Healthcare workers across Pennsylvania mourn with friends and family in Dayton and El Paso, communities ripped open by dual mass shootings.
We know that in two unrelated attacks separated by a few hours, a young man entered a Texas Walmart with an assault rifle, killing twenty and injuring at least twenty-six, and not long after a gunman killed nine people and wounded twenty-seven outside a bar in Ohio
Since the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, our country has experienced 2,191 mass shootings. Already this year, there have been 251 mass shootings, more mass shootings than days so far in 2019. The United States is the only developed country in the world that experiences such a contagion, known as stochastic terrorism: individually unpredictable mass shooting events connected in a predictable, reiterating pattern through mass media and social media.
As healthcare workers, we share a mission to care for our communities. We look after people in need, we treat the symptoms, and we take on the underlying causes of disease.
Now, we are called to respond to a rapidly spreading illness, mass shootings that are eating away at our society.
Minutes before the shooter opened fire in the El Paso Walmart, a manifesto of anti-immigrant white power ideology appeared online. Like the murderer of eleven Jews at prayer in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last year, the El Paso gunman planned and articulated his violence as a defense of whiteness against race mixing and immigrant invasion.
President Donald Trump bears unique responsibility for raising up this kind of hate. No other President in modern times has used the bully pulpit of the Oval Office to echo white power messages.
Gun violence has a direct bearing on declining life expectancies for working class people in the United States. White, black, and brown families all suffer when they lose loved ones in shootings. Yet in rallies and social media messages, President Trump continues to blame people of color and immigrants for our problems. At a time when our communities cry out for healing, President Trump is betting on racial hatred and division to drive us apart so he and his wealthy supporters can continue to enjoy privilege and power.
Too many politicians are busy looking for ways to deny the underlying reality of mass shooting contagion. It is true that our country needs investment in mental health care. However, the common causal link between mass shooting is not mental illness. Alongside white power ideology, the fundamental problem is easy, barely regulated access to automatic weapons. The time for gun safety legislation is long overdue. Yet the majority of the US Senate, under the leadership of Senator Mitch McConnell (R – KY), refuse to bring up gun safety legislation for debate. Senator McConnell offers prayers and praise for law enforcement officers, but he won’t do anything to stem the tide of mass shootings or challenge the President’s dangerous political messages.
To overcome an epidemic, society needs a dynamic, coordinated, and comprehensive response. The contagion of white power violence and mass shootings demands the same determined action. Healthcare workers will play their part, not only by caring for those who are hurt, but by uniting across our diverse communities to change our politics. It’s time to organize and demand a government that will value all our families, white, black, and brown, and that will act decisively to make us safe.
Matthew W. Yarnell
President, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania