The horrific violence of the Orlando mass shooting has appalled and saddened people of good will throughout the United States and the world. The American Friends Service Committee’s South Region stands in solidarity with all who mourn this tragic event. Like everyone else touched by this, we send our thoughts and prayers on behalf of the dead, the wounded, the fearful and the grieving.
Our staff and volunteers have labored long and hard in Florida and throughout the American South to promote nonviolence and social justice. Our work intersects with many of the flashpoints and fault lines this disaster reveals.
We have consistently opposed bigotry, hatred, intolerance and violence when these are directed towards those who are or are perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. We have actively opposed—and are actively opposing—discriminatory policies proposed or enacted throughout our region.
At the same time, we oppose the hatred and fear directed against Muslims by those who blame the entire Islamic community for the actions of individuals or small groups. We also fear that the backlash created by these events will result in harm to already marginalized immigrant communities from all backgrounds.
We recognize that violence and discrimination against people who are LGBT is a worldwide problem not confined to any region or religion. In our region, mean-spiritedness has often taken the form of bigoted legislation coming from the highest circles. We also recognize that Islamophobia, particularly when trumpeted by would-be leaders and media outlets, can lead to further alienation and acts of violence. The tragedy also highlights the needless suffering caused by easy access to weapons of mass murder and a culture that glorifies violence.
In the words of Lucio Perez-Reynozo, coordinator of AFSC’s Florida programs, “nothing that can be said can ease the pain and suffering of those who lost their relatives and those whose relatives were injured during this act of violence. As individuals, we are called upon to reflect deep down in our consciousness and spirituality to find our divine force and condemn human violence happening in Orlando and around the world. Violence only brings more violence.”
Situations like this one call upon the better angels of our nature. We urge those in positions to influence public opinion and promote public safety to avoid xenophobic responses to this attack, which could only worsen an already bad situation. This is a time to mourn, but also to build bridges and to reject hate even as we work to build a safer, freer and more secure world for all.
Those of us who carry out the work of the American Friends Service Committee in the South region, which ranges from southern Florida to central Appalachia, rededicate ourselves to the difficult task of opposing all forms of oppression and violence, whatever their source.
In the words of Albert Camus, “We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes and our ravages. But our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to fight them in ourselves and in others.”