial at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Monday, May 30, 2022, to honor the victims killed in last week's school shooting. Photographs of the victims, from left, show Layla Salazar, McKenna Lee Elrod, Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, and Nevaeh Alyssa Bravo. | Jae C. Hong / AP

I’m sick of waking up to tragedies.

Beijing is 13 hours ahead of U.S. Central Time, so my Wednesday hadn’t even started when word of a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas—my home state, and a town not much smaller than the one where I grew up—had spread far and wide on social media.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in what I did after learning of this ghastly crime: I called my mother.  She hadn’t heard. So I had the unfortunate task of breaking the news.

Once she could process the enormity of the loss—19 children and two teachers, gone forever—she only had one question, “Why?” That’s something we all must have asked ourselves over the last week.

I won’t pretend I have a one-size-fits-all answer. What honest person could? But what I am interested in is the why of “why”; how it is we’ve been in so many of these situations, demanded a change, and yet seen nothing of consequence happen.

Considering the broader context, this is understandable. Uvalde joins a long list of locales in the U.S. rocked by gun violence: Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Parkland, Orlando, Aurora, Buffalo, and Virginia Tech. Those are some of the more heinous incidents from the recent past, but they barely scratch the surface. So far this year over 200 mass shootings have taken place, more than one per day in a year that isn’t half over yet. In the week since the massacre in Uvalde, at least eight more have been reported.

What’s to blame for this epidemic of carnage? That’s another “why” on everyone’s mind.

But there are others still. Investigations into local law enforcement’s response to the shooting have reignited debate on the nature of policing in the U.S. A heavily militarized Uvalde Police Department—itself the product of bloated defense budgets that put surplus war materiel in the hands of police across the country—stood by for over an hour while students and faculty were trapped inside.

Several parents on the scene, desperate to save their children, were threatened with arrest by officers and federal marshals. Some were pepper sprayed, tasered, and handcuffed. In the aftermath, many have rightly wondered how it is cops in the U.S. so quickly turn to deadly force against unarmed Black men but twiddle their thumbs when children are dying.

Yet another “why” in search of an answer, and the usual song-and-dance put on by the press and politicians in the wake of these barbarities assuages no one. The stunning speed with which death has woven itself into the fabric of everyday life in the U.S. has made this into a cyclical, repetitive process. We ask “why,” and have to move on when no worthwhile reply is forthcoming. The stuff of nightmares, incorporated into our consciousness without a passing glance.

This sick phenomenon is not something I observe lightly, or as a means of rhetorical points-scoring. Some may think I delight in commenting on the horrors that befall ordinary people in the U.S. That I luxuriate in the despair of those trapped in the latticework of an uncaring system. That incalculable, utterly preventable disaster is mere grist for the propaganda mill, a chance to wag the finger and say “I told you so.”

These people are morons.

If I appear harsh on my homeland, it’s because so many suffer there—and everywhere!—despite a material abundance that could secure a decent life for everyone.

I would love nothing more than to look upon my country and see a place where no child goes to bed hungry, where no one sleeps without a roof over their head or has to wonder whether today is the day they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and everything ends. Where billions are spent on peace instead of war. Where leaders talk about fairness, justice, and equality and actually mean it.

But that’s not how things are, despite endless rhetoric from corrupt politicians and the capitalists who trade them like Pokémon cards. Meaningful measures against the pandemic, gun violence, and imperialist war are desired by a vast majority of the populace, yet this “democratic” country that inveighs against its enemies as a self-appointed defender of human rights does nothing to make those desires a reality.

These are the wages of capitalist “democracy”—indifference if defense contractors, weapons manufacturers, or hedge funders would suffer even the mildest of consequences; swift, brutal action if it means further deprivation for workers, particularly women or racially-oppressed groups. True democracy, people’s democracy, would put society’s needs above all else and solve the most pressing problems first to ensure a stable and prosperous future for all. Any supposedly democratic processes which cannot perform this most basic of tasks are little more than smoke and mirrors.

To avoid the reckoning that would surely ensue if enough people realized this, atrocities like Uvalde are subsumed into daily life, the useless mantra of “thoughts and prayers” made part of the routine. In the immediate moment there is shock and disgust, but those not directly affected soon let other concerns take hold. It’s not their fault, it’s by design; when someone only has time and energy to focus on getting through the day, they can’t wonder how and why things have gotten so bad.

But the feeling persists, the notion something just isn’t right. We’re right to feel it, and we shouldn’t be mentally filing it away, allowing these atrocities to become one entry among many. I stand against the normalization of mass death because I believe the people, were they not fed a steady diet of media that might as well shout “THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE” right in their faces, would have united to forge their own destiny long ago.

There will come a time when the “whys” get too loud to ignore, when prevarications no longer satisfy. For me, and many others, that day can’t come soon enough.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Ian Goodrum
Ian Goodrum

Ian Goodrum is a writer and digital editor for China Daily in Beijing, China.