Watching the conflicting responses on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and comments sections of the mass media, where they overwhelmed calls for unity, it is easy to despair of all the argument; to fret about what divides us; to lament that a bigot who pledged allegiance to ISIS and murdered dozens caused us to anger at one another.
But media and social media distort how people see themselves and one another. Look back at Sunday through a different lens––what people did in the analog world rather than what they said online––clarifies that the country responded with its best, not its worst.
As Omar Mateen began his attack, he exchanged fire with an Orlando police officer who risked his life in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the gunman. Later, as Mateen rushed deeper into the club and the attack turned into a hostage standoff, a SWAT team and other police officers numbering at least a dozen put themselves in great peril storming the building, killing the gunman, and saving numerous lives.
Nearby, dozens of doctors and nurses set aside their horror at the carnage flowing into their emergency rooms and labored to save as many of the wounded as possible.
As local reporters and editors scrambled to get news of the wounded to the public, the people of Orlando took the initiative to give of themselves in the manner most urgently needed. “Lines stretched around the block as people waited, in some cases for hours, to donate blood in support of those wounded in a deadly attack,” NPR reported. “As Sunday evening approached, many of the city's blood banks reported that they were at capacity, thanks to the enormous outpouring of support—but called for donors to return on Monday and Tuesday, as the need would continue.”
Crime scene investigators and other unsung municipal employees in Orlando took on the grisly burden of processing as gruesome a crime scene as can be imagined. Nameless officials and medical personnel steeled themselves to tell fathers and mothers that their sons and daughters were among the dead.
American Muslims quickly took up a task that should not be their burden, but that plays a salutary role––they denounced their Mateen and any claim he laid on Islam:
Muhammad Musri, the president and imam of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, called the attack “monstrous.” He appealed to Muslims to donate blood for the wounded and to cooperate with Florida police and the F.B.I. At a hastily organized press conference in Washington, D.C., Nihad Awad, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil-rights and advocacy organization in the United States, scolded ISIS. “You do not speak for us,” he said. “You do not represent us. You are an aberration. You are outlaws.” He went on, “They don’t speak for our faith. They claim to, but 1.7 billion people are united in rejecting their extremism and their acts of senseless violence.”
Gay-rights organizations scrambled to provide emotional and therapeutic support to shaken members. Equality Florida set up a GoFundMe page for shooting victims and their families. In the first 17 hours, 32,680 people donated almost $1.3 million.