After Black teenager Emmett Till was brutally tortured and murdered by two white men in Mississippi, his mother, Mamie, committed a daring, outrageous and provocative act. At her son’s funeral, she chose an open casket so the world could see the horror perpetrated on him.
I’ve viewed that image numerous times and it’s something you never get used to. Suffice it to say, his face is unrecognizable as anything human. Till’s funeral took place in September 1955, right before the Montgomery bus boycott transformed Rosa Parks and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. into international figures. The boy had been visiting relatives in Mississippi and while in a local store, whistled at a white woman behind the counter.
That night, he was abducted, beaten to a pulp and shot to death. As was common with lynchings in the South, the killers went free.
Mamie’s intention was to show the true face of the South’s violent, racist hatred, and her choice hit its mark. Although the photograph of Emmett’s ruined visage only ran in predominantly African American media, it is credited with spurring into action the civil rights era.
I wonder if there is a parent like Mamie Till who would have the audacity to do the same in response to our never-ending school massacres: to have an open casket at the funeral of their dead child to show America the true face of gun violence. It would be horribly shocking, but perhaps that shock is what’s needed to wake Americans up to the true cost of what for many us is just a headline or a newscast.
When we think of someone getting shot, mass media has conditioned us to view the bullet wound as a neat little red hole. But children aren’t “shot” with an assault weapon; they’re slaughtered. I doubt if any depiction of hell could duplicate what the classroom at Sandy Hook looked like after Adam Lanza emptied the clips of his Bushmaster XM-15 into those small, helpless victims.
After the Uvalde massacre, authorities had to use DNA so parents could identify their dead children. If the leadership of the NRA and the Republican lapdogs who grovel at their feet were forced to view the mutilated body of a small child shot with an AR-15, they’d go down on their knees and beg for forgiveness. Forgiveness that God or the law of karma might be unwilling to grant.
I realize that such a proposition might offend some reading this, but I’m past the point of such sensibilities. The only “trigger warning” I care about belongs on a gun. As someone who has been a public elementary school teacher (and proud of it), it tears at me that we live in a society that values an assault rifle over a child. Such a perverse sense of priorities is a true definition of mental illness.
A few years ago when I was a substitute teacher at Enos Garcia Elementary School in Taos, there was a live shooter drill. For five awful seconds, I thought it was the real thing.
My fourth grade students huddled against the wall as I turned off the lights and locked the doors. The thoughts going through my mind were too unsettling to recall. After the drill ended, the kids went back to their desks as unruffled as if it were a routine fire drill. For them, this was the new normal. For me, I wanted to hug each and every one of them.
Instead, I went home and had my own personal nervous breakdown, distraught by America’s gun sickness.
And, yes, it is a sickness. Those who are fanatically obsessed with guns do not care about the Constitution, no matter how often they pretend to be. They are victims of a disease. Their suggestion to arm all teachers and turn every American school into the O.K. Corral is too obscene to contemplate. I wish every teacher would go on strike until our gutless Congress passes an assault weapon ban.
And how are Republican legislators responding to our mass shooting epidemic besides phony thoughts and prayers? The Missouri state legislature is allowing minors with no minimum age restriction to carry guns in public. North Carolina responded to the recent Nashville bloodbath by allowing anyone to buy a handgun without a permit. The gun manufacturer WEE1 Tactical is offering an AR-15 designed for children.
In a classroom full of hormonal teenage boys armed to the teeth, what could possibly go wrong?
But if you could see their bodies …
Daniel A. Brown lived in Franklin County for 44 years and is a frequent contributor to the Recorder. He lives in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico with his wife, Lisa and dog, Cody.