Santa Barbara: ‘Resilience in the Face of Violence’

[Diocese of Los Angeles Episcopal News] Southland Episcopalians from Santa Barbara to Irvine were among thousands who gathered May 27 to remember and to honor six college students who were killed and 13 others who were injured during a deadly May 23 rampage in Isla Vista.

The Rev. Nicole Janelle, vicar and chaplain of St. Michael’s University Church and the Episcopal campus ministry at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), offered a final benediction to about 16,000 people at a Tuesday afternoon memorial service at the university’s Harder Stadium.

Invoking a spirit of healing and solace, strength and unity, Janelle called for “resilience in the face of violence and the courage to face that violence with resolve.”

“May we embrace our work as peacemakers, helping to nurture a culture of respect and loving compassion and a culture where there is ‘not one more’ in our community and in our world,” she added, echoing a rousing chant initiated by Richard Martinez, father of one of the victims, Christopher Michaels-Martinez, who also addressed the gathering.

He urged mourners to shout chant loudly enough, until Washington lawmakers could hear the cry of “not one more” senseless gun death.

Martinez and other UCSB students died when a local community college student, Elliot Rodger, embarked upon self-described “retribution” for feeling rejected by female students. Rodger detailed his intentions to target a UCSB sorority in a video and a “manifesto” posted on YouTube.

After fatally stabbing Cheng Yuan Hong, 20; George Chen, 19; and Weihan Wang, 20, Rodger shot and killed Veronika Weiss, 19; Katie Cooper, 22; and Michaels-Martinez, 20. Rodger continued his shooting spree and rammed others with his vehicle as he drove erratically across campus before dying of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot.

Students, staff and faculty at the UC-Irvine campus also organized an 8 p.m. vigil on Tuesday to express solidarity with the UCSB campus, according to the Rev. Hsin-Fen Chang, Episcopal chaplain.

The emotional vigil was “an opportunity for UCI students to gather and to honor the victims and to pray for their families and also for those who were injured,” said Chang.

She cancelled a regular bible study so that participants could attend the gathering, characterized by several speakers as an opportunity to cherish both life and one another, she said.

The gathering of about 500 also included several moments of silence in honor of the victims and their families. Many of the UCI students knew and recalled memories of the victims, she added. University officials offered counseling and other grief and wellness resources to students.

The Rev. Jim Lee, chair of the UCI Asian American Studies Department, said he taught at UCSB from 2004 to 2009, and has heard from colleagues who needed to talk about their grief.

“I’ve been keeping in touch with folks via social media and in many ways,” Lee told The Episcopal News. “I got a call from a former colleague wanting to reflect with me how he should respond to his class of 300 students; how does he engage students today on an official day of mourning where classes are canceled but the faculty is invited to be on campus to be available to students.”

He said that the community needs time to grieve before actively engaging some of the analysis already underway on social media regarding Rodger’s motives and background. Rodger had a history of mental and emotional difficulties and in April concerned family members had requested that local sheriffs conduct a welfare check on him. Sheriffs reportedly found nothing amiss.

“In a lot of ways, many of my non-UCSB-related people on Facebook and the like have been trying to reflect on how Mr. Rodger’s race and gender and his misogynistic rants in both the video and manifesto reflected deeper problems with misogyny and violence against women,” Lee told the Episcopal News.

“My sense in conversations online with UCSB is, let’s not so much displace those questions or conversations but let’s bring to the fore the very real pain the folks are feeling in Santa Barbara.

“There’s a much more visceral response that wants to rally to make grieving central to that, at least as an initial response,” Lee said. “From my observations of UCSB, they’re trying to hold both as much space for grief, empathy and the like before going through any kind of social analysis.”

In Isla Vista, Janelle and others said the usually lively oceanside campus has been uncharacteristically quiet and somber and students spent Tuesday, a designated “day of mourning,” seeking solace and comfort in small groups.

Brian Granger, 43, a doctoral student in theatre who sings in St. Michael’s choir, said that a former student visiting from Los Angeles, identified as “Matt” on Facebook, was among those wounded in the shootings.

