On Friday, a gunman opened fire in my hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia. He killed 12 innocent people and wounded six more.
I’ve seen media coverage and social media reactions to mass shootings before, of course. But it felt surreal to see photos of the carnage in a place so close to my heart.
The shooting occurred near where I had attended city council and school board meetings as part of a project for my high school government class, where I received my driver’s license during a court ceremony and where I visited the court again a year later, this time for bumping into another car as an inexperienced driver.
It also occurred close to where my grandmother would frequently visit as part of her job.
Thankfully, she no longer goes to the municipal complex as often and wasn't there on Friday. But although I didn't know any of the victims, we shared a sense of home. We likely ate at the same restaurants, watched the same local news stations and spent hours at the same oceanfront.
I woke up on Saturday morning and checked Twitter to see #VirginiaBeachStrong trending. When I clicked on the hashtag, I expected to see nothing but messages of support for the victims, their friends and families, and our city.
I was wrong.
“I’m religious but thoughts and prayers won’t change the fact that 12 people are dead. Gun reform needs to happen right f---ing now. The disrespect we are giving the victims or any victims of these shootings with waiting #VirginiaBeachStrong”
“Liberal logic: But if you ban abortions, people will just get them illegally #VirginiaBeachStrong”
“I see America’s love affair with guns is still as vibrant as ever. People are dying and YES GUNS DO KILL. F--- the #2ndAmendment It’s not 1776 #VirginiaBeachStrong”
“GUNS ARE A DETERRENT TO VIOLENCE. THE CRAZIEST SUMB---- WOULDN’T DARE GO INTO A SETTING WHERE HE KNOWS....HE WILL TAKE ON RETURN FIRE #FACTS #VirginiaBeachStrong”
The locations on some of these profiles and others tweeting similar sentiments? Ontario. Michigan. Minnesota. The United Kingdom. Bermuda.
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My immediate reaction was one of anger.
You’re not from here. You don’t know anything about our city other than that a mass shooting just happened. Stop using it and a hashtag, supposedly made to express support for the victims and all affected, as confirmation of your politics.
This opinion article shouldn’t be seen as an attack on conservatives, liberals or anyone in between. It’s a simply a message to anyone who happens to read this.
We don’t need your politics, and we don’t need your divisiveness.
We need your love.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I haven’t practiced what I’m preaching in this article in the past. It’s easy to see Orlando, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School or Las Vegas as a world separate from our own. It’s easy to immediately feel anger that yet another mass tragedy happened, and we should feel that anger. We should want to change things.
But don’t use a tragedy not even 24 hours old to justify your politics. I’ve done it with too many tragedies to count, and I feel sickened now to see others doing it to my own city.
I want to also say that I saw an enormous number of messages of love and hope directed toward Virginia Beach with that hashtag. I also saw people from the area use it to promote their own politics, both left and right.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I understand your anger, and I understand your desire for change. I want it too. But the time to debate political solutions will come soon enough, and you'll have an opportunity to make your voice heard at the ballot box this November and next.
Please don’t let your politics interfere with how you choose to show support for a grieving community. It could one day be your own.
Contact opinions editor Riley Blake at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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