By Daniel Rigney
It’s twilight again in Houston, and we’re gathering in front of the reflecting pool at City Hall to reflect on the gun murders that took place Sunday morning in a Sikh temple just south of Milwaukee.
This was no ordinary gun massacre, even by American standards. Early evidence indicates these murders were not "random" but motivated, committed against a religious and ethnic minority whose freedom of worship is hypothetically protected under the First Amendment of our Constitution, and whose safety is hypothetically protected in part by the second half of the Second Amendment, now understood to permit nearly anyone, for nearly any reason, to keep and bear nearly any technology designed to kill and maim people.
The two constitutional amendments met this week in Wisconsin, and not for the first time. Their relationship remains tense.
So here we are at twilight in Houston, a city with a large and growing South Asian population that includes a Sikh community variously estimated at 5-10,000 people. Many of us had little or no awareness of Sikhism before these events. I’m only now learning about its centuries-long commitment to the core values of honest work, egalitarian generosity, service and devotion to a sacred oneness.
We hope to learn more in the coming days about the gunman’s core values.
Tonight we come together – political and religious representatives, citizens of many faiths or none, adults and children, many children, “the future of Houston” as one speaker calls them -- to remember the human costs of our deep and profound ignorance of each other in an increasingly swirled and diversifying world.
Early evidence is that the gunman’s own culture of ignorance, within which he was not a “lone wolf” but an active member of a social and all-too-human pack, was a white supremacist from Colorado with perhaps something less than a scholar’s knowledge of the culture and core values of the people whose lives he was destroying.
He and his victims both paid the price for his ignorance.
My personal responsibility now, as a citizen and as a fellow human being, is to begin to erode my own deep ignorance of Sikhism, and of today’s white supremacism, and of the contextual meanings of our national constitution's first and second amendments.
It’s a swirled world, and Sikhs are my neighbors now in this increasingly cosmopolitan, historically gun-loving city of Houston.
Some images from the vigil in Houston, August 9, 2012:
This Sikh man, accompanied by a child, kindly permits me to photograph the event shirt he says was locally-made for this occasion. On the back are the date 08.05.12 and the names and ages of the victims of human gun violence in Wisconsin. His gold button reads "No Hate."
Candles in the wind at dusk, City Hall, Houston, 8.10.2012
Pool of Reflection: looking toward Houston City Hall following the event. Directly behind me are several glassy corporate skyscrapers towering over this old stone governmental building, completed in 1939 and financed with a grant from WPA during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt.
Mayor Annise Parker convened this evening's public and inclusive event honoring the dead. The building is bathed in blue light tonight in their memory.
May they rest in peace, and may our own sleep be disturbed.