US Marine teaches a young boy how to fire a grenade launcher at LA Fleet Week, an event celebrating armed services. Just four days after the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, the event allowed visitors to play with military guns. Photo credit: Shutterstock?Elliott Cowand Jr

Carnage from continued mass shootings repurposed the meaning of Memorial Day

4 mins read

Memorial Day is a federal holiday mourning military persons who have died while serving in the U.S. armed forces. This past observance expanded to those whose lives have been taken through the surge of gun violence, but American gun culture still reigns. 

The funeral of 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield was a somber ceremony at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo, N.Y. The oldest victim of killer, Payton Gendron, who shot mostly senior citizens at a Tops supermarket on May 4, Whitfield’s death is one of 33 burials from three mass shootings in the last two weeks.

“We’re not just hurting, we’re angry, we’re mad, this shouldn’t have happened,” Garnell Whitfield Jr., a former fire commissioner for Buffalo said at a press conference prior to his mother’s burial. Mrs. Whitfield decided to make a pit stop for lunch after visiting her husband, Garnell Whitfield Sr., at a nursing home. She was one of 10 to be mowed down by Gendron. The former commissioner had to tell his father about the gruesome way the matriarch of the family died. 

Whitfield furthered his angst. “We do our best to be good citizens, to be good people. We believe in god. We trust him. We treat people with decency, we love even our enemies. And you expect us to keep doing this over and over again. Over and over again. Forgive and forget. While the people we elect and trust in offices around this country do their best not to protect us, not to consider us equal, not to love us back. What are we supposed to do with all of this anger, with all of this pain?”

For the town of Uvalde, Texas, a population with about 15,000 residents, the agony is not even a week old. “You spend your life trying to keep them healthy and to watch these kids grow,” John Preddy, a family practitioner who delivered two of the 19 children killed in the shooting massacre committed by Salvador Rolando Ramos on May 26, told AP News. “He took away in a matter of seconds what their mothers and their fathers and their grandparents and I and everyone has done to try to make their lives good and make them healthy and move them ahead and make them successful in the world. That literally got snuffed out in a matter of seconds.”

Community members are still attempting to get answers for local law enforcement leadership’s decision to delay police from storming into the building for upwards of 90 minutes, as Ramos shot Robb Elementary School students and two teachers. Like Buffalo, the Uvalde site where lives were taken have been made into ad hoc altars. The grounds are decorated with flowers, candles, Christian crosses and messages of prayers, providing a place of solemnity as mourners visit.

The NAACP organization implored in an Instagram post. “People are dying. Kids are dying. Family members are dying. Blood-stained empty chairs are being left behind.”

While Vice President Kamala Harris deemed the Buffalo shooting as part of “an epidemic of hate,” President Joe Biden asked “how many scores of little children who witnessed what happened, see their friends die as if they’re on a battlefield” in recent remarks on the killing in Uvalde.

Community members at the Robb Elementary School memorial pray, visit, and leave tokens of affection at the crosses dedicated to the victims of the shooting. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Jinitzail Hernandez

The rash of recent killings has shifted some of the focus this Memorial Day for the country to take a deeper dive in the surge of gun violence, and America’s overall gun culture. As multiple celebrations carved out time to grieve for the latest in mass shootings, others pushed for enhanced gun reform legislation. The AFT will be protesting in the form of a vigil in front of Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-PA) on Tuesday. The senator is a self-described “champion of the second Amendment” who agrees that legislation should introduce background checks filtering out “violent criminals, the dangerously mentally ill” from purchasing firearms; he repeatedly rejects many bills introducing tighter gun laws. 

While some are still asking how America became so violent, this weekend showed just how pervasive shootings occur. Reports say over 130 were shot and killed this weekend. From Philadelphia to Detroit, the list of gun clapping is an all-too familiar news clip. For decades, urban African American and Latino communities have dealt with gun violence; especially at the height of drug and gang wars in urban America. So much so, the United Nations listed gun violence as disproportionately affecting African Americans. 

According to a 2014 UN commission, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, they concluded that the refusal to usher in better gun law legislation to address the proliferation of gun related deaths is a severe exhibition of racial discrimination. However, much of those concerns fell on deaf ears.

On the other hand, gun sales remain higher than pre-pandemic numbers. It is predicted that this year’s gun sales will reach 9 million soon. This March alone, the FBI processed 3,081,724 national criminal background checks. Whereas millions expressed outrage at the recent violent events, this weekend’s NRA convention saw a lot of supporters, even though attendance numbers dipped. The low numbers may also be attributed to COVID-19 infection concerns.

Even at Memorial Day gatherings for service members, firearms were celebrated. At LA Fleet Week, an annual event that happens during the holiday, children were allowed to play with real military guns. It is an unsavory fact, but gun culture intertwines itself in American culture. The Second Amendment right for citizens to keep and bear arms was a direct response to British colonial authorities who forbade its settlers from having firearms outside of military duty. Today, the metamorphosis has resulted in debates on if schools should be built with bulletproof glass or more resources directed towards citizens with mental health issues as a way to curb gun violence.

What is clear. More action will be taken. March For Our Lives is just one organization that is tired of the political volley. In preparation for a June 11 demonstration, they posted on Twitter. “Our friends and siblings are being shot and killed. It’s time to mobilize.” Meanwhile, more funerals of gun violence victims will take place these next weeks.

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

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