Put “Gilroy Garlic Festival” into Google and limit the search to anything on or before Saturday, July 26. You’ll discover a popular, three-day event, that draws “tens of thousands” of people to a small Northern California city that likes to think of itself as "the garlic capital of the world." There are garlic-flavored snacks, including garlic scampi and garlic calamari. In fact, there are all sorts of “great garlicky food” served at something called “Gourmet Alley.” There’s country music and celebrities, and children under the age of 9 don’t need to pay an admission.
One of those children was 6-year-old Stephen Romero. You’ll find his name quick enough on Google if you take off the date filters. This little boy, who was about to begin the first grade, was at the festival with his mother and grandmother when a shooter opened fire on Sunday. They survived. He did not. He was one of the three people — along with a 13-year-old girl and a man in his 20s — who were killed. Another 12 were wounded. “My son had his whole life to live and he was only six,” Romero’s father told reporters, just hours after the shooting.
This should be a game-changing horror. But here’s one thing I can guarantee you: It won’t be. On television and on the Internet on Monday, the Gilroy Garlic Festival massacre felt like just one thing among the jumble of items to report. I wrote not even a year ago that “acts of mass murder have become all but constant” in the United States. What I could not contemplate then was the ultimate horror: that mass shootings would become so frequent that they would begin to lose their capacity to shock; that they would turn into mere 24- to 48-hour news items.
New Zealand significantly toughened its gun-control laws within a month of shootings at two Christchurch mosques that left 50 dead. Here, nothing seems to make a difference. There have been mass shootings at elementary schools and high schools and colleges, yoga studios and churches and synagogues, country-music concerts and gay nightclubs, before weddings and during funerals. Nothing changes.
The Gilroy shooting, in fact, simply replaced another mass shooting in the news. A still unknown shooter opened fire at Old Timers Day in New York City’s Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, killing one and wounding 11 others. If you didn’t hear about it — well, the neighborhood is a troubled one, and I’m hardly the first to note that, as a society, we take shootings involving black people a heck of a lot less seriously than we do those involving pretty much everyone else. Less than two weeks ago, Karon Brown, a 11-year old African American boy in Washington was killed at a local gas station after an ongoing neighborhood fight turned violent and an angry adult pulled out a gun. I’m guessing you didn’t hear about that one at all, unless you live in the immediate area.
We know a majority of the U.S. population supports tougher gun restrictions. But even with the National Rifle Association seemingly on the ropes, caught up in a financial scandal and governance meltdown, the issue goes nowhere. It’s easy to chalk the lack of action off to political intransigence and gridlock, but I am increasingly convinced the problem goes beyond that.
Life in the United States is so often violent and contemptuous that many of us have learned to tolerate it. We are the only developed nation that doesn’t consider health care a right and, as a result, people suffering from diabetes can’t afford their insulin and die. School administrators think it’s okay to snatch lunch food away from children whose parents can’t or won’t pay for it. Migrants are held in conditions that would violate the Geneva Conventions if they were prisoners of war. There is economic violence in the form of the millions of homes that foreclosed during and in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and environmental violence in the form of the Trump administration’s rollback of all sorts of regulations that would help address climate change. Our infrastructure is decrepit. The suicide rate is rising.
A lack of effective gun control is one of our many issues. But it’s not separate from them. It is all tied together — a Gordian knot of societal awfulness. It’s easy to blame President Trump, a man of such ghastliness his idea of help is to tweet “Be careful and safe" at people running for their lives in panic from a man with an assault weapon. But it is much more than that. We live under dehumanizing conditions and have for decades. Stephen Romero, a little boy who will never attend the first grade, and the two other still unidentified victims are just the most recent casualties of it. We need to demand better — and not stop until we get it.