Do you remember the last time you had a good, body moving cry? I’m not talking about the Olivia Pope lip quivering half cry but the ugly kind where you struggle to catch your breath, slumped over unable to carry your own weight, let alone anyone else’s. I’m talking about the kind of cry where your vision is nonexistent and your nose runs but you don’t care.
And I still can’t cry despite horrific news that 49 people in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub were killed early Sunday morning and 53 were shot by Omar Mateen, a Florida man armed with an AR-15-style rifle, who himself was killed by police. It was the most deadly mass shooting in U.S. history. My tears are contained behind a thick, far reaching wall of numbness, exhaustion and anger.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the ingredients for a good cry are there. Black and Brown folks who look like me and love like me – my brothers, sisters, the in-betweens and the unknowns – are being systematically targeted for violence daily by family, strangers and policymakers.
I am angry initial reports failed to mention Mateen not only targeted the gay community but also specifically attacked Pulse on a night purposely carved out for Latino communities featuring two Puerto Rican trans women as headlining performers. While some might view this as inconsequential, the inherent nature of violence means it does not impact us all equally.
In our collective grief, we cannot disconnect the violence experienced by LGBT people from that experienced by people of color. To do so renders those of us living at such a violent intersection invisible. According to a 2014 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs report 80 percent of LGBT and HIV-affected homicide victims in 2014 were people of color. The majority of homicide victims (60 percent) were Black and 15 percent of homicide victims were Latino. More than half (55 percent) of victims were transgender women, while 50 percent of homicide victims were transgender women of color.
I am angry this incident will be used to push a conservative agenda of xenophobia and intensify anti-Muslim sentiment because Mateen was Muslim, an American citizen whose parents came from Afghanistan. This will be used to further irresponsible reporting using a few seconds of a phone call and lazy statements from law enforcement as definitive proof. We don’t have to look overseas to explain extremist violence in the United States. As the New York Times reports, violence inspired by Islamic extremism has accounted for “50 fatalities over the past 13 1/2 years” whereas “right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.”
I am angry this will bring new attention to the call for hate crimes legislation, despite evidence these laws do nothing but further state surveillance, the disproportionate representation of people of color in prisons and financial incentives for for-profit prisons. Instead of focusing on and fueling a prison system intent on punishment and profit, we should be diverting our efforts to resources that build sustainable, working community centered alternatives to violence that shifts culture and beliefs
I am angry the violent rhetoric and beliefs that build up to moments like this may once again go unchallenged, failing to acknowledge this was an act fueled by the very same thoughts and biases of our policymakers, friends and family. These thoughts make it okay to suggest little trans girls and boys should be pepper sprayed for using the bathroom that affirms their gender or LGBT people should be denied the ability to donate blood, a resource so desperately needed and always lacking in moments of tragedy, under an archaic policy-based in anti-gay and trans bigotry, and sexual conservatism. These beliefs prompted someone to set an explosive in a Target bathroom, and lets others watch as a trans woman of color is brutalized in public while riding the train and allows 11 states to sue the federal government because they don’t want to make space for the existence of trans and gender non-conforming people.
But above all, I am angry that in this moment of tragedy, like all moments of tragedy, we come face to face with the false notion of safety. That, for many of us, we never exist in public unaware of our surroundings, hypervigilant and ready to react, fight or flee.
For many living in this country, we don’t get to go out and have a carefree evening of dancing and drinking with friends. We can’t display our love for one another in public. We can’t be carefree Black children playing with toy guns outside. We can’t run to the store at night for snacks with our hoodies up. We can’t seek out help from strangers by knocking on unknown doors. We can’t sleep peacefully on our grandmother’s couches or defend our homes from invasion. We can’t meet in prayer. We can’t pee in public or seek medical assistance from the doctor without divulging unnecessary details about our lives and bodies. We can’t assert our rights when interacting with police or question their actions. We can’t protest. We can’t exist.
This is but one act in a long history of violence against gay and trans communities. These are individual moments. There are far too many hands on the trigger, the pen, the podium to count.
We find ourselves sitting in a moment of great sadness and anger, one where the tears won’t come and we’re bursting. But I think we’re all ready to cry. We’re ready to be open and transformed by the love we’ve been denied for so long. We are ready to know justice and liberation do not necessitate perfection but a willingness to move forward with no other certainty than we deserve more than this. We have to be better than this.
Cortez Wright is a Ms. Foundation Public Voices Fellow based in Atlanta.