Lloyd Wolf’s photographs of DC shrines that people place at sites where people have been killed personalize the tragedy of gun violence in our country. The heartbreaking images drew lots of response from participants at the recent event Mourn Our Loss, Claim Our Future: Responses to Gun Violence. Some of us wondered why teddy bears are featured so prominently in many shrines. Lloyd Wolf said that such shrines have evolved as a cultural expression that even those who help create them can’t quite explain. The teddy bears evoke comfort, security, and a lost innocence.
The DC shrines also suggest human frailty and transience; they are not meant to be permanent. This is in contrast to the colonial era British Cemetery India that I wrote about in my earlier post. That cemetery in Calcutta was meant to be permanent, reflecting the ambitions of the British Empire. Many went to great expense to build massive burial vaults and tombstones. Now, two hundred years later, the cemetery is in a general state of disrepair and the once grand burial monuments are slowly crumbling away. What was meant to be impressive now also evokes frailty and decay.
Such images are instructive as we seek to claim our future and overcome the scourge of gun violence in our communities. Much of the flood of guns and the prevalence of gun violence in our country is directly related to fear and a pervasive sense of vulnerability. We need to understand this in order to build coalitions of people who can together build a different future. Too much of the energy against gun violence revolves around public outrage surrounding media attention to mass killings.
Our outrage fails to grasp the roots of the problem. What appear to be common sense measures to curb gun violence are routinely defeated because of the underlying fears that drive resistance to any laws that curb the ownership and distribution of guns. To make progress, we will need to carefully and tenderly peel back the cultural and social layers of our fears, our hopes, and our sense of personal security. The teddy bears in those DC shrines can perhaps help give us a handle on what that will involve.