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Violence is our new religion

The latest killings of reporters are a reminder of this nation’s epidemic.

STEVE HELBER / ASSOCIATED PRESS Investigators look over the body of cameraman Adam Ward after he and reporter Alison Parker were fatally shot.
STEVE HELBER / ASSOCIATED PRESS Investigators look over the body of cameraman Adam Ward after he and reporter Alison Parker were fatally shot.Read more

THE TV in the middle of the newsroom is broadcasting the latest about a local shooting, which it always seems to be doing. This one in West Philly.

At the same time I'm reading an article about a teenager who held students and a teacher at gunpoint in a West Virginia classroom, while I'm also obsessively scanning my Twitter feed for anything, everything about the horrific shootings of a Virginia reporter and cameraman on live television as they filmed a feature on tourism.

When the gunman's name was released, I went looking for his Twitter feed and watched the shocking shootings that he recorded and later posted, and that now a huge part of me wishes I could unsee.

WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were killed yesterday morning by a former colleague, Vester Flanagan, 41, who used the name Bryce Williams on the air.

We talk so much about politics being our religion, about sports being our religion, about religion being our religion.

Jesus, look around: Violence is our religion. We worship at its altar.

It's become our national devotion. We're sad, we're mad, we've been wronged, we want to get even, we want to go down in a blaze of deranged glory and we turn violent.

And how we react, or don't react, to whose lives are affected by the violence has become more divisive than any religious or political view. Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.

The truth: No lives matter, because if they did, the moment to prove that was when a roomful of babies were massacred in a Connecticut elementary school or when nine faithful churchgoers were executed in a weekly South Carolina bible study or when the blood of generations of nameless, faceless young people stains city streets all across this country.

If any of this mounting loss mattered, we wouldn't be able to insert different names and locations to the same disturbing cycle of stories about gun violence while playing insulting lip service to changing the laws and culture that might save some lives.

Am I the only one who is exhausted and disgusted over violence - wrenching, incalculable, heartbreaking violence - becoming a cheap political talking point?

Because that is all the tragically stunning deaths of two young reporters toiling in a midsize market in central Virginia means for people.

This is the absurd algebra they are bringing to explain the killings of the two white reporters and a white woman whose job it is to boost tourism in that region, who was shot and seriously wounded in the attack: This is proof that a disgruntled black man was forced to commit this carnage because of all the media attention given to the plights of African-Americans in places like Ferguson, Mo.; Charleston, S.C.; and Baltimore This is proof that the #BlackLivesMatter movement incited a race war.

In a rambling 23-page letter, Flanagan, the Virginia gunman, said he committed the killings because as a gay black man he suffered racial and sexual discrimination and bullying at work. Flanagan, who according to the station was fired two years ago from WDBJ, later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The tipping point, he said, was the Charleston shootings at the hands of Dylann Roof, a white man who said he wanted to kill black people.

And then there were Flanagan's own words: "You want a race war [deleted]? BRING IT THEN . . . "

And off the warring sides went, taking their shots, digging their heels into their politics and ideologies and culture wars, almost gleefully saying, "See? We told you so."

So now we focus on the insanity spewed by a madman, on the troubling autoplay feature on social media that made a graphic and highly disturbing video harder to avoid, because anything is easier than focusing on the larger issues, the national epidemic of violence, the untreated mental illness, the accessibility to guns that tear people's lives apart.

In an interview with Action News anchor Monica Malpass, President Obama said as much yesterday. "What we know is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism," Obama said.

The 27-year-old cameraman who captured a fleeting shot of his killer was engaged to be married; his fiancee, a producer at the station, watched his last moments from the control room. The 24-year-old reporter who could be heard screaming "Oh my god," as shots rang out was in love. "She was the most radiant woman I knew," her boyfriend posted shortly after her death.

Each day the senseless loss grows, and the weight of it all threatens to bury us all.

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