Monday, July 25, 2016

Is Half-Staff the Norm?

The US Flag outside the Mississippi River Commission building was at half staff last week.


I subscribe to a website that alerts me as to the status of the flag. After working on a military base for a while, I felt like I needed to know WHY the flag was not at full staff.  The website would give me an update.

Most of the time, I would already know.  Head of state died.  Memorial Day.  September 11.  Pearl Harbor.

Other times, we fly the flag at half staff for a presidential declaration because of the death of an official, former officials, or foreign dignitaries. Or the president may order half-staff display of the flag after other tragic events (half mast, by the way, is aboard a ship - thanks, Uncle Google!).

But these declarations are no longer the exception.  They are the rule.

Just since Memorial Day, we have flown the flag at half staff:

- between the 12th and the 16th of June in response to the Orlando killings.
- between July 8th and July 12th for the Dallas shootings.
- three days later, for the Nice incident - July 15 through July 19.

We didn't even get through the mourning period for Nice before we had another proclamation:

HONORING THE VICTIMS OF THE ATTACK IN BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA - - - - - - - BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA A PROCLAMATION As a mark of respect for the victims of the attack on police officers perpetrated on Sunday, July 17, 2016, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, July 22, 2016.

In total, 69 proclamations have been made during the Obama presidency, and 170 days that the flag has flown at half staff in the past year.  When you add in the proclamations by the state governors (who can also issue a flag proclamation in their state), 336 days of the past year have I went through the list, and it is not an Obama thing - not as if he is making proclamations right and left. It is just a shocking level of violence that

Take a look at the list just in the past year: (Nancy Reagan and Antonin Scalia are added in, as well).

Fort Hood.
Roseburg, Oregon.
San Bernadino.
Baton Rouge.

Which one had you forgotten, off that list? (For me, it was the Umpqua shooting.  I suspect that our hearts can only hold a certain amount of violence at a time).

The issues are complex.  The list does not just represent terrorism.  Or police deaths. Or victims of hate crimes.  Or school shootings.

It is all of this and more.  And I am finding my heart broken anew, every day.  And worrying that I am developing scar tissue, where that raw emotion used to be. Am I getting jaded?  Do I just expect violence to be part of my society?  Have I given up on a hope of a peaceful society, where we expect our citizens to die of, oh, I don't know.... old age?

Am I accustomed to seeing the flag at half staff?

Can I afford to be?

Everyone is passionate about their answer. 

More guns are the answer.  Stricter gun laws are the answer.
Police sensitivity training is the answer.  Increasing police budgets is the answer. 
Getting rid of all foreigners is the answer.  Embracing a multicultural society is the answer.
Being polite to the police is the answer.  Revamping the idea of police is the answer.
Being liberal is the answer.  Being conservative is the answer.

I lived for more than a year in a country where the violence was completely out of hand.  Murders, domestic violence, assassinations, drug wars, violence against indigenous peoples... Guatemala had it all.  I am not unfamiliar with what it is like to live in a battle zone.

But as the violence escalates around me, and as I hear my friends on social media all echo the same refrain - STOP KILLING PEOPLE! - I worry that I am beginning to accept the violence in my world as background noise.  I worry that I am living my life expecting the flag to always be at half staff.

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