Our communities are at risk — now.
In the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, we are reminded of the need to quell the fear experienced by our Jewish neighbors, our neighbors of color, our LGBTQ neighbors and immigrants. That fear is domestic terrorism committed by young white men.
The burden falls most heavily on white Vermonters to identify white, male lone wolves in their late-teens and 20s who subscribe to neo-Nazi, white nationalist ideology. And our institutions must deliver the social and psychological supports so desperately needed by these young white men.
The Poway, California, shooter was a “19-year-old white male.” Approximately 10,000 white males 18 to 19 years old live in Vermont, according to the United States Census Bureau (2011-15 American Community Survey). How many of these young white males should our diverse neighbors fear as white domestic terrorists? Is it the white guy buying night crawlers, the guy standing in