Saturday, June 18, 2016

An Adirondack Response To The Orlando Massacre

TMDA Logo NewAll of us reel in horror at the violence in Orlando, Florida on Sunday.  As Coordinator for the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council I feel it important to respond to this tragedy, just as I feel it important to respond as a human being.  In either capacity I struggle to offer any kind of worthy reaction except to express solidarity with the victims and with all who suffer from the conditions that foster the kind of hate and anger we saw unleashed.

Though it is hard to find meaningful words, I think I know the right question to ask.  Where do we go from here?  How does our society move towards a destination where senseless mass killings, where violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, recedes into history?  Many will say that such a future is unimaginable, that there will always be hatred and bitter, alienated individuals capable of acting with insane malice.  To those doubters I ask how such a future can be more unimaginable than what took place Sunday in Orlando.

Perhaps there is no accounting for lunacy.  But there is an accounting for the social, cultural, racial, sexual, gender and class divisions that daily express themselves in this country.  There is an accounting for the willful ignorance we have of each other, for the silos we have become so adept at fashioning about us.  To dismiss Orlando as the result of lunacy alone is a moral abdication.

This must be said: whatever the complexities and causative forces that fed the motives of the shooter and whatever the dimensions that link this to terrorism, the deadliest mass shooting in American history was a willful assault against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.  We cannot ignore this terrible fact.  The New York Times reminds us in an article this week that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are by far the most likely targets of hate crimes in America.  We cannot ask why Orlando happened without asking why this is true.  The questions are related.  Our answers, the responses that might guide us towards a future free of hate crimes like Orlando – or New York, or Seattle, or Tampa or any number of other places where people have endured violence because of their sexual or gender identity – are necessarily related as well.

I think now of an ADAC colleague who found a simple way to frame the importance of working for a more welcoming, inclusive world of diversity.   In a panel discussion we had this spring at Paul Smith’s College she asked two simple questions of the audience: “Who belongs? And who gets to decide who belongs?”  Those are essential questions and they are loaded with challenge.  If I have learned anything in my diversity work it is this: belonging is not a matter of ignoring differences or (god forbid) “tolerating” them.  Belonging is a matter of embracing differences.  Only then can all the wonderful, authentic strengths we express through those differences truly shine, and all the perceived negatives fade to unimportance.  Embracing differences takes education and experience.  But it also takes courage and conviction.

The unthinkable acts of this past Sunday call us to exercise both.

Our hearts go out to the victims of the Orlando massacre, their relatives, friends and allies, and all our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters.  But our empathy must be met by our courage and conviction for equality, inclusion, understanding and social justice, in our homes, in our communities, and right here in the Adirondack Park.  That is our way forward.

There will be a memorial vigil for the victims in Orlando at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, the 19th at Riverside Park in Saranac Lake.  The vigil sponsored by the Adirondack Unitarian Universalist Community.

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Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

26 Responses

  1. Bob Meyer says:

    Sensible action is needed:
    Common sense gun laws as in universal background checks and closing the loopholes of gun show and private sales.Personally I just have to wonder, do you gun owners out there really need assault weapons like AK 47s? Hell, for protection I would think a shot gun is more effective and for target shooting, what wrong with a 22? Just wondering.
    I’m not one to advocate eroding the 2nd Amendment. Just want common sense and improved public and private safety (i.e. smart guns anyone?).

    • Paul says:

      As usual this simply immediately falls into the bottom less pit argument about gun control. I think the question here is deeper. Why do we still have so much hate out there, or why do we have more? Guns have always been easy to access in this country that variable hasn’t changed. Gun violence has been steadily declining over the past few decades (despite all the guns) yet this sort of thing seems intractable. Sure we can and should do some of the things you suggest but a solution to a problem like this is a far deeper issue. I think in the 3rd paragraph Pete has at least defined part of the question.

      • Bob Meyer says:

        My comment was not meant to address all the issues here…. Intolerance, xenophobia, mental illness, discrimination against anyone considered other… On and on. Just one action that can be (only) one part of improving the situation.

        • Paul says:

          Yes, but I think that throwing that out at the beginning just gets folks into their usual camps and hunkered down. It is just what is happening on the national scene now.

    • Dana says:


      Since the NRA takeover of government, meaningful gun debate has ended. Common sense was the first victim in the crossfire.

