Memorial Day in America is, ostensibly, a holiday to honor the lost lives of those who served. For most people, it’s one extra weekend day at the start of summer to fire up the grill, hit the beach, or whatever else you’d rather do besides sit at a desk.
This year, Memorial Day comes just days after yet another mass shooting (and yet another at an elementary school, no less), killing 19 kids and two adults. This Memorial Day comes just days after fourth graders played dead by covering themselves in the blood of slain classmates—just as they were taught to, because this country decided long ago that school shootings are to be so normal that nine-year-olds should be prepared for them.
There’s a twisted, gutting irony to this holiday dedicated to honoring the dead at a time when it feels like politicians want us to become desensitized to mass death. Mere days before the Uvalde shooting in which 19 kids at a primarily Latinx elementary school were murdered, a white supremacist gunman killed 10 at a grocery store in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo. While all that was happening, the US hit 1,000,000 covid deaths, and it felt like no one even blinked. The Supreme Court remains poised to send maternal mortality rates skyrocketing—particularly for Black pregnant people—and effectively end dignified life for pregnant people across the US, pending their ZIP code. Large swaths of this country will soon be under water, as the effects of climate catastrophe ravage and shorten the life spans of primarily poor communities of color.
None of this is normal. Or rather, it shouldn’t be—but by now, it more or less is here in the US. This Memorial Day weekend, we’re given one (1) day off from work, from the increasingly hollow motions of our day-to-day lives in this capitalist hellscape. We’re given one (1) day, as if that could ever be sufficient time to recover, grieve, breathe, amid the mass, human loss to which we’re increasingly being subjected on a daily basis.
Let’s be clear: It is not fucking normal to be expected to work, to function, to just… continue… amid traumatic conditions like this, amid mass, seemingly unending carnage. Today, we’re told to honor the dead, to ponder death, sacrifice, loss in the abstract—as if mass death isn’t unfolding all around us, constantly, with no end in sight. I say no end in sight because covid deaths, pregnancy and birth-related mortality, and, certainly, mass shootings, will rage on in the absence of action—actions that those in power are refusing to take, even in the face of all of this.
Long ago, Republicans abdicated any and all moral responsibility to prevent more shootings, and consequently, more death; they chose instead to accept these predictable massacres as inevitability. Since Columbine in 1999, Sandy Hook in 2012, Parkland in 2018, they’ve made it clear no amount of dead children will ever be enough. This tradition persists as, post-Uvalde, they tell teachers to get guns, instruct schools to train students to fight, or hire more cops, rather than simply get assault rifles the fuck out of people’s hands.
For 40 minutes, Uvalde police officers—whose department swallows up 40% of the small town’s budget—stood outside as a gunman locked himself in a classroom of fourth graders, because “no children were at risk.” To say they “did nothing” is to give them too much credit; they offered the gunman a defensive line, tackling, beating, assaulting, hand-cuffing parents who tried to rush the classroom to save their kids.
Still, Democrats and Republicans alike insist more funding for the police must be the solution to the very carnage they’re enabling, if not causing by hoarding money and resources that could be dedicated to actual prevention of violence and crime. How, exactly, will police, who kill 1,000 people per year with impunity, be the ones to stop the killings? In 2020, at the height of calls for police to be defunded, we were asked, “What about school shootings?” as if—in all cases of crime and violence—police do anything but show up after the fact, and brutalize or kill people of color.
This Memorial Day, amid the fallout of another mass shooting, the American government’s sick, predictable necropolitics—the calculus of determining whose lives matter and whose don’t—are more exposed than ever. To the American government, children do not matter; Black communities like Buffalo’s do not matter. Certainly, Black and brown families around the world killed by drone strikes and America’s trillion-dollar military industrial complex, do not matter—it’s worth noting this Memorial Day that Americans are by no means the only victims of American carnage. As for whose lives do matter, we know just how quickly lawmakers can legislate when they perceive a threat to the safety of people in power.
We are surrounded by increasingly normalized mass death, mass cruelty—politicians proudly advocating for people to be forced to birth their rapists’ babies, the subsequent slaughter of those babies once they’re born, perhaps at their elementary school, perhaps at their grocery store. Memorial Day is an all-encompassing metaphor for American life: Here, we honor the dead, all while we force large swaths of the living to suffer, live in fear, and, every few months, take one spare day off for our troubles.