A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: As nation’s mass shootings continue, it’s time to raise your hand and be counted

Five years ago at a nightclub in Orlando called Pulse, a gunman slaughtered forty-nine and injured at least fifty-three others in a shooting spree apparently aimed at gays. Pulse was celebrating Latin Night on June 12, 2015. The popular hangout was thronged with patrons of all stripes, attracted by great music, impressive drag shows, and three dance floors.

As the clock edged toward 2 a.m. and last call, the D.J. on the club patio began to spin reggae tunes to wind things down. The lively scene was interrupted by one loud pop, and then another and another. A horrifying realization set in; they were under fire. Panic took hold. People tried to flee. Bullets tore into walls and shredded plaster. Patrons tried to hide in bathrooms, corners, any place that might offer refuge. Nevertheless, carnage ensued.

(From Getty free images)

Frantic 911 calls flooded the local police and the automatic gunfire did not let up. After taking hostages and holding off law officers for three hours, the lone gunman and his automatic weapon were silenced in a police shootout.

With the five-year anniversary of the tragedy coming up, Orlando is observing Remembrance Week. Co-founder of Pulse and now CEO of onePULSE Foundation, Barbara Poma describes the events as “a sort of mini Pride festival.”

A full week of events is planned, including an art show, various commemorations and vigils, and a 4.9K Rainbow Run, commemorating the 49 slain. (When the terrorist is added to the total, the number dead comes to fifty.)

Pulse is ranked as the second most deadly mass shooting in U.S. history. Sixteen months later, on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, another gunman sprayed a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, with deadly fire from an automatic weapon. Fifty-eight people were killed in that rampage, and almost 700 injured.

Mass shootings persist, a terrifying and shameful aspect of American culture and, if a recent California judge’s ruling stands, it seems inevitable that current records will be broken. Judge Roger T. Benitez struck down California’s ban on assault weapons as unconstitutional on grounds that, according to an article on the CBS news site, “the state’s definition of illegal military-style rifles unlawfully deprives law-abiding Californians of weapons commonwealth allowed in most other states and by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

In his ruling, the judge likened the AR-15 rifle, a weapon of choice in many mass shootings, as an ideal weapon.

“Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” he wrote in last Friday’s decision.

He went on to praise the AR-15 as a rifle that should be formally protected by the law for its “militia readiness.”

The ruling is stayed for 30 days, and California Attorney General Rob Bonta said the state will appeal. “Today’s decision is fundamentally flawed,” he said in a news release.

While waiting to discover the outcome, poetry seems to be my best response. Please see my poem below, written the day after Pulse, for further insight.

For native American warriors, counting coup was a way to demonstrate bravery in war.
Although killing was a part of war, the greater act of courage was to get close enough to touch the enemy.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Counting Coup

On this, the day after,
we look back in anger
fists clenched
choking on prayers
and platitudes
the best we can do

in the face
of an automatic
assault weapon.
This, the best
I can do,
is a poem

without rainbows
or rhyme
an old impulse
to heal the wound
with image
and metaphor

Eight stanzas
tell the story:
Early Sunday
fifty died
fifty-three injured
at Pulse a disco bar

in Orlando.
A man twenty-nine
armed with an
AR-15 and
a smaller hand gun
played God

because he once
saw two men
kissing. And then
the worst (up ‘til then)
mass shooting
in U.S. history.

When law enforcement
arrived and finally
the kill space
they slipped in
pools of gore,

bodies piled
like unfolded
laundry. Blood
If anyone’s alive
they called

to survivors,
If anyone’s alive
please raise
your hand.
That’s what they said
Please raise your hand.

So begins the day after.
We have graduated
to a new level of
mass murder.
If anyone’s alive
please raise your hand.

You, you, and yes
you. Please raise
your hands.
Raise them.
Your hands.
Raise them.

And be counted.

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