  2. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Nobody ever talks about the deeper issues underlying society’s woes it’s always surface things. The shooter was an idiot number one. Two…Society created him. By what we teach and by what we don’t teach we created him. Is everybody aware of all the violence on tv? In the movies? In sports? What do we expect when we condone and even support these things. Actors with guns guns guns who kill kill kill. Sports fans fighting each other at games. Dad’s fighting at little league games while their kids watch. It is not uncommon to hear from people in a crowd after some horrific felonious event “It was just like a scene out of a movie.” Coincidence? I think not. It’s always the guns never the monsters we create who happen to have a gun. How about our corporately-sponsored government who drop bombs on little boys and girls in foreign lands! Indeed the idiot shooter in Orlando brought this very subject up in reference to his heinous act.Collateral damage our government calls it yet when someone else does it it’s called terrorism. Does anybody see the hypocrisy?

    They don’t teach us to respect nature. We run over wild animals with our cars by the tens of millions every year,never stop to see how they are faring. We kill wild animals because they are considered nuisance animals when they get in our gardens or dig holes in our yards. We shoot them for sport on our acreage (I’m not talking game animals I’m talking animals just passing through.) We bury them alive as I have witnessed numerous times. I’ll spare everyone the details not that you haven’t been desensitized by now. We stick glue traps out so that mice will step into them and die slow agonizing deaths. And on and on we put an end to living things which we can never replace. It’s not mindlessness as much as it is ignorance though oftentimes it is both. Us humans know how to kill!

    I saw a whole family of beavers get run over by cars on 787 in Cohoes a few years ago. First one,then a few days later the other four went looking for that one that never came back and boom,boom,boom,boom…run over as if they were doormats. Nobody slowed down when they saw them nobody stopped after they hit them. It broke my heart to witness that and i’m here to say I hate this society sometimes. Which doesn’t mean I am going to go out and do a postal on innocent people I’m better than that I have creative avenues to vent my anger.

    Maybe if more of us had creative outlets there’d be less disrespect towards others. Maybe if they put more money into the arts in our schools instead of taking away from the arts in our schools! Maybe if we were taught to respect all living things there’d be less violence towards each other and other living things.

    A 16 year old girl was hit and killed by a car recently on this same stretch of 787 in Cohoes where that family of beautiful beavers were mowed down…..this same stretch where once I found a turtle in the median. Someone hit it and kept going. It was still alive when I placed it in my car and died within an hour after I retrieved it. My relief was that it died in my presence not on the hot pavement with mindless humans racing by. Turtles do not die easy! I surmised it must have been in the median for at least a few days when I came along, baking in the sun while thousands of cars must have passed it by.Only a turtle! Always dead birds on that stretch of road,dead raccoons,dead skunks,dead possum. Another beaver was hit and killed there a few months ago. The State never came to retrieve its corpse which is now a flat dark furry spot under the guardrail…..

    The 16 year old! She was crossing the road and some driver hit her. How do you not see a teenage girl going over a road? I suppose the same way you don’t see a family of beavers going over a road. Now there’s all this hullabaloo about doing something about all those mindless drivers who don’t know what 40 mph means on that stretch of road. I’ve been saying for years that if they set up radar on 787 in Cohoes to catch speeding drivers they’d have a surplus of money to fix all of their problems. Drivers are always up my ass on that road…me who looks out for wild animals when I drive obeying the speed limits. And because they’re in a rush and they’re unconcerned about anything outside of their wee spheres…. is why all of the dead animals. If our government had just a little bit of soul maybe they would have acted after that family of beavers got killed on 787. Not just on 787 but all of our roads. They’re not concerned about animals crossing the roads though. Or dead or dying animals on the road. If they were they wouldn’t put up concrete medians….so that animals cannot cross and then they panic and then along comes hurry-up Joe or Mary and boom another one bites the dust…………….

    I’m ranting and though what I say may seem off topic IT IS NOT! It all has to do with the idiot killer in Orlando. We need to take a deep look at ourselves and see how much we are all part of the problem. We are a culture of violence and because of this we can expect more violence to come. It’s the same thing as hanging around in a barber shop…if you do it long enough eventually you’ll get a haircut. If we don’t change our ways how can we expect this society to change? It’s a simple question really!

    • Boreas says:

      The reason for most deviant human behavior is typically some type of stress. We have that in spades.

      • Boreas says:

        Perhaps I should restate that – the reason is that certain individuals have an inability to deal with stress in a positive way.

