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Hatred & rhetoric spawn violence

I am supposed to be writing about a shooting in Orlando, but my thoughts keep circling back to a funeral in Louisville.

About the shooting, you have doubtless already heard your fill of grisly details. Suffice it to say that in the dark hours of Sunday morning, a Muslim man armed with a military-style assault rifle opened fire on Latin Night at a gay nightclub, killing 49 people, wounding dozens more.

The atrocity, the biggest mass shooting in American history, ignited another dreary spasm of Islamophobia, led by Donald Trump.

In short order, the presumptive Repugnant Party candidate for president bragged about “being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” suggested that President Obama is sympathetic to terrorists and renewed his call for a ban on Muslim immigration, though he did not explain how that would have stopped the killer, who, like Trump, was born in New York City.

For good measure, Trump’s Islamophobia was met by the homophobia of one Roger Jimenez, a Baptist preacher in Sacramento who told his congregation it was “great” that “50 pedophiles were killed today” and went on to call for the government to “round them all up and put them up against a firing wall and blow their brains out.”

So yes, this is what I need to be writing about today, the hatred, the division and the rhetorical and actual violence they spawn. But I keep coming back to that funeral for Muhammad Ali.

Perhaps you caught some part of the ceremony on television the Friday before the shooting. If you did, perhaps you were struck, as I was, by the fact of ministers, rabbis, Iroquois spiritual leaders, a Jewish comic, a black TV personality and a white politician born in segregated Arkansas, all coming together under one roof to honor an African-American Muslim. Perhaps it spoke to some deep part of you of the potentialities beneath our animosities, the commonalities within our separations.

We are taught to regard the animosities and separations as definitive and unavoidable, part and parcel of what it means to be human. That this is a lie is reflected in all the tributaries of color, faith and tribe that flowed together to honor Ali. Animosities and separations are not conditions you are born with. Rather, they are conditions you choose.

Jimenez, sadly, made that choice. So did Trump. And so did the man who walked into that nightclub and butchered all those people. They are all alike. Only in degree and choice of weapon do they differ.

And as appalled, sickened and repulsed as the massacre leaves me, I am also disgusted by the response from these people in putative positions of responsibility and by the fact that their enablers on the political right will justify, rationalize or otherwise make excuses for these acts of human malpractice. I am tired of chalking this sort of thing up to ideological disagreement.

This is not about ideology. No, this is about the mainstreaming and normalizing of hatred in ways not seen for more than 50 years. It is about how people deserve to be treated, about whether we are a country where the exclusion and even execution of vulnerable peoples are bandied casually about from platforms of authority or whether we are a country with the courage of its convictions.

I don’t expect much from a mass murderer. But you’d like to think you can hope for a little — I don’t know — grace, dignity, statesmanship from a preacher and a would-be president. Is simple decency too much to ask?

God help us, if it is.

Friday saw all sorts of people cross all sorts of cultural lines in order to pay tribute to a man they all somehow recognized as one of their own. It offered shining proof of what human beings can be.

Then came Sunday, and an awful reminder of what we too often are.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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