Where were you when…… Michael Bishop (1945-2023)

Tuesday, December 12, 2023: Post-script to Dec. 10

I don’t think many people read my post two days about the level of gun violence in this country; but having heard when I got home from work that Michael Bishop has died one day after his 78th birthday, I certainly can’t call attention to the passing of this very accomplished and noteworthy writer without mentioning how his wife and he lost their son, James, in the massacre at Virginia Tech.

Where were you when you finally realized how non-exempt all of us are from having something as horrendous as this happen to the ones we care about the most?

After I posted my entry, by the way, I picked up the Sunday New York Times. Guess what was on the front page? “Unless a gun be born again, verily, verily, I say unto you that it will not be able to send people to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Christopher James Bishop was not the only one who perished at Virginia Tech. Let us not think that a decade and a half has mitigated in any way the pain of all those losses.


Sunday, December 10, 2023

Where were you when you heard that Bobby Kennedy had been shot?

Where were you when you heard that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot?

Where were you when you heard that John Lennon had been shot?

Where were you when you heard that the Challenger had blown up?

Where aere you when you realized how few people living within a radius of one mile of your residence could answer all those questions?

Where were you when you first heard your favorite song by your favorite band?

Where were you when you heard about a specific mass killing, other than 9/11?

For instance, on June 7, 2013, a shooter killed five people and injured three others in Santa Monica, California. An on-line description asserts that “the shooting spree occurred throughout Santa Monica, California, ending at the Santa Monica College Campus.” Actually, it did not occur “throughout” Santa Monica. It began in a neighborhood just across the street from the Santa Monica campus, which is located on Pico Boulevard.

I had lived in that neighborhood, in a small cottage, in 1971. Over 40 years later, I found myself near mid-day returning from a protest rally on San Vicente Blvd. We had wanted the President’s motorcade to take note of the fact that not everyone had forgotten about the “endless war.”

It turned out that the war was more nearby than we thought, which is to say that another “gun for hire” — another sniper volunteering for duty on behalf of the gun manufacturers — was about to get to work. I was just ten minutes into my drive home and approaching Pico on Cloverfield when traffic suddenly stalled. it wasn’t budging at all. I looked at the time and thought, “I know this neighborhood. If I make a right turn here, I can cut around this.” But I decided not to. Good thing, because the street I was planning to zig-zag my way around on was the street a man was about to commence killing several people. The shooting had not yet started as I crossed Pico Blvd. and headed to Ocean Park Blvd. and from there to Lincoln Blvd. and then a 20 minute cruise to Marina del Rey and its freeway onramp. Later, when I got home, I learned of how close a call that moment in stalled traffic had been.

A year later, on May 23, 2014, I was in Mexico City to give a poetry reading. I was sitting in a restaurant eating some breakfast when the television began reporting news of a mass killing in Isla Vista, California. I had been warned by CSULB officials that going to Mexico City might be dangerous. “Yeah,” I remember thinking to myself, “I should have gone to Santa Barbara instead. That would have been playing it safe.”

And then there was the mass killing less than a quarter mile from my residence a couple years ago. On Tuesday, October 29th, 2019, I drove home from the campus and had to park on East Seventh Street. All of the parking spots on the “safe” side of my neighborhood’s street sweeping routine for the next day were already taken, except on Seventh Street. The next day I heard that three people had been killed that night at a party within 200 feet of where I parked. A gang had targeted the wrong house. None of the people killed were part of any gang.

Nor could any of them could have answered the first four questions at the start of today’s post. Very young lives, all obliterated by cruel ignorance.

Once again, I think of the poem by Brecht that I recently quoted in this blog, and the context of that quotation.


Whom should I fear?

Since the day that John Lennon was murdered, well over a half-million people in the United States have been murdered by guns. This figure does NOT include those who killed themselves with guns. The murders of over a half-million people were perpetrated by callous agents who took advantage of the massive availability of guns in this country. This access is facilitated at the behest of the National Rifle Association, an organization whose members overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump not once, but twice, and are eager to vote a third time for him.

Less than 4000 Americans have been killed in terrorist attacks in that same period, and that includes those who were brutally slaughtered by Hamas in Israel two months ago.

Whom should I fear more?

In looking at the extremely disproportionate numbers between victims of terrorist organizations and those murdered by guns, one wonders if Homeland Security should have a certain gun lobby group classified as deserving their own special place in their registry.

The half-million figure, by the way, includes those at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who were murdered on December 6, 2023. The killer had a list of those he intended to target, but the victims were not on the list. Now while the specific motive for Anthony Polito’s rampage is still not known, my guess is that he had a fantasy of living in his favorite city and working at the local university as a way to support himself. When his job application didn’t yield any adjunct work, he imploded, but the chaos he unleashed might not have been as random as it first seemed. Let us note that two of the people whom he murdered were people of color: Dr. Patricia Navarro-Velez and Dr. Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang. Is it a coincidence that two of the people he “spontaneously” chose to shoot were professors from communities of color? I think not. Having primed himself for “retribution,” he saw their skin color and opened fire. White privilege, once again indulging in criminal self-pity, reveals the seething ego that can’t accept the slow erosion of its hegemony.


We live in a state of civil war embedded in an ongoing constitutional crisis that has too long gone unacknowledged. The constitutional crisis involves far more than the second amendment. At the core of this crisis is the originary tension between taxation and representation.

One hears “chatter” about how a civil war might break out if one political faction or another wins or loses the next election.

Stop speculating about some possible event.

If the death figures cited above don’t make you realize that we are in a state of civil war right now, then the death toll will never slow down.

I am an unarmed citizen in this country. My “civilian” status does not exempt me from being the next victim of a rapacious agenda being enforced by those who supply weapons used in this guerilla-style conflict.

“If my luck deserts me, I am lost.”

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