Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

Wednesday December 2nd became another day in American history that is not tallied in a calendar sent out to place on your desk. It was not a date that people will ask themselves, “where were you on Wednesday, December 2nd?” It’s not a moment in history that is something worth celebrating. But when this date is recalled and the events that took place, it will be remembered as a bloody and tragic. It will be remembered as horrific. 

At 11am pacific standard time, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik opened fire on the Inland Regional Center killing 14 and leaving another 21 wounded. According to police, the couple had also "stockpiled thousands of rounds of ammunition and a dozen homemade pipe bombs in their home.”  The media’s first reaction was to label this as workplace violence. On cue, advocates for stricter gun control began showing up in twitter feeds and media interviews, calling for stricter measures on second amendment rights. GOP presidential candidates tweeted out in unison that their thoughts and prayers were with the victims and families of the shooting. And this is where it went sideways. A vitriolic backlash ensued against those offering thoughts and prayers to the victims. Tweets and social media posts stating that “prayer won’t fix this”, “stop praying and start acting”, and various other manifestations of the same idea started popping up everywhere. The climax to this drama was when the New York Daily News showed their Thursday Morning front page headline: “God isn’t fixing this.” 

Tragedies in a social media age can often bring out the worst versions of ourselves. It’s simple to hind behind a screen where tone, frustration, anger and despair cannot be seen. The internet only sees your words, they don’t hear tonality. The sense of anonymity with the internet allows for an environment where accountability is lost, and when coupled with an ever-moving news cycle it becomes noxious. Frustration with a situation leads to a mantra that people do not fully understand and opens the door for judgments before the dye is set on a situation. The offering of thoughts and prayers is not a policy proposal and those who think it stands in place of that are sorely mistaken. To petition Divine help in a situation that is not fully understood is an expression of humility, not of political standoff. No presidential candidate, congressman, or legislator imagines that prayer is the only road to solving crucial issues of our day. Prayer centers the person, expresses an awareness of dependance, and allows for a sense of clarity to take action in light of current events. Offering thoughts and prayers is not a stand-in for action, but rather a prerequisite for many before they take action. It is a posture  of patience, seeking to be less influenced by the emotionalism of the situation and asking for the clarity it takes to make decisions.  

But recent sources show the haste-to-be-the-first with the hope of exploiting a tragedy has backfired. Investigations now reveal the possibility that Tashfeen Malik had pledged allegiance to a leader of the Islamic State prior to the shooting. What was once seen as only workplace violence now has a strong possibility of being driven by terroristic motives. Be careful how quickly we use situations as an opportunity to merely advance a political agenda, it may come back to haunt you a couple of days later.