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Archive for October, 2017

Fifty years ago on August 1, 1966, Charlie Whitman, a former Marine and University of Texas student, murdered his wife and mother then went to the top of the central tower at the university in Austin and for 96 minutes fired randomly, killing a total of 17 people and wounding 31. All hell broke loose then. Last week in Las Vegas hell broke lose again and it took my memories back to that day fifty years ago.

I was in the English building next door to the Tower waiting for our professor to show up for a class on how to teach Shakespeare to high school students. Funny how I remember that. After ten minutes the professor hadn’t shown up so we rose to leave. I was closest to the door and first out into the surprisingly crowded, chaotic hall. Someone said, “You can’t go outside. Someone’s shooting from the Tower.” Like an automaton, I turned and parroted, “We can’t go outside. Someone’s shooting from the Tower.”

Our classroom faced away from the Tower so we were able to look out the windows at students and teachers crouched behind trees, cars and bushes. The view from the top of the Tower gave the shooter a predatory view of everyone below. Those 96 minutes were an eternity. When it was over and we were released, I remember walking across the Main Mall right under the Tower. There was an endless line of ambulances parked in the narrow inner campus road. Bodies and blood were everywhere and students were sobbing. In the stifling heat, the pools of blood seemed to swirl in puddles on the pavement like it was alive. It was hypnotic, something I never forgot.

We all went back to our dorms and apartments and watched the news tell us this was the first mass shooting in American history. It was easy to watch the news then. In Austin there was only one station, KLBJ, that belonged to Lady Bird Johnson, President Lyndon Johnson’s wife. They controlled the airwaves. 

Classes were suspended the next day; the University cleaned up the blood; we went back to school. There were no memorials and no counseling was available for any of us. We were the “first” and there was no precedence. The university seemed to want to cover it up. They were afraid it would impact the university’s reputation as well as registration. Conversations about “it” were not encouraged.

At last, fifty years later, the University has created a memorial garden in honor of those who died or were wounded on that August day so long ago. The survivors were invited and recognized. It only took fifty years.

https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/fiftieth-anniversary-tower-shooting/

Now we are so used to these mass murders that our law enforcement is trained and our schools and communities provide counseling immediately. Ironically, August 1, 2016 was the day that the new gun carry law in Texas went into effect, allowing licensed gun owners to bring their guns on campuses! When is enough enough? It is beyond my understanding how a country that requires a driver to pass a driving test, have a license and car insurance, cannot get sensible gun control laws passed.

The terror in Las Vegas took me back to Austin fifty years ago.  While I go about my work, I’m remembering, just like we did in 1966.  I know the lives of the survivors of this carnage are changed forever. They will never forget that beautiful fall evening full of music and love, followed by mass terror and murder. They have lost their innocence and some of their families and loved ones. It is horrific. When is enough enough???? 

This picture says it all:

 

 

 

And yet there is more to consider besides the guns, the violence, the carnage and the hate. There is the history. Among the many quotes attributed to Churchill,  “History is written by the victors.” In America, we have written our history well to reflect the success of the white man, including the claim of worst massacre in history.

Actually that’s nowhere near true. Thanks to Wikipedia, we can easily call up a list of Indian massacres, and violence against the Irish, Italians, Chinese, Africans and anyone else who was an “other.” Here’s a list of the worst massacres of Native Americans in our history. https://listverse.com/2016/07/19/10-horrific-native-american-massacres/

Because white people were the victors, we wrote the history. Thus the “first mass shooting in American history” was in Austin, Texas in 1966. Because I was a young college student, I believed it until much later.

Our nation has been built on violence. We have all the stats, all the reasons, all the common sense, all the bodies and all the blood to stop this violence with sensible, bipartisan gun regulations that at least equal our laws about cars and driving. But all we are getting is our political leaders offering “thoughts and prayers for the victims.”

Seriously? Is that the best our leaders can do? Is this the least we will accept? It’s not just our leaders, it’s all of us who keep turning our heads because the “timing isn’t right.”

 

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