Journalists have dangerous jobs. This is not an unknown fact. But the United States of America, heck, a sleepy suburban Virginia town while interviewing a chamber of commerce member about a feel-good story is not a war zone. Well, today it was.
This morning, WDBJ7 reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were shot on-air while interviewing Vicki Gardner on Moneta, Va. She is now in stable condition after being shot in the back. The shooter, former reporter Vester Flanagan, 41, whose on-air name had been Bryce Williams, posted a first-person video of the attack on Twitter and Facebook after the attack. He also claimed racist remarks had been made against him and later faxed at 23-page document that alleged racial discrimination, sexual harassment and the Charleston church massacre as motivation for the attack. He died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound this afternoon. He called the massacre a “tipping point” and expressed solidarity with the perpetrators of Virginia Tech and Columbine High School massacres.
What now, America? When journalists aren’t safe doing their jobs on our own soil, when gun violence is so rampant it registers as barely more than another entry in the rising body count in our war against each other, amidst ourselves, what now?
I can’t be proud to be an American. Not today. Not this year. Not in a very long time.
Because if this is what we are, I’m not proud of us. I’m severely, sadly disappointed.
I became a journalist to tell stories. Stories like the ones told from war zones and the ones Ward and Parker were telling this morning. Like the child abuse story Parker worked on earlier this year, and the ones neither of their talents will be lent to, in years to come. I wanted to talk about the issues that are important to us, as people. That includes race, sexuality and the legislation that governs our country. In the coming days, there will doubtless be the now-mundane flurry of journalism surrounding this tragedy, discussing gun control, mental illness, the racial tensions alive and well in our country and what combination came together (we think) to create this particular incident.
And while we hold our breath and wait for those stories to surface, another gunman killed three in Louisiana, this afternoon. Bet you were all too busy looking at #NationalDogDay pictures to see that one. A decade ago, it would have stopped presses. Now, even two shootings in one day doesn’t even stop our scrolling fingers.
What are we now, America? What kind of country are we, that we’d rather turn away from Ward and Parker, from the Sandy Hook victims, the Columbine victims, the Charleston victims and so, so many more, would rather talk about our dogs or Trump’s latest idiocy than the real issues facing our nation? What kind of country are we that we’re so afraid to “politicize the issue” that we won’t even bring it up, in any meaningful kind of way?
I’ll tell you what kind of person I am, at least. I am a thoughtful, voting journalist who will be watching very, very carefully in the coming days to see what our political candidates have to say about gun violence, regardless of motivation, in the light of this tragedy. I will be watching what our candidates say about race and about gender equality too. Because I want my friends to feel safe doing their jobs, and that includes my friends who are black and gay, not just my journalist friends. Because I want to feel safe living here, too. I want to say I’m proud to be an American.
And right now, I can’t say that I am.