Apathy to Empathy
January 9 : Evanston, IL.
January 15: Indianapolis, IN.
February 2: Muskogee, OK.
March 13: Indianapolis, IN.
March 16: Atlanta, GA.
March 22: Boulder, CO.
March 28: Essex, MD.
March 31: Orange, CA.
April 3: Allen, TX.
April 7: Rock Hill, SC.
April 15: Indianapolis, IN.
Evanston, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Boulder. These are just a few of the locations where mass shootings occurred this year. What’s more staggering? According to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), there have been 157 mass shootings in 2021 alone. With more than 14,000 Americans killed by guns just in the four months of 2021, the damage is irreparable.
It’s no secret that the US has a major problem with gun violence, and President Biden has announced plans to crack down on lax gun background checks and initiate more firearm legislation. A statement from the Biden-Harris administration said that “cities across the country are in the midst of a historic spike in homicides, violence that disproportionately impacts Black and brown Americans. The President is committed to taking action to reduce all forms of gun violence – community violence, mass shootings, domestic violence, and suicide by firearm.” Legislative change is the first step to changing the amount of gun violence we see in our country, but it’s not the only part of the solution. Our attitude toward gun-violence needs to change as well.
Since March of 2020, we’ve experienced the effects of the pandemic, from personal loss, to the feeling of isolation after months of quarantine. Every day during this past year, we’ve surfed Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat and seen news report after news report capturing overrun hospitals, recent outbreaks, and an ever-rising death toll. It seemed like too much to handle then, and it seems like too much to handle now.
Now, as we finally emerge from our homes and try to head back out into the word, add on the issue of mass shootings.
And think, too, about other gun deaths even in just the past few weeks: the repetitions of police-violence toward the black community. Moments after the verdict on the Derek Chauvin trial, we learned that 16 year old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by the police in Columbus, Ohio. It seems like the violence never ends.
A side effect to months of loss is to become hardened toward tragedy. It’s often easier to ignore the world and disappear into a phone, a game, or a food. From a psychological standpoint, avoidance is just one of many coping mechanisms that we may use to escape or ignore our circumstances, especially ones that bring painful feelings and memories. This avoidance could look like avoiding your emotions toward gun-violence, and while it may work for now, the long-term effects are grave.
After experiencing so much pain and anxiety from the pandemic, we allow ourselves to become apathetic towards new instances of violence in order to avoid feeling worse about our own situations. But that is the worst possible choice to make.
The moment we choose apathy over empathy, we choose to distance ourselves emotionally. A Holocaust survivor who wrote about the horrifying things he experienced, Elie Wiesel famously said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
Have we become indifferent to even one innocent person dying? With shootings occurring so frequently, have we just decided to accept that this is the way things are going to be in America from now on?
If not, how do we solve this epidemic of apathy? The answer is simple; we must allow ourselves to feel the gravity of loss, the heat of anger, and channel those emotions into action. This could look like more actively raising awareness about gun violence through social media platforms, calling our elected representatives in Springfield and in Washington, D.C., signing petitions in support of firearm restrictions, or even attending a rally against gun-violence.
Though the issue of gun violence seems far away, it’s much closer than we realize. We live in Chicago’s backyard, and in reality, we are only a few miles away from places where gun-violence is an everyday threat that keeps families in constant fear there, too. The bottom line is this: gun violence is too close and too big an issue to be ignored.
Another aspect to changing violence is understanding the impact of racism. In the report “A Public Health Crisis Decades in the Making” published by the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, “Black males are disproportionately impacted and have by far the highest rate of gun death, nearly twice as high (1.8x) as the second-highest (and also disproportional) rate of gun death among American Indian/Alaska Native males. Continuing in order descending by rate are White, Latino/Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islanders. Black males were more than twice as likely to die by firearms than White males in 2019.” Clearly, the impact of gun violence is disproportionate. This is something that must be fought against too. For those of you who, like me, are white, understand that it is a white privilege to not have to worry about gun violence. So while we fight against gun violence, fight with equal force for justice and equality.
Unless we change the way we react to violence, the violence is not going to change. We may not be congressmen, but by simply letting the seriousness of the issue penetrate your emotional walls we can make a difference in changing legislation and changing our society into a more compassionate community.