  3. Charlie S says:

    Stress is another reason why places like the Adirondacks are so important and will be important much moreso in the future… places to go to immerse ourselves in, places clear and free of evil forces.

    • Bruce says:

      Everyone seems to ignore the fact that semi-auto firearms are legally in the hands of millions of people, millions of firearms which hurt no one, yet some of us believe that curtailing the sale of certain types will magically make a difference.

  4. Boreas says:


    Because they are legal doesn’t necessarily mean they are without consequence. Semi-auto assault rifles have little practical use in the hands of civilians – especially with 30 round magazines.

    One of the common threads we see is that the perpetrators of these shootings haven’t been rationally planning the act for years. Typically, some relatively recent event triggers their mind to act. They don’t go grab their father’s 5-shot, bolt action hunting rifle, but rather go out and purchase an assault rifle, large capacity magazine, maybe a couple sidearms, and enough ammunition to kill large groups of people. This is the type of activity that needs to be scrutinized.

    I also don’t buy the ‘argument’ that because there are millions of assault weapons in circulation, they cannot or should not be regulated. In addition, assault weapons are flying off the shelf adding to the mass of assault weapons in civilian hands. There is nothing in the second amendment that says certain firearm types may not be regulated. Automatic weapons are not allowed. Rocket launchers and grenade launchers are not allowed. Therefore, why can’t semi-auto assault weapons be banned? Or large-capacity magazines? The simple answer is the NRA.

    I feel the NRA may have reached the peak of its political power and may now be vulnerable to attack by REASON. If I am wrong, I fear for our country.

    • Bob Meyer says:

      Well said Boreas!

      • John W says:

        How do you plan to outlaw autoloading rifles? In Connecticut alone, the State Police estimate 50,000 people are non compliant with the passage of anti gun laws as it is.

        Can you imagine what it would be like in other areas of this nation?

        • Boreas says:

          John W.,

          I feel if the NRA pushed for banning sales, legislation could be done in 6 months. As long as the NRA maintains its current “no controls” stance, nothing will get done.

          It reminds me of the saying “With great power comes great responsibility.”. The NRA has the power, but denies any responsibility. That is the problem in a nutshell.

          But of course, even if every assault-type weapon magically disappeared, terrorists and psychopaths in this country would likely revert to suicide or other bombing methods. But it just doesn’t seem to be the “American Way”. One button push isn’t as satisfying to a diseased mind as watching multiple innocent lives snuffed over several minutes in a gun blaze of ecstasy. Why the US breeds a different type of psychopath is a mystery to me. Perhaps our First Amendment needs to be scrutinized as well?

  5. John W says:

    I have read through all of the replies and one thing I noticed that was missing is what is crucial to the rationale of this madman.

    He was an adherent to radical Islam.

    Why can’t people just tell it like it is? Are people afraid of being labeled a bigot or something like that. Has the far left been successful in browbeating people from stating an opinion? Sadly I do believe so.

    I see some crying out like Orwellian sheep for gun control. Well having worked with juvenile offenders for many years I can assure you that criminals will not follow the laws. Do you think they cannot import weapons like drugs? Of course they can.

    This madman picked a soft target. Just to inform those who may be reading this, Florida law Ch 790 does not allow lawful carry in places that predominantly serve alcohol like bars and night clubs. So no one could effectively fight back.

    In addition, many survivors are reporting that there was more than one shooter. They report three people shooting. So what is up with that? To me, this sounds like a well coordinated terrorist attack by Islamic extremists on a soft target.

    Sad to say I do believe you will see more of this and more vicious in the near future. Their aims are to destabilize our republic and bring chaos.

    • Boreas says:

      John W.,

      Is he a madman or a criminal? One can indeed be both. He was just a madman until he bought the assault rifle and opened fire. Conspiracy? Dunno. Hopefully ballistics can sort that out eventually.

      I have no problem calling a spade a spade. My concern is after being eyeballed by the FBI in the past, he still walked into a store and bought an assault weapon. THAT is the problem. He didn’t kill them with a Quran or his warped ideology

      Certainly this is a complex problem. We can’t regulate what people think, but we can minimize their arsenal. That is really the only tool at our disposal. I believe in the second amendment, but I feel assault weapons should only be in the hands of an organized militia.

