By Chad Nance
“Singing, holy Toledo I can’t see the light anymore
(Hank Williams said that)
All those horizons that I used to guide me are gone
(I’m damn sure Van Morrison said that …)
And the darkness is driving me farther away from the shore
(I said that.)
Throw me a rhyme or a reason to try to go on.”
– Kris Kristofferson
The news came to me from an old and dear friend. A companion on many weird adventures and a professional journalist with an Emmy sitting on his kitchen counter. The Turk was in tears, filled with righteous anger. Two fellow journalist were shot down in cold blood while just doing their jobs. Sometimes as journalist it is easy to mentally lift yourself above the story at hand, but this morning packed a particular gut punch. A few weeks ago I received a death threat from a degenerate racist who told me on the phone that he would “Blast me.” I let the good folks at the WSPD deal with that one and went about my own business. Threats of violence are about the only thing some segments of our society have left when they don’t get their way. There seems to be a feeling of entitlement out there that mixed with false victimization makes these people feel justified. If you don’t tow their line they will just snuff you.
I know young people like Alison Parker and Adam Ward. I see them when I go out on police calls or attend public events. Just good kids doing and growing into their jobs- serious professionals who have dedicated their lives to the often thankless and frustrating profession of journalism. Vicki Gardner, of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, was also injured in the shooting. As of this writing she is reportedly out of surgery, but in critical condition.
The punk who shot them has the unfortunate name of Vester Lee Flangan. He had periodically worked as an on-air local reporter who went by the handle Bryce Williams. This morning he took a video camera and a handgun and filmed himself murdering two people who were already better than he ever had the potential to be. By mid-morning I had stumbled upon his facebook page where two minutes before he had posted the video he took as he shot Alison and Adam. The video showed him lining up his framing with the pistol by pointing it at Allison as she focused on her interview. Then he raised the pistol again while Adam brought his own camera around in a slow pan from the water-park facility where they were conducting the interview. Williams never took the muzzle of the gun off of Parker. Then he fired… multiple times before running away like the coward he is. He left a smart, beautiful young woman and a motivated, hard-working young man dead, and severely wounded a respected community leader.
I’ve been preparing a column on sensible gun regulations in the wake of the summer of 2015. A summer that has seen mindless brutality at the business end of a gun take lives from Charleston, SC to yesterday when a third-grader in Augusta, Georgia shot a classmate while he was “playing” with a handgun in school. Just last Sunday a four year-old boy in Holly Ridge found a .380 in a church bathroom and it had to be coaxed away from him. As a nation we spend about $229 Billion a year dealing with the repercussions of gun violence. That doesn’t even begin to scratch the emotional and social toll of families destroyed by blinding grief.
Considering all of these realities, this morning’s news hammered home and laid bare the human cost wrought by cynical politicians, gun industry shills, and the gun manufacturing industry itself. As a society we should be treating these swine the way we treat child pornographers, but instead we just avert our eyes and mumble gibberish about “Evil”. We collectively shrug and blame abstract concepts instead of calling out the true criminals- those who have created a culture where violence (particularly against women) is tacitly approved. These people go on and on about the Second Amendment and their rights. Of course they never mention, as a friend of mine did recently, that the Second includes the language, “A well regulated militia.” Exactly what is well regulated about a bunch of numbnuts strolling around the kid’s section of Target with an AR-15?
Women are most often the victims of this needless and absurd violence. Before it crosses your mind to say something stupid like, “Women would be safer if we armed them”, the reality is that they are not. Most women who are murdered are not murdered by strangers. They are murdered by their husbands, boyfriends, and male relatives. Medical studies show that a woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 5 times if he has access to a gun. Another study found that women in states with higher gun ownership rates were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than in other places.
Of course today’s vicious actions in Virginia are not simply about the common availability of weapons of mass destruction. No. The murder of Allison, Adam, and the wounding of Vicki Gardner is part of a larger disease that includes the pro-gun segment of society and filters up through many platforms in American culture. In a virulent reaction to powerful, strong women who have gained opportunities following the emergence of the Feminist Movement in America, it has become common for failed men to turn their anger, fear, and vitriol at themselves onto women. Often, like Bryce Williams, onto women who are more successful and competent than they are.
Women working in the video gaming industry who had the nerve to speak out against the macho culture and over-sexualization of women in the gaming industry were met with threats of rape and murder. The trolls of #gamergate pounced with threats of rape and murder trying to intimidate these women into shutting up.
When Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America began to speak out against the pointless slaughter, groups like Open Carry Texas menaced them publicly with weapons, threatened more rape, and video taped themselves firing assault rifles at a nude, female mannequin. Even professional moron Alex Jones got some licks in physically bullying both men and women who lost children in yet another one of America’s mass shootings. (America leads the world in mass shootings.) Hell, even one of the most popular shows on television, “Game of Thrones”, contains multiple and savage depictions of rape of female characters.
Just recently when Donald Trump was asked a reasonable question by Fox Reporter Megan Kelly he launched into a misogyny laced war of words against her. He used reprehensible language about menstruation and questioning Kelly’s sexual piety by calling her a “Bimbo”. He was cheered by his brainless and adoring fans. This is the atmosphere, coddled by right-wing politicians, the NRA, and terrified “Men’s Rights” activists that has lead to a time where women are increasingly being attacked openly and in the most vile ways. From the right to make decisions about their own bodies to the hard fact that women make about 77 cents on the dollar to American men, women are under assault while men are trying to claim victimhood and weep behind what they see as a veil of political correctness. American society is broken and some days it feels like an unclimbable mountain.
Perhaps I have become sensitive to these realities because of my three brilliant daughters. We are raising our young women in a world where one in four of women will be sexually assaulted in their life time. Six out of ten of those assaults will be perpetrated by someone they know – a male family member or, in most cases, a boyfriend or husband. (Yes. A husband can rape his wife regardless of what some Christian fundamentalist have tried to claim in recent years.) This summer, as one of our girls became old enough to date, I had to spend time teaching her how to defend herself against a boyfriend- how to hammer an attacker’s testicles before crushing his larynx. As parents we should be focusing on the positive and beautiful aspects of loving relationships, yet I had to take time out to teach her what parts of her body work best as weapons- knees and elbows, ladies. It is sadly practical and necessary.
How did we get here? How did we get to the place where a young woman like Alison Parker is gunned down by a man who lost his job to her on the very anniversary of the 19th Amendment? We should be celebrating that anniversary and the amazing life of civil rights legend, 104 year-old Amelia Boynton, and instead my mind and heart are locked up with yet more death at the hands of an impotent man who felt like a victim and felt justified in turning his rage on the lady who bested him. I have to be honest and admit that I have no answers and there are days when hope is hard to find.
To men: Face it guys, we aren’t victims. We aren’t being marginalized and we aren’t being pushed aside in deference to women and “political correctness”. Simply put… we aren’t entitled to a damn thing. Try making your way on your own talents and intelligence and stop trying to blame women and minorities for your failures.
To women: Keep on achieving, keep on striving, and always remember that the reason these guys are so cruel is that they are so scared. You’re smarter, more capable, and carry more dignity than most men these days can muster. Beauty, grace, and life are your purview and no one, no matter how vicious or perverse can take that away from you.
“This is the kingdom of owning the other as self, the self as other;
that transforms grief into
peace and delight.
I, and you, might enter the heaven
of right here
through this door.
In this spirit, knowing we are blessed,
we might remain poor
– Alice Walker, Blessed are the Poor in Spirit