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Clarification for L.A. Times on My Mother’s Day Shooting Blog Post

I’d like to address the L.A. Times’s story, “Organizers ‘Embarrassed’ by New Orleans Parade Shooting.” The reporter quotes my BLKVS blog, “What Kind of Animal Shoots Up a Mother’s Day Parade?” particularly the part where I wrote:

What kind of monster opens fire on a Mother’s Day parade crowd? What kind of animal? I hate myself for thinking to ask this in these exact terms, but it’s these exact terms in which I’m thinking. 

I appreciate the L.A. Times for both reporting on the issue, and also quoting our nascent blog, but I fear that the extracted words from my post won’t give readers the full context of what I was saying. 

The purpose of my blog post was not to characterize the shooter as an “animal” or a “monster.” Instead, I was saying that given certain circumstances — namely growing up with the trauma of Katrina, extreme poverty, government neglect and abysmal health care options — that I would be the kind of monster who would shoot into a crowd.

I was not attempting to separate myself from the shooter, I was identifying with him, while explaining that it’s only because of the privileges I grew up with that I have not enacted similar actions like the kind victims suffered from on Mother’s Day. 

And even with the privileges I named in my blog post, I still can’t promise that I wouldn’t become a “monster” if someone shot or killed my loved ones. Nor would such privileges insulate me from such labels anyway, since i am black. To this day, people still call O. J. Simpson a “monster,” despite his wealth, education and articulate-ness. 

The point is that trauma creates “monsters,” or rather, humans broken down to perform actions that others perceive as monster-like. In that sense, poverty — itself a form of violence — creates “monsters.”

We aren’t born monsters, but we can become one if needs, options and opportunities are kept from us or rendered inaccessible. Adding the trauma of witnessed shootings and murders as seen in New Orleans across the decades to that stew, and (hopefully) you’ll see how a person can lose their head, pushed after already too close to the edge

This is not a jab at the L.A. Times writer, nor am I claiming I was misquoted. I recognize that I invited the interpretation that I was singling out the shooter as a monster through my headline. The quote he used was only four paragraphs in to my post, and was part of the lead.

I’m not apologizing for that. At the time, I was trying to reconcile the anger I had inside of me, after spending hours in the hospital seeing my friend who was shot, with the more logical and humane response that should come after such a tragedy. 

There are, I’m sure, many who didn’t get past that fourth paragraph, or even the headline, as jarring as they were, and it would be disingenuous at best if I faulted people for that. I’m appreciate for those who stuck with it through the end, and if confused, at least gave it the benefit of the doubt.

I’m only seeking clarification, especially if the reporter and others did manage to read the rest of the blog and the points I made above weren’t salient. In those cases, the errors are mine for not being clearer in what I was trying to communicate. (There’s a case to be made in interrogating why the reporter rushed to single out that thought from my post from the others, even after my lead, but that’s a subject for another blog, and I’m not going there today.)

I should be frank, though, that when I heard about the shootings, and learned that Deb Cotton, kids and at least a dozen others were the victims, one of my first actual thoughts was, in fact, What kind of animal would do this?

It was not until I thought about it, prayed about it, checked my privileges and talked and cried with my wife that I began to unravel that primitive, impulsive thought. After I thought about my own upbringing, my own relationship with violence and the many friends I’ve lost to guns — as both the victims and the shooters — it was then that I reached the conclusion that I’m the kind of animal who would do this.

I then thought about the many times I failed to help, mentor or assist a young, black child in need, in New Orleans and beyond, and then realized that I’m also another kind of animal: The kind who has done nothing in the face of need and despair. 

Attempting poetry and candidness comes with its consequences, though, so I only hope my clarification is somewhat sufficient. Depending on the reporter’s or the readers’ worldview, my words either reinforced devastating stereotypes, or they challenged you on your own biases and privileges. I can’t pretend to have mastered it such that the impact was purely noble. 

— Brentin Mock

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