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Sean Philpott-Jones: No Forgiveness In Florida

Like so many others around the world, this past weekend my husband and I watched in disbelief as the deadliest mass shooting in American history unfolded in Orlando. What started out for many as a joyous evening of drinking and dancing turned into a horrifying morning of chaos and mayhem after a deranged gunman used a legally obtained semiautomatic rifle to kill 49 people and wound 53 others at a popular gay nightclub called Pulse.

In the four days since the shootings in Orlando, we still know little about the gunman’s motives. However, the opportunistic motives of so many others capitalizing on this tragedy are clear.

Consider the motives of the radical terror group ISIS, which has been quick to claim credit for the assault. In chilling calls to 911 and a local television station during the attack, the gunman pledged allegiance to that militant organization. While there is no evidence that the shooter was acting on direct orders from ISIS leaders, the virulent homophobia of ISIS is well known. In the regions of Iraq and Syria that group still holds, those suspected or accused of the crime of being gay are put to death. So routine are these executions, in which men hurled from the tops of five-story buildings as bloodthirsty crowds watch from below, that they scarcely make the news anymore.

As sickening as that sounds, imprisoning or executing people simply because they are gay is commonplace. According to a 2016 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, more than 70 countries worldwide criminalize homosexuality. In 13 of those countries, it is a crime punishable by death. There are also many right here in the United States would probably support the passage of similar laws in our country, as suggested by the vitriolic rhetoric, odious Facebook posts and hateful tweets of conservative activists and evangelical preachers in support of the Orlando shooter. So intense is their hatred of the LGBT community that they openly praise a deranged man claiming allegiance to a terror group that would gleefully put these so-called “Christians” to death as well.

Consider the motives of politicians on both sides of the aisle. Those on the left are already demanding gun reform, with Democratic senators seizing control of the Senate floor in a filibuster-style takeover until Congress acts to close the gun-show loophole. Similarly, those on the right have been quick to use the shooter’s alleged but unproven links to the foreign terror group ISIS to call more stricter immigration laws and intensified military action in the Middle East. Both sides have expressed compassion for Orlando’s victims and their families, with those on the left calling for greater social tolerance and increased legal protections for LGBT individuals while those on the right have cynically avoided any mention of the gay community or their continuing efforts to block or overturn anti-discrimination ordinances and statutes.

Consider the motives of the news media. As with many other recent tragedies, including Newtown, Paris and Belgium, they have used the shooting in Orlando to boost sagging ratings. As communication experts will tell you, news producers ascribe to the simple mantra of, “If it bleeds, it leads.” There was a lot of blood on the dance floor of the Pulse nightclub, and the media has since been locked in a twenty-four hour cycle of consisting of graphic descriptions of the tragedy from on the ground reporters, speculation about the shooter’s intentions from armchair pundits (including salacious suggestions that he was a closeted gay man himself), and promises to prevent similar tragedies from self-serving politicians.

Finally, consider my motives in writing this commentary. I am not saddened by the tragedy, although I have great sympathy for those directly affected. Instead, as the tone of my words suggests, I am angry. I am furious, and that rage will spur me to action.

For example, although it may seem like a tiny thing to do, I will now and forever refuse to speak the gunman’s name. People who commit atrocities like this deserve to be forgotten. They should not be remembered. They should not be forgiven. Rather, they should be relegated to the dustbin of history and cursed with eternal anonymity. It is the victims of the attacks who should be honored, named and remembered through stories, pictures, and songs.

Likewise, I refuse to pray for Orlando, despite the social media hash tag calling for me to do so. My prayers may give me solace, but they will do nothing for the victims and their families. I don’t want solace. I want action.

If we are truly members of a civilized society, we must use tragedies like this to act, to move forward, to progress, and to create an increasingly just and compassionate world where horrors like this become less rather than more frequent. This will require a thoughtful and bipartisan response by our politicians to problems of terrorism, gun violence and public safety. This will require conservative groups and evangelical organizations to practice the Christian values that they espouse rather than use Scripture to condemn those with whom they disagree. This will require Americans from all walks of life to recognize the humanity and dignity of everyone, regardless of their race, their religion, their gender, or their sexual orientation.

Sadly, I doubt that any of this will happen … and that is the ultimate tragedy.

A public health researcher and ethicist by training, Dr. Sean Philpott-Jones is Director of Research Ethics for the Bioethics Program of Clarkson University-Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in Schenectady, New York. He is also Acting Director of the Center for Bioethics and Clinical Leadership, and Project Director of its Advanced Certificate Program for Research Ethics in Central and Eastern Europe.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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