Is it safe anywhere anymore?
That’s the question we keep asking ourselves and each other. No place seems to offer a haven from all this craziness, and the massacre in Las Vegas has only helped to underscore that growing unease.
Over the past few days I’ve heard several people — regular, even-keeled men and women — wonder aloud about attending a public event, shopping at a crowded mall, strolling through a fall festival. Every venue seems to double as a potential killing field. Instead of looking at our common spaces as places to bring a community together, we’re now training a wary eye at potential escape routes. Suddenly horrific is all too possible.
An acquaintance who expects out-of-town visitors expressed the minor doubt some of us have already entertained. “I wonder how safe Lincoln Road is now,” she said. “How do I know some psychopath isn’t lurking at one of the cafes?”
Normally I would qualify these musings as an illogical fear, the result of an overactive imagination that has internalized too many TV crime shows. Now … not so much. For that matter, how do we know the psychopath will limit himself or herself to an open-air promenade? Why not the neighborhood school? The mall during Christmas rush? A college football game? A grocery store the day before Thanksgiving? After all, the carnage we’ve experienced doesn’t discriminate. It’s an equal opportunity scythe, blind to age, race, religion, gender.
Incidents from the past five years grimly illustrate how the very places that represent the best of us also have become the most ghastly targets. Let’s start with schools and colleges, where we go to acquire knowledge and elevate debate. In April 2012, a 43-year-old former student, who was later found to suffer from paranoid schizophrenia, killed seven people and wounded three at Oikos University in Oakland, California. Eight months later, in Newtown, Connecticut, 20-year-old Adam Lanza used a semi-automatic rifle to massacre 20 first-graders and six adult staff members, before killing himself.
In May 2014, community college student Elliot Rodger killed six people and wounded 13 in shooting and stabbing attacks near a University of California campus. And in October 2015, a 26-year-old murdered 10 people and wounded seven at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
Churches and temples don’t provide refuge, either. In Wisconsin, a gunman killed six worshipers at a Sikh Temple before taking his own life in 2012, and in June 2015 Dylan Roof executed nine African-American church members inside Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. During Bible study.
Add parties, concerts, movie theaters and nightclubs to the terror list. In 2012, James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 70 in a Colorado movie theater, and three years later a married couple living in California who had sworn allegiance to ISIS killed 14 during an office holiday party. In June 2016, Omar Mateen slaughtered 49 people and wounded 58 at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando. Until the Las Vegas bloodbath at a country music concert, the Orlando shooting qualified as the worst mass shooting in the nation by a single gunman.
Other examples of gruesome butchery are plentiful, inspired by hate, stoked by mental illness, encouraged by a warped hope for instant fame. While guns are the weapon of choice, a vehicle can be deadly too. Remember the man accused of driving into a crowd in Charlottesville, killing one and injuring 19?
Some scoff at our recent handwringing. They claim that safety is an illusion, security a figment of our imagination. Life is not only unfair, it’s also treacherous. I admit it’s hard to contradict such pessimism when the news has become a drumbeat of malevolence.
Yet, this little flame of defiant hope continues to flicker inside me, a rebellious streak that refuses to cede to the wicked. If we huddle in the privacy of our homes, unwilling to connect, reluctant to associate with others, we might as well surrender to a dystopian future. We can’t.
So stroll the mall. Dance at a concert. Play at a park and pray at a church or temple. Good, I believe, will always be more powerful than evil.