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STEVE SEBELIUS: Racism has a body count

Racism is not benign.

Racism destroys, first the people it hates, and then the haters themselves.

Racism ends with a body count.

Two unrelated but eerily similar incidents on opposite sides of the country illustrate those simple truths.

Two gunman decided to target people simply because of their race. Radicalized by politics, both men wrote about their plans and intentions. Both targeted people hours away from their homes. Both drove long distances to arrive at their destinations. Both used firearms. Both killed people, some of them elderly.

Both survived.

The shootings at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York, in which 10 people died, and at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California, where one person was killed and four others critically wounded, were each motivated by racial animus, authorities said.

In Buffalo, the victims were targeted because they were Black. In California, the victims were targeted because they were Taiwanese. In Buffalo, the shooter was apparently a believer in the theory that immigrants are seeking to replace white people in the United States. In California, the shooter was motivated by the political tension between China and Taiwan.

In the wake of the incidents, some have speculated that the gunmen must have been mentally ill. How else can this kind of random violence against strangers be explained? But others have denounced that idea, saying it serves only to humanize the killers.

But how can you humanize a person who has committed such an inhuman act?

For the Black community, the sudden violence in the most ordinary of spaces is nothing new. Violence perpetrated in the name of racial hate has been part of the Black experience since before the founding of the nation, first with slavery, then with voting rights, then with civil rights, continuing all the way to the present day. Some may call that critical race theory, but it’s really just history.

It’s not lost on the Black community that the white shooter in Buffalo survived his rampage, and in a nation where Black men have been shot by police after being pulled over for ridiculously minor traffic infractions.

The victims were good, hard-working people. Among them: Aaron Salter, the store’s security guard and an ex-Buffalo police officer, who fired back at the gunman and lost his life defending shoppers. Ruth Whitfield, 86, who was just coming from visiting her husband in a nursing home. Andre Mackneil, 53, who had dropped by the store to pick up a birthday cake for his 3-year-old son. Pearl Young, 77, still working as a substitute teacher in Buffalo public schools.

In California, Dr. John Cheng, 52, a sports medicine physician, tackled the shooter, losing his life in the process but likely saving others, Orange County sheriff’s officials said.

All of these people should be remembered. They should be celebrated. The killers who ended their lives should be forgotten.

Recently, a debate in America over abortion has centered on the idea that life is sacred.

But those are just words. We don’t really believe that. If we did, we’d make it at least a little bit harder for people to take life en masse. Instead, we regularly make blood sacrifices upon the altar of the Second Amendment, just the price of liberty and freedom.

To be sure, even if we were able to take every single gun away, the hatred that motivated both shooters would still exist. It would still fester, in dark corners of the internet and on brightly lit TV screens. Losing the guns would not ease the hate, and other weapons would be used to express it.

It would, however, make it harder to kill as many people in as little time. And that might be something, if we really thought life was sacred.

If racism really is learned — and it is — it can be unlearned. We can learn not to hate, we can reject the charlatans who want to use racism for their own benefit, enrichment and power. We can turn our backs on that, and realize that the America of today is better than the America of yesteryear, and the America of tomorrow will be even better still.

Let’s work to see the killings in Buffalo and California and El Paso and Charlottesville and Christchurch are the death rattle of an antiquated, discredited evil. And, as the scripture says, let’s not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.

Maybe then life really will be sacred.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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