      • John W says:

        I will politely disagree with the issue of gun control. One thing to bear in mind is that the rest of the nation isn’t too keen on NY style gun control. As I said before many are stating there were three shooters so to me there is something suspect in the whole story. From what I understand he was investigated by the FBI and nothing was done. It seems that the whole family has ties to radical Islam yet nothing was done.He was on the no fly list yet was able to lawfully purchase a firearm of any type including the so called ” assault weapon” type. By the way a true assault rifle is a select fire intermediate powered cartridge rifle or carbine that requires a Class three license through the US treasury. They are not readily available to the average person.

        He could have easily used a Mossberg M500 pump shotgun with buckshot and went to town, so to speak.

        I don’t see how taking away my rights and what I lawfully own will solve any of the problems caused by these people.I should not have to bow down because other people cannot keep their household in order. With current social situation I want my AR-15. It seems that there is a cauldron ready to boil over fostered in the past two administrations. To me it does not bode well.

        • Boreas says:

          John W.,

          You partly made my point. A Mossberg pump shotgun isn’t going to result in 49 dead simply because it takes longer to reload. Not a problem with an AR-15 with a quick reload 30 round magazine against people who can’t flee. The issue here is how many lethal rounds can be fired in a short period of time. The AR-15 is the perfect weapon for these types of attacks. There is no need for the deranged to use fully auto weapons since an AR-15 can be legally purchased and is nearly as deadly.

          No, we can’t eliminate this type of attack and they are likely to increase. But I feel there is a lot we can do to reduce the death toll from each incident. I only hope common sense prevails. But I am not optimistic.

          • John W says:

            I have an old M1 Carbine from the WW2 era that takes 30 round magazines. In fact it is more compact to carry as it was designed to be used by officers in place of a 45 autoloading pistol. So autoloading rifles and shotguns have been around for over one hundred years. They have been used by hunters and sport shooters for decades. I know many who shoot in three gun competition which the AR is the preferred platform.

            The whole issue of demonizing the AR style of autoloading rifles doesn’t set well with me.

            As type this out I am reminded of the Paris attacks where France has very strict gun laws. Hell even most of their police are unarmed yet terrorists smuggled in full auto weapons and wreaked havoc unopposed for the most part.

            One can enact such laws here, if possible because again most people do not want NY style laws in their state, but it will not be a real impediment for those intending to carry out more attacks.

  6. Charlie S says:

    John W. says: “To me, this sounds like a well coordinated terrorist attack by Islamic extremists on a soft target.”

    Racism is pure ignorance John W. The shooter was a wannabe-Islamist idiot. An idiot who couldn’t think for himself. Obviously he was not happy with his lot in life,was angry most likely due to insecurities that went back many years.. he decides he doesn’t want to live anymore because the world is not going the way he wants it to go so he goes and takes out as many people as he could before he ends his miserable life,or suicide by cop. Nothing less! And to think how many of him are amongst us just waiting for the right moments to perpetrate their horror on yet more innocents! Truly I believe we,this society,creates these monsters. They certainly don’t come kicking and screaming out of their mommy’s womb saying “I hate this world.”

  7. Charlie S says:

    John W. says “My concern is after being eyeballed by the FBI in the past, he still walked into a store and bought an assault weapon. THAT is the problem.”

    Seems kind of odd dont it John? That was my first thoughts too. After all we have been through since 9-11 and to allow this man to buy an assault weapon. Something smells fishy here!

  8. Charlie S says:

    ” many are stating there were three shooters.”

    This is the first I heard this. Where do you get your info from John W.?

    • John W says:

      Hello Charlie:

      I have a friend whose wife’s brother is a nightclub manager in the Orlando area. All of the club managers know each other and meet on occasion. He told me that many of the survivors report two people shooting and a third finishing off the survivors.

      If this is true and I suspect it is, why is this not in the news?

      • Boreas says:

        Good question John! If the witnesses had credible descriptions of the various shooters, I don’t know why law enforcement would hide these facts from the media. Perhaps they didn’t find them credible. Or perhaps the witnesses were hearing “friendly fire”. I also have not heard of any witnesses coming forth since with statements supporting multiple shooters. Again, ballistics evidence should be able to help. The authorities very quickly ruled out any “friendly fire” casualties. Perhaps they jumped the gun, so to speak.

        • John W says:

          It is odd that there is an awful lot of silence after this event. I don’t believe that the witnesses are lying. I just find the whole thing very suspect.

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