I am studying abroad in Cape Town right now, but my heart is in Las Vegas. My mind can’t decide whether to cry or dissociate, pretending that one of the worst mass shootings in the history of the United States did not just happen in my hometown. Maybe as a coping mechanism, but also out of necessity to feel closer to people back home, I can’t help but scroll through Facebook posts to ensure that my friends and family are okay and to read how people are responding to the tragedy. Yet, this only makes dissociation even more impossible and makes both tears and rage bubble up inside of me as I witness the way some non-Las Vegas locals are minimizing or misrepresenting the horrors that have occurred.
While I am scrolling through Facebook, searching for hope and reassurance, I can’t help but read posts discussing how this Las Vegas tragedy is “just another example” of the need for gun policy changes. People are posting how ashamed they are at how divided America has become and how the shooting is proof that the country “cannot be reunited.” Around me, I hear other college students discussing how shocking it was that the shooter was “anti-Trump.” When people ask me directly how I am responding to the events, they hardly listen to my response before quickly changing topic, comparing the shooting to the hurricane in Puerto Rico or to human rights issues in India. Instead of talking about the families who lost people they loved, people are talking about how all the bad events as a collective serve as proof that the world is coming to an end.
As a fellow student at a social justice-oriented liberal arts college, I feel it necessary to admit I completely understand why other Swatties and college friends are posting about and addressing the Las Vegas massacre in this way. It is part of a larger problem that is often too painful to acknowledge. When tragedies such as these occur, it is impossible to figure out how to react to an attack of such magnitude. Therefore, people respond through politically aggressive social media posts. Instead of conceptualizing the lives lost, it seems more productive to use the event as evidence that a political party is wrong or as an example that policies need to be changed.
This makes sense; the view that policy change should happen in light of an event that hurt so many is entirely practical. The problem, however, is when the tragedy itself becomes a political game where support and grief for the victims are lost in the equation.
No one means to discount the humanity behind trauma. Everyone posting about or discussing the Las Vegas shooting is doing so with good intentions. It is because everyone wants to help that I feel the need to point out the impact of taking the humanity out of a tragedy.
At least in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, there are so many more productive and empathetic methods of helping a community than using their suffering for political gain. Instead of posting about your disappointment in society, share a Facebook post letting the families and friends affected know that you stand with them in solidarity. Restrain from comparing two disasters with one another because each community is affected by an event differently and has different methods of coping. Reach out to anyone you can from a community through donations or kind words. Practice active listening to show you truly care about how they are coping with an event and how you may be able to play an active role in supporting them. Only after a community begins a healing process should the political implications be more broadly discussed and acted upon to create a better functioning society. What good is a political policy in ensuring security if society can not first come together to practice the compassion and empathy needed to follow that policy in the first place?
As for my home in Las Vegas, I can say I have never been more proud to be a Las Vegas local. The community is resilient, looking out for one another and practicing empathy in ways often not discussed. The day after the shooting, people waited for hours to donate blood to the victims. When a charity requested 80 air mattresses for family members with friends in the hospital, the donation request was fulfilled within hours. A donation fund website was created almost immediately to support those affected and vigils have been held for the community to stand together in solidarity.
These acts give me faith that the world is not coming to an end and that society is not as divided as we are often made to believe. They remind me that compassion and community values are still a large component of societal ideals. However, a large part of this reassurance stems from remembering during events like these, that the first response must always be unification for healing before politicalization for change.