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Thoughts and prayers not enough to keep us safe

• Mar 28, 2019 at 3:00 PM

Junior Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez drew fire yet again after a social media post following the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, last week. She asked what good your thoughts and prayers are when your church folk are gunned down in their pews.

And I think it’s an honest question.

And I wonder about the ire 140 or so characters caused. Is it because she’s young, female and not white that her words could cause so much uproar? Because I’m completely sure that the president has said things much worse and not had nearly the rapid and complete backlash. And Ocasio-Cortez clarified and apologized, something I’m not sure the president has ever had the humility to do.

Our thoughts and prayers don’t keep us safe is the simple answer. When we have cancer we don’t ask for thoughts and prayers and avoid modern medical intervention. Intervention is the key word, and one that Ocasio-Cortez is so pointedly speaking to the lack of.

Because the simple fact is that 20 6- and 7-year-old kids and six staff members died at Sandy Hook in an event perpetrated by a white American male. Eleven died at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. The fact is that nine adults died when another white American male opened fire on a Bible study in their church; 26 died in Sutherland Springs; 17 in Parkland, Florida; and, in the meantime, elected lawmakers have done nothing to curb, address or reduce the violence.

In the meantime, our fickle and fey attention is turned toward a wall and brown southern “invaders” who have not actually perpetrated any of these crimes.

I wouldn’t suggest that God doesn’t hear or care about our prayers, but I would resist the idea that “praying something away” actually works in real time. It if did work, there wouldn’t be cancer, we wouldn’t still be fighting a war in the Middle East, that person who was so beloved would have been divinely delivered, and all dogs would go to heaven.

Ocasio-Cortez only said out loud and in a public forum what a majority of Americans are thinking about the continued gun violence in America, and she used her platform to speak truth to the powerful gun lobby and NRA supporters. In 1996, the Dunblane Massacre occurred in Scotland; a man walked into a classroom and killed 16 students and a teacher. Not a year later, most guns were banned in the UK. Australia banned guns in 1996 following the Port Arthur Massacre. After a mass shooting in 2002, Germany mandated that anyone under the age of 25 applying for a gun license must also undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

These countries report the lowest gun-related deaths in the world, next to Japan. The prime minister of New Zealand plans to change guns laws after the Christchurch massacre because that is what reasonable people do. When something is killing your people, you don’t sit down and offer thoughts and prayers — you move, you do something, you try to mitigate the risk.

And here we sit with our social media thoughts and prayers. Our praying hands emojis and our bleeding-for-a-second hearts.

Ocasio-Cortez issued an indictment of our apathy, of our greed for self-gratification at the cost of lives and families that will not ever be the same. And she was right. And she doesn’t need to apologize for the same straight talk her male counterparts are praised for.

Our thoughts and prayers won’t bring back the little children lost at Sandy Hook. It will not ease the grief of parents who had to return to that school to clean out lockers, collect backpacks, coats, math sheets and artwork.

Our actions can determine that such a massacre is made more difficult, that weapons made only to maim and kill rapidly cannot ever be used against our own praying citizens and students again.

I believe in grace, I believe in comfort and healing, I believe in the glorious light that came into the world and resides with us even now. I know that prayers work wonders, but they will not end the epidemic of gun violence in this nation anymore than they will bring about world peace. We cannot remain on our knees when we are fully equipped and created to go out and do something.

Ocasio-Cortez is not, I believe, heartless. Rather, she’s sick of the violence, sick of the fear, sick of the idea that we as parents can’t know that our kids will return to us after that harried morning drop-off routine. And she’s calling on us to change that, to stand up and speak truth to power, to demand that our children, that we, are safe in our schools and churches and synagogues. She’s encouraging us to say “amen” and to go out and do the work that will bring forth actual justice.

There was not justice for the parents of the students who died in school shootings, there wasn’t justice for the Bible study or the synagogue. A lengthy legal proceeding and tossing of someone into a prison cell isn’t justice. Sometimes justice looks like protecting the most vulnerable among us even at great cost to ourselves. Sometimes it looks like giving up the things we believe belong to us to keep all of our children safe.

— By Alicia Hager, Tribune community columnist

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