Content warning: discussions of gun violence and racial discrimination
“Sending our thoughts and prayers to the victims’ families.”
Even if you don’t encounter this statement a thousand times a week in your Twitter feed, you must have heard it at some point, considering the tragedy-prone state of the world. Although younger generations in the United States tend to joke about the constant instability, considering the COVID-19 pandemic, mass shootings and natural disasters, it is unacceptable that these circumstances are being normalized and allowed in our communities when it is clear that more preventionary action could be taken. The normalization of trauma has led many youth to live in a culture where they are desensitized to death and hatred against their identity.
To be concise, it is not normal for a kid to have more active shooter lockdown drills than earthquake drills when the government has control over mitigating gun violence and not the patterns of tectonic plates. Bomb and shooter threats should not happen as often as schools are dismissed for snow days. These tragedies, we must understand, are not natural disasters that happen due to the sinister forces of fate. I used to believe that these tragic events were in the hands of the universe and other supernatural factors, but they aren’t.
As I grew up, I heard about the Sandy Hook tragedy and the murder of Tamir Rice and my image of the government was shattered. The police promoting youth training programs on the playground who I believed were martyrs keeping our community safe were not the people I thought they were. Reflecting back, even the way these tragedies were introduced shows how deeply flawed the government’s accountability system is.
When warned about Sandy Hook, it was used as a cautionary tale about how to behave in an active shooter drill. We were told to be absolutely quiet — if we had to sneeze, to try to hold it in or sneeze in a pillow. We were warned the shooter may come into the classroom and in that situation, we must throw chairs. In any other day in elementary school, we were taught to be peaceful, compassionate, caring and never violent, but today we were told in this situation, we must resort to violence or die. It was almost like it was our responsibility to always be cautious of shootings and tragedy, even as children going to school. It wasn’t the responsibility of the martyrs recruiting on the playground or the government funding it, it was in the hands of the elementary school students just learning their times tables the day before.
I learned about Tamir Rice in middle school, as another cautionary tale brought up by a teacher. In a way, this tragedy for the Black community was politicized to control the behavior of the Latino student body of my school. We were warned that if we acted with delinquency, we would be targeted by the police like he was, and therefore, we should keep our hoodies down and have good manners. At that time, I thought nothing of this “cautionary tale” but to listen for the sake of my safety. Despite my obedience, this was shifting reality to deflect blame from systemic racism and corruptive practices. Instead, the blame was shifted towards victims such as Tamir Rice for not being cautious of the stereotypes and personal bias police may have. Consequently, it would also be our responsibility to combat any personal bias these adults may have, so they won’t target us. The teacher may have simply intended to protect us from the corrupt system, but these lessons have conditioned us to accept the tragedies as our responsibility to prevent.
Even when it comes to climate change and natural disasters, older generations usually mention how it is the generation of today who will have to fix the issue in the future. The inaction of the adults with power to mitigate natural forces of climate change shifts the responsibility to the younger generations to deal with in the prospective future.
This cycle of tragedy, lack of action and shifting the blame are all portrayed in the ways influencers of all sorts urge us to pray for these tragedies. I admit, I used to believe these thoughts and prayers would suffice to prevent any other tragedies because I grew up in a Catholic household. As a kid, I believed I had to pray every night for every form of hatred imaginable. I would conduct a list of prayers including, but not limited to, the prevention of mass shootings, tsunamis, hurricanes, police brutality, political corruption and femicide. I would follow them with a couple of Our Fathers and go to sleep. An exaggerated sense of guilt would follow me the next morning if I missed one of the causes I would pray for, as if it was my responsibility to prevent these things through my thoughts and prayers. I wasn’t responsible for these causes, but it was how I was taught to think as a result of cautionary tales and government inaction. The justification behind me owning up to the responsibility of everything wrong with the world was that if the government wasn’t going to prevent further tragedies, then I could use the prayers I was taught to prevent them. As I mourned these tragedies and how my prayers did nothing to help, a responsibility was normalized for me and other children, another tragedy.
Although thinking and praying is a nice thought to believe in, there is much more to be done than these prayers, especially if one is in a position of power to do so. It is dystopian for a kid to bear the responsibility of other people’s biases and hatred, so, instead of sending thoughts and prayers, we must act to realize the things we pray for.