The founding fathers created the Constitution as a living document meant to guide Americans into the future. The preamble calls for us to form a more perfect union and to insure domestic tranquility.
That forward vision is important since their words were written when slavery was an accepted American institution and women did not have the right to vote, own property, or sign a contract. Nonetheless their genius was in their vision of a document that carried the promise of greater opportunity in the future.
It is interesting to imagine what our founding fathers would think about our country today.
Might their pride in the gains made be mixed with fear at what has transpired over the past years? One suspects they would also be sharing in the grief felt by a nation brought to its knees from yet two more horrific mass killings, less than two weeks apart.
Bullets were not even invented when the Constitution was penned. Certainly, the founders could not have foreseen nor justified a world where providing “for the common defence” meant that machine guns would be used to slay children and teachers in schools and families in grocery stores. No other nation in the world suffers such carnage from gun deaths.
The constitution has been the foundation for an evolving constellation of rights and protections that we must never take for granted. Achieving a more perfect union is the task we inherited and the legacy we pass on to our children.
Democracy Heroes & Threats
This month, our Democracy Heroes and Threats emerge from horrific instances of recent gun violence in America
In Buffalo, a hero gave his life trying to save his community from a killer who represents a vast threat to our democracy – mass murders by individuals inspired by the fomenting of political and racial hatred via social media and the internet.
There are a raft of extremist groups espousing the violent overthrow of the US government and the instigation of a race war. The Buffalo killer followed the script laid out on social media by these extremists.
Their theories include the Great Replacement – the notion that Jews are bringing dark-skinned immigrants into the country to replace white Christians. Another theory, accelerationism, is that mass killings by lone wolves - such as the murders at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston - will start a race war that will lead to a neo-Nazi regime. These theories are increasingly gaining traction on-line.
The Buffalo killer was a threat who represented the same ideology. In this instance, he was an 18-year-old white supremacist radicalized via social media during the pandemic. He lived in a small town near Binghamton, an economically depressed region of New York, and conducted extensive surveillance and planning prior to choosing his target, a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, over 200 miles away.
He committed mass murder armed with a semi-automatic weapon and wearing body armor, and posted online a 180-page screed embracing the Great Replacement Theory and Accelerationism. He also referenced role models whose racial hatred led to murders in South Carolina and New Zealand.
The hero, Aaron Salter Jr., was a fifty-six-year-old security guard at Tops who died trying to protect the employees and customers from this young white supremacist intent on murdering Black shoppers. Mr. Salter was a retired Buffalo policeman with a wife and three children.
A report from the Center for American Progress has cataloged the threat from white supremacist violence. The White House National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism reports: “Preventing domestic terrorism and reducing the factors that fuel it demand a multifaceted response across the Federal Government and beyond.”
Days after the Buffalo murders, John Cheng, a 52-year-old doctor, died a hero as he tried to protect parishioners at the Geneva Presbyterian Church, where a Chinese man opened fire at a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods, CA. Five others were wounded in the attack.
Dr. Cheng was taking his mom to church. The church’s former Pastor, Billy Chang, subdued the gunman; Dr. Cheng was shot when he sought to wrestle him to the ground. The shooter, another threat to democracy, had sent a diary of 7 volumes handwritten in Mandarin to a local paper describing his hatred of Taiwan.
And now, barely weeks later, the country is reeling from the slaughter that has left 19 children and 2 teachers dead. The motive of the shooter is unknown, but it is known that he broadcast his intent on social media prior to carrying out his horrific crimes.
Implicit in the rule of law should be the notion that when our kids attend school, when we enter our house of worship, and when we shop for groceries, we are safe from attack by armed men with assault rifles. We are shattered by these experiences, unnerved by their impact on our sense of safety, and deeply grieving for the victims and their families, just as we are grateful for the heroes willing to give their lives to save others.