Allow me to state the obvious and begin by noting that I’m not a psychic. I’m neither a medium nor a genius, nor do I possess any kind of special knack for prediction. I am, however, an American. I was born in America, I live in America, and I’ve never lived anywhere but America. That being said, for me to accurately predict events in America is less a display of clairvoyance than it is a display of the sheer predictability of the nation.
In the same way that you’d expect dark clouds to precede rain or a product claiming to be “free” to have a catch, I and millions of my compatriots simply expect history, American history, to repeat itself. Adages stick for a reason, after all.
In October of 2020, I predicted a mass shooting, and I didn’t even mean to. I wrote a satirical story for The DC Voice in which an extremely racist white teenager opens fire on Black store patrons in New Haven, Connecticut. Last month, an extremely racist white teenager opened fire on Black store patrons in Buffalo, New York. Because the story is satirical, it contains several ridiculous details that can’t be compared to the Buffalo shooting, but I essentially wrote a rough draft of the all too real event.
The murderer of my story, Tyler Singleton, was created in direct response to Kyle Rittenhouse, a perhaps more ignorant than racist (though racism already implies ignorance), but likely racist white teenager who killed two white people in Kenosha, Wisconsin who were protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man. Singleton was also created in response to Dylann Roof, an extremely racist twenty-one-year-old who killed nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. The Buffalo shooter, Payton S. Gendron, wrote that Roof was one of his main inspirations, proving that while life imitates art, it also imitates itself. This is why I wrote the story. I was upset that I knew it would write itself anyway.
Early last year, a friend and I predicted an attempted homicide. The subject was Nehemiah Harden, known professionally as SpotemGottem, a then only nineteen-year-old Florida rapper whose antagonistic, gang-oriented lyrics and persona we believed would mean his premature demise. I noted that his eccentric hairstyle didn’t necessarily help him blend into a crowd, either. We both knew that violent lyrics and a penchant for making enemies led rappers XXXTentacion, Jimmy Wopo, Lil JoJo, and countless others to their graves, and Harden undoubtedly checked those boxes. Sure enough, an attempt on his life was made that September, leaving him shot in the hip and with twenty-two bullet holes in the side of his Dodge Charger. Even though Harden made it out alive, I remain disturbed by how predictable patterns of violence are in America, and it’s clear that scores of others feel the same way.
When mass shootings occur in America, you’ll often hear them discussed as if “the next time” were already guaranteed. A done deal. Indeed, “the next time” weaves its way into every conversation, and indeed, it’s guaranteed. It’s difficult to live comfortably with this knowledge. Without exaggeration, we Americans are always either witnessing mass shootings or waiting for them. And while singular homicides occur virtually everywhere, their predictability in America makes them especially worrying.
America’s distinct culture of violence transcends identifiers like sex, race, class, and age. Anyone can shoot and anyone can be shot. It seems ironic at first that the so-called “land of the free” should be so interested in restricting the freedom to live, but perhaps the freedom to do that restricting is, to Americans, just as important. For decades it’s been said that “the right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins,” a saying commonly attributed to former Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. But Americans seem more concerned with their fists than the “other man.” In the wake of the Buffalo shooting and yet another school shooting, new gun control legislation already seems doomed to fail once Republicans vote against it in the Senate. As Covid-19 cases surge again, many Americans remain incensed by establishments requiring masks, clearly preferring to exercise their “freedom” instead of protecting themselves and their fellow man. Score another one for the fists.
Largely, Americans have always seen themselves as the world’s most devoted champions for liberty and arbiters of justice, both within the homestead and abroad. Across the Union you’ll hear talk of how “this is America” or of someone’s “God-given right,” signifying our divinely granted and nationally defended freedom to live whatever lives we so choose. Unfortunately, American individualism, which pervades the national consciousness as much as our love of freedom does, regularly corrupts “liberty and justice for all” into “liberty and justice for me.”
Everyone that’s ever voluntarily ended a life without ending their own decided that their right to live was less assailable than their victim’s. The numbers tell us that Americans are constantly making this decision. In this land of liberty, freedom, and justice, perhaps what’s missing most is empathy.