WHAT I REMEMBER MOST ARE THE SHOES.
Piles and piles of soul-filled skyscrapers, spread high and wide, the colors muted by time. All shapes and sizes, some worn and others barely used. A monument to madness.
There are images more visceral, like the emaciated men with empty stares, or ever-present dark skies, as if the world really was just black-and-white. And of course there is the incomparable scope of then to now.
There’s a reason you should never invoke the Holocaust in reference to anything else. Because you can’t. That horror stands alone.
But then there are the shoes.
The 7,000 placed on the Capitol lawn to remember children cut down by gun violence. The dozens left behind after a shooting in a mosque. The ones attached to scrambling feet in an El Paso Walmart.
The hastily strewn pile in a Dayton parking lot.
They are striking images. Shoes, after all, don’t have ethnicity, skin tone or nationality. They don’t have prejudice or bias. The shoes are, in a way, what America is supposed to be — a jumbled mess that still fits together. Each pair very different yet sharing a singular purpose.
The question that dominates after these moments is always the same: Why. And the answers invariably fall short.
But something has changed. Now — after Christchurch, after Pittsburgh, after El Paso and Dayton — there is an answer.
It’s not access to guns or violent video games. It’s not drugs alone, or mental illness alone, or hate alone.
These have always been factors. Mass shootings are hardly a phenomenon of the last few years or even this century.
But 251 mass shootings in 216 days, that’s something different. Because now we’ve given people a new reason, one more deadly than assault weapons or manifestos.
We’ve given them permission.
I’m not saying it’s any one person’s fault. But when suspicion of the “other” is normalized, when virulent rhetoric and racist tropes are sanctioned by those in power — either by their words or their silence — then we are giving permission for the monsters to act.
I meant what I said about the Holocaust. It stands alone in the annals of hate.
But that was about permission, too. And sometimes the shoe fits.