June 01, 2016

Reflections on Orlando Tragedy

I told my friend, a poet, that I didn’t know how to write this piece—I didn’t know how to be eloquent, heartsick, damn mad, and hopeful all at the same time. I still don’t. So, I’ll simply say what I know and what I hope.

I know that the newest, but likely not the last, face of hate is Omar Mateen.  He’s not the face of hate because he professes to be Muslim; most Muslims are as horrified by his crime as are people of other faiths. He’s not the face of hate because he’s an immigrant or foreigner. He’s an American. He’s not the face of hate because he’s heterosexual. He’s apparently bisexual. However, the shock and disgust for this atrocity are not de fined by sexual orientation or gender identity. He’s the face of hate because he walked into a nightclub with an assault rifle and murdered, in cold blood, 49 of our fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters, and irrevocably injured scores more. He’s the face of hate because he’s a terrorist.

I know that this sort of violence and hatred is fueled—no, driven— by example and by inflammatory rhetoric. Parents, politicians, religious fanatics and others who demonize and degrade; who refuse to respect the individual dignity and civil and natural rights of every person.

I know that when modern-day bullies tell marginalized and disaffected members of our society what they want to hear and invoke their rage, their bigotry, and their votes in the crassest and most vituperous language, that none should be surprised at the consequences. Scape-goating worked for Hitler. It still works.

I know that we have too many non-sporting guns in our society. I know that Congress doesn’t have the guts to do anything about it. And, I know that until it does, there will be more Orlandos, Newtowns and San Bernadinos; more vigils; more grieving parents, spouses, siblings and friends.

I know, like Doctor King that “injustice anywhere, is a threat to jus tice everywhere.” And, I know that the tragedy and injustice of Orlando threatens justice everywhere in our Country. Not just in LGBTQ communities, but everywhere for everyone. I know that we must demand change; that we must change- lest, as my friend predicts, our hate “will haunt us until the Empire is smoking rubble.”

Do I hope? Yes. But, it is informed by the experience of years and profession; by the certain knowledge that we forget the lessons of history and tragedy far too soon and too easily.

I hope there will be no more Mateens and Orlandos. I hope we will finally recognize that we are all more alike than different. I hope that this Orlando will finally mean something more than mouthed platitudes, dripping candle wax and flowers—transient memorials to fellow human beings that our hate has forever destroyed.

I hope that the ashes of this Orlando will birth love and respect. At least this time. Please, this time.

JAMES C. NELSON

Montana Supreme Court Justice (Ret.)