Witness Post: We are Umpqua!

Yet again, another mass murder, as if the country could bear the weight of endless slaughter. Echoing the French people who declared after the killings at Charlie Hebdo, “We are Charlie,” those of us in Oregon are chanting, “We are Umpqua!”


All schools in this country know the pain of loss: the sound of the gun recoil is fresh in our minds. In Oregon we need only look back a few years to the shooting at Reynolds High School. The shock and horror of such events don’t go away. Our memories of the perpetrators get fuzzy with time, while clarity of collective anger stays fresh in our mind’s eye.

What do we do? How can we stop the murders? How can we make a difference? What ever the reaction is, it must be a collective reply of intolerance even in the most tolerant of states. The time to change the calculus is now, the cause is vital. The cry of the people must be resolute, even for members of Ducks’ Unlimited and the NRA. We need to confront the gun lobby and shame them into some basic steps to stop the flow of weapons to people who are unstable.

With anger rising to the surface, it is simple to lash out at the assassin. The issues though are deeper and more nuanced. Governor Brown, President Obama, Mayor Hales, and all of the reverends and pastors and rabbis have taken the bully pulpits and decried the shame of it all, the tragic loss of life.

Hales at vigil

Mayor Charlie Hales with fellow vigil attendees in Portland

Perhaps the most compelling writing about the Umpqua tragedy, however, did not come from the politicians and pundits. It came from Maia Abbruzzese, a 16 year old student from Lincoln High School in Portland. She put her feelings and those of many bystanders as follows:

Poet Maia Abbruzzese:

“This destruction isn’t the way things have to be”

America, we are under attack
as guns burst in our classrooms
the federal government signs the Patriot Act
we are willing to spend billions of dollars
protecting ourselves against foreign threats
but America, how can we begin to forget
the lives lost at our own triggers?
It’s 1999 and at Columbine High School
two students open fire on their peers
the sound of those bullets ripping the air
in their way
must have been the most terrifying last sound
to hear
And while I can only imagine
what it would be like to live my last moments
enslaved within the grasp
of a gun breathing death
I don’t have to imagine anymore
because mass violence is happening next door
I go to sleep making sense of
popping sounds blaring outside
I go to sleep every night
remembering the time
my little brother was playing in a park
dribbling his basketball
to the rhythm of three gunshots
because it could’ve been him
he could’ve been one more body
in the count
one more statistic in our textbooks
Because America,
2015 will go down in our records as a year
with more mass shootings
than days so far
we are under siege
spilling our dollars
protecting against Muslim extremists
when we hear gun barrels
emptying themselves into our schools
into our communities
into our country
And we continue to preach freedom
but in a country
with 89 guns per one hundred people
Freedom is not our reality
because we live under the crushing system
that finds going to the funeral of a child
more socially acceptable
than sending a mentally ill potential shooter
into therapy
This destruction is our reality
this destruction is our status quo
but this destruction isn’t the way things
have to be
We need to recognize the problem
of domestic terrorists running this country
we need to strengthen regulations
on the hands that touch guns
we need to put child-safe padlocks
on every gun cabinet
we need to provide therapy for violent kids
so parents of fallen children do not have to
live another day regretting
that they sent their child
to school
This is a problem we can no longer ignore
because we are under attack
and this time,
the attacker
is us

Ms. Abbruzzese says it better than I could.

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