Last week’s mass shooting terrorist attack in San Bernardino has had me thinking quite a bit about the virtues of citizenship and the strength of unity.
Like so many of you, in the weeks after the Paris attacks, I found myself offended by the simplistic xenophobic chatter and actions of too many of our national leaders as well as those vying for our votes in next year’s elections, returning to some disgraceful moments in our nation’s history. And since the San Bernardino attack, there has been too much of the same divisive rhetoric specifically targeting those of the Muslim faith, not just radicals or jihadists, but the entire community of worshippers. The rhetoric, based on narratives from our past, is driven by fear, ignorance, and hate.
That is not my America. San Bernardino is my America.
Even before getting over the shock of last week’s terrorist attack that killed 14, wounded 21, and stunned the world, the great citizens of our Inland communities rallied and came together to support not just the families of the victims, the wounded survivors, but a traumatized community. I attended the first large public gathering, which was held the night after the massacre, and joined thousands of my neighbors, friends, and regional supporters to show that we would not give into fear, we would not recoil and hide, and we would not turn against one another as the attackers had hoped. We will not be deceived into playing into someone else’s “holy war” narrative.
San Bernardino may be a city in bankruptcy, but the people of San Bernardino are rich in compassion, courage, and cooperation. Amidst the flicker of thousands of tiny flames generated by thousands of candles the people of San Bernardino came together in solidarity – over 4000 strong – heartbroken, grieving, but united. As Councilman Rikke Van Johnson reminded us, “When they attack one of us, they attack all of us.”
There have been subsequent equally impressive shows of support and outpourings of love, but that first gathering that night after the tragedy shows the strength and resiliency of a remarkable community of what Pastor Joshua Beckley called “hopeful optimists.” Yes, San Bernardino and our neighbors remain full of hope and love even after such a devastating tragedy.
For me the most powerful moment of the evening was when Joe Salas, who spoke on behalf the Islamic Center of Redlands, addressed the crowd. “Evil is arrogant,” he said of the husband and wife pair that believed in an extremist ideology that destroyed so many innocent lives that day, “but they didn’t know they were striking the toughest city of the IE. Showing up tonight shows you are not afraid of evil.” The mourners clapped a little harder in response and raised their candles a little higher in tribute. An act that was meant to divide and destroy has brought a community even closer together.
Last night I attended another vigil service…the SEIU public employee union organized this one. Ten of the 14 killed were their members. Once again, thousands stood in front of the San Bernardino County building, candles lit, singing songs of praise, remembering the victims, and vowing to not allow this to destroy an already vulnerable community. Battered. Bruised. But not broken.