“He had gone to grab a drink and was standing next to someone who was killed on the spot,” Granger said. “He ducked behind a car and then ran into a nearby shop. When he got there he realized it was hard for him to move and at that moment, realized he was shot,” Granger said. The injuries were not life-threatening and following surgery his friend was released from the hospital on May 27.

Granger said the memorial service helped to begin the healing process and added that St. Michael’s “immediately opened the doors of the church and they’re still open. And we put signs up so people knew they could come and meditate or pray.”

Students, staff and faculty at UCLA also gathered to mourn and to show support in the wake of the violence. A candlelight vigil is planned for 8 p.m. May 28 at UC Riverside and the public is invited to attend.

Janelle said that a peace labyrinth, already under construction, will be dedicated on May 31 at St. Michael’s.

During the church’s regular Monday evening dinner for the homeless, participants lined up to paint “peace rocks” for the labyrinth. “We’re using that to create an activity to honor what’s happened in the last few days,” Janelle said.

– The Rev. Pat McCaughan writes for the Diocese of Los Angeles’ Episcopal News. This story also appeared on the Episcopal News Service.

– Photo: One of the many tributes to the murdered in Isla Vista, California. By Nicole Janelle via Facebook

There Are Ways to Prevent This

Do not be overcome by evil; but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:21

A journalist in Arizona called to ask if I had any thoughts on how Richard Martinez, the outspoken father a young man killed in last Friday’s shooting in Isla Vista, California, could craft a persuasive gun control message. In his grief, Martinez has said that he is determined to speak and to act until something changes. But the journalist had her doubts. Angry, grieving families and rising body counts aren’t persuading those opposed to measures such as universal background checks, limits on high capacity magazines, stricter gun trafficking laws, a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, and addressing the inadequacies of our mental healthcare system.

“I’ve been following the gun legislation debates since Arizona congresswoman Gabriel Giffords was shot three years ago,” she told me. Nothing has changed. I told her that many of the religious leaders who took up the cause for sensible gun legislation in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings, including me, thought that the tide was turning, and that we could finally overcome those who financially benefit from the sale and illegal trafficking of increasingly lethal guns. We were wrong.

While small gains have been made in some places, to date, we haven’t been able to move national legislation. And so the shooting continues, every day, somewhere, as if this were normal; as if, in the words of the satirical newspaper The Onion: There is No Way to Prevent This.

And yet, I told her, if you want to understand the kind of work we’re engaged in, think back on other changes that we take for granted now that seemed impossible as people fought for them. When you watch an episode of Mad Men or a movie from the 1960s, you see people chain smoking cigarettes everywhere. Do you remember how impossible it felt to change laws that affected our smoking habits?

Or consider, I said, the long struggle for basic civil rights for African Americans and other citizens of color in this country. While we have a long way to go toward the goal of racial equality, fifty years ago people were beaten, arrested, and even killed for trying to integrate restaurants and buses. Can you imagine living in that America now?

Or remember even as recently as a decade ago, when the idea of marriage equality for gays and lesbians was unimaginable, and the forces opposed to gay marriage—even the most basic of civil unions—prevailed in the cultural debate. That tide has turned in ways that even the most ardent, hopeful marriage equality advocate of ten years ago would have found hard to imagine.

Did we all suddenly wake up one morning and change our minds? Did our politicians decide on their own to vote differently? Of course not. Social change is always slow and incremental at first. For years, often decades, people struggle with seemingly nothing to show for their efforts. Looking back, we recognize hinge moments, when things seemed to shift quickly and dramatically. But never did those shifts occur separate from the hard and strategic work of organizing and of shifting the moral center of debate.

That’s what happening now. Even as the killings continue, we are organizing across the country, and each day the coalition grows stronger. Richard Martinez, in his grief, is now part of the growing movement that will one day prevail in seeing our gun laws change. I’m proud to be part of that movement and to stand alongside so many of you.

In years to come, we will look back on this time and wonder how we could have possibly accepted this level of gun violence. Just as we think in horror now on parts our past, our children’s children will shake their heads in disbelief that we took as long as we did to end this public health epidemic during which, on average, two mass shootings occur every month and over 30,000 Americans die each year by guns. But until that time, the work continues. There are ways to prevent this, and we know it.