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I was 160 miles away when my housemates heard the first shots. 160 miles away when bullets pierced our neighbor’s fence, police screamed and a murderer sped down the street, twice. I was safe in my house when my coworkers at the Nexus raced to record interviews. I followed their work through our email and read the results of their strength and the strength of my friends through texts, Facebook and Reddit. I felt so close to the tumult of emotions from hearing personal accounts of those so close to the loss of our fellow Gauchos — George Chen, Katherine Cooper, James Hong, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, David Wang and Veronika Weiss — and felt such pride reading about the brave people who rushed to provide aid to all those hurt, physically and psychologically.
And because I wasn’t there to help, because I was so arbitrarily lucky, I feel what even many present have expressed: brittle guilt. It’s one pervading emotion rising from the trauma our community has been dealt, and it’s okay to recognize. Rather, I hope it will be okay, and the most difficult thoughts and emotions any of us are experiencing — anger, denial, isolation and everything in-between — are okay, because much of it arises from the most generative of our feelings, empathy and love for those who have been hurt.
The large questions hang as they ever did, and none of us seem to have the right answers. How can we address the intersection of narcissism, entitlement, misogyny and much more that existed in someone capable of premeditated murder? How can we protect ourselves and our autonomy and still protect ourselves from those among us who would abuse their power to harm?
There arise the specific questions, the ones we need answered now. Why did police enter the residence of a boy with three firearms, and leave satisfied that the resident was “polite?” Why does anyone, including a disturbed young man, need to own three semiautomatic handguns? We are forced, in our proximity to life and suddenly-taken life, to ask, ask and ask. We must examine the situation directly, not the killer’s face and not through the lurid speculation of outside media and talking-heads. Hearing about the plans and accomplishments of each of the six victims, listening to the heart-wrenching words of their close ones, we must resolve that when examining how this tragedy occurred we keep their faces and their shortened lives in mind. As Richard Martinez, the father of victim Christopher Ross Michael-Martinez, said at a press conference following his son’s death, “We don’t have to live like this.” If you do not have his voice ringing through your memory, I encourage you to watch his statement by itself, untouched by the twists and turns of various media presenters. That is what should be watched repeatedly and shared, and whether you agree or disagree with his call for greater gun control, I hope you add your voice and educated opinion to the debate. Gauchos are strong, and while we take time to collect in the face of loss, we take action as well, through time, dedication, research and the strength to voice our thoughts. Unlike those outside, this is something we cannot and will not escape by avoiding the news or blocking Tumblr tags.
I was not present at the tragedy, but my solidarity with those most affected has brought me closer than I have ever been to the wonderful Isla Vista community and I am endlessly thankful for my life, and thankful for the existence of those beautiful lives that were viciously taken. I am thankful for seeing more embodiments of genuine strength than I could have imagined. Strength is personified by the people who stood with signs blocking news cameras from violating mourners, strength is in everyone who keeps open arms for their friends and those in pain and strength is in finding happiness and taking care of each other after being wounded in so many ways. I knew this strength existed throughout my time at UCSB and I look forward to working with my fellow Gauchos to reflect, protect and flourish in the face of destruction.
Suzanne Becker stands in solidarity with all of I.V.