Giving thanks in a time of violence

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I was writing a news story Monday night at 1 a.m. when gunshots went off nearby. From the sound, I guessed it was about a block away — maybe less.

I tweeted, “Gunshots at 1am on a Monday? Really?”

Some of the responses I received reminded me of the privilege — particularly white privilege — of zip codes unlike my own, which is in one of Philadelphia’s poorest Black neighborhoods where gun violence remains regrettably common in a city that outstrips New York and Los Angeles for gun homicides. As a New York Times headline asserted last summer: “‘Everybody Is Armed’: As Shootings Soar, Philadelphia Is Awash in Guns.”

The gunfire Monday night was brief and unaccompanied by police sirens. My work was barely interrupted by whatever prompted someone to be shooting at someone else at 1 a.m., which likely meant no one was killed.

Monday’s gunshots were nothing like a few years ago, in 2019, when someone ran down the alleyway between our neighbors’ house and ours shooting nonstop on Thanksgiving Eve as my wife and I were lying in bed watching TV.

I had yelled at her to get on the floor as I saw muzzle flashes through the curtains; she was closer to the windows. My heart raced as I called 911. The bored or overtired or just deeply cynical operator asked if I could see who was shooting, which is a stupidly common question asked by 911 operators when I have called over a couple decades of living in a neighborhood where gunfire is common.    

On that night — Nov. 27, 2019 at 10:21p.m. — I wrote in a series of tweets,

“OMG SIX SHOTS RIGHT OUTSIDE THE HOUSE.

Called 911 and it took them 8 rings to answer. Police on their way.”

“Absolutely terrified.”

“These shots were so close, I told the 911 operator it sounded like they were right outside the window, in the alley between our house and our next door neighbors’.”

“We’ve had three men shot to death in front of my house in 4yrs. There are bullet holes in my living and dining room windows.

THIS IS HAPPENING EVERY DAY IN THIS COUNTRY.

It’s #ThanksgivingEve and our neighbors have three young kids. Any of us could have caught a stray bullet.”

My wife and I were lucky that night. We survived. Our neighbors survived. Someone was arrested. No one was killed. We celebrated Thanksgiving the next day, even more grateful than usual.

We live in violent times. It sounds like an aphorism one’s immigrant grandmother might intone. But it’s an exhausted response to living in a violent city in a violent country where the leader of one of the two main political parties, the former president, Donald Trump, stokes political violence every day and will in fact be on trial early next year for doing that January 6, 2021.

On the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times was this headline: “Trump’s Dire Words Raise New Fears About His Authoritarian Bent.” The kicker reads: “The former president is focusing his most vicious attacks on domestic political opponents, setting off fresh worries among autocracy experts.” The word “fascism” was in the URL.

Also on the front page was a local New York story: “Behind Acts of Violence, Years of Mistakes.” A subtitle reads: “How New York’s Safety Net Fails Mentally Ill People.”

Also on that front page, stories about the Israel-Hamas conflict and the war in Ukraine — one with the word “trauma” in the headline, the other with the word “bloody.” Then down in the lower right corner below the fold, a headline that shames the others: “A Surprising Discovery Reveals

That Groups of Apes Cooperate.”

Surprising indeed, given the bipedal primates that are us.

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us and here we are, the most violent country in the world that is not in an actual war zone. Last year was the most violent on record with 48,830 gun-related deaths — a breathtaking number. The Centers for Disease Control stats show 327 people are shot every day: 117 people are killed and another 210 survive gunshot injuries. 

Gun deaths among U.S. children and teens rose 50% in two years.

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season. It’s also the beginning of the deadliest time of the year for gun violence. This is the season for gun accidents and domestic violence killings. Gun deaths spike during the holidays and are more likely to occur than any other time of the year, according to an analysis by The Associated Press and the USA TODAY Network.

And again, there is the backdrop of a former president using violent language daily and his attorneys arguing for his right to do so in a gag order hearing about a different trial on Monday.

This holiday season finds LGBTQ+ people more at risk from violence than ever. In October, the annual FBI crime statistics show anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes are on the rise. Anti-LGBTQ hate crimes rose sharply in 2022, jumping more than 19% over 2021.

More than 11,600 hate crime incidents were reported to the FBI in 2022, the highest number recorded since the agency began tracking them in 1991. Hate crimes targeting LGBTQ+ people were up significantly compared with 2021 and hate crimes motivated by an anti-transgender bias rose more than 35% year over year.

Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that the increase in hate crimes was “both shocking and heartbreaking, yet sadly, not unexpected.”

Robinson said, “The constant stream of hostile rhetoric from fringe anti-equality figures, alongside the relentless passage of discriminatory bills, particularly those targeting transgender individuals, in state legislatures, created an environment where it was sadly foreseeable that individuals with violent tendencies might respond to this rhetoric.”

In addition, antisemitic hate crimes are up as well, and anti-Muslim hate crimes are expected to spike. The FBI notes that hate crimes against LGBTQ+, Jewish and Muslim individuals are disproportionate to their demographics in the U.S.

And so it is in this landscape of violence that we enter into what is supposed to be, as the song states,  “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Maybe. But it’s also the most violent, and LGBTQ+, Jewish and Muslim people are at risk. So as you celebrate Thanksgiving, be grateful that you are still alive in a nation dedicated to killing with a violent, toxic leader who is rising daily in the polls. These are wildly uncertain times and amid any revelry, we must also be wary.