Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Our turn

(Mensana, the monthly newsletter of the local chapter of Mensa, usually doesn't discuss the events of the day in its pages. However, we thought it was necessary to address the mass shootings that took place in Buffalo earlier this month. For better or worse, I volunteered to come up with something. Maybe you'll like it.)

It was difficult to escape the aftermath of the mass shootings in Buffalo on Saturday, May 14. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. 

After a difficult week for everyone in our area, my wife and I drove to a social event with friends and others in Northern New Jersey. Usually when word gets out at such functions that we’re from Buffalo, someone says something clever like “Has the snow melted up there yet?” But this time the questions were different - numerous and serious. People wanted to know how close we were to the site of the incident, and how we and others in this part of the world reacted to it. That was no different from what happened earlier in the week, when people from various parts of our lives checked in. We even heard from a friend in Perth, Australia, which is as far as you can go from Buffalo and still be on land. 

Like everyone else in Western New York, my reaction was shock, but not surprise. There are too many shootings like this one in America, of course, because one is too many. But every so often, one pops up in another city or town. One friend of mine works at Virginia Tech University, and spent a terror-filled day there. Another friend of mine lived up a hill from the supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, that saw a similar attack. These incidents arrive like, well, a virus – in unexpected places without warning. It was, simply enough, our turn. 

On the way back, we drove past the town of Conklin, which is located on Interstate 81 south of Binghamton near the Pennsylvania border. It used to be the home of the Buffalo shooter, who won’t be identified so he doesn’t receive any publicity, even here. As we drove back to Buffalo, it was easy to imagine the assailant driving that same route over the course of nearly four hours, intent on returning to a Buffalo neighborhood that he previously scouted for a high percentage of African American citizens. 

No one goes on that sort of drive lightly. Yet this 18-year-old managed to drive that distance while staying angry enough to complete his horrible mission. Where did all of the hate that fueled that drive come from? Certainly none of the shoppers in Tops that peaceful Saturday afternoon did anything to him, so we’ll never be able to understand his motivation. That means we’ll never be able to put this completely behind us, even when we just stop at a store for a gallon of milk and some bananas. 

We have argued as a society over the causes of such actions, and what we should be doing to try to prevent them. It’s fair to say, though, that the current approach isn’t working. Maybe we need to start by figuring out why people hate others who are merely different from themselves. 

In the meantime, we’ll be waiting for the next incident. Whose turn will it be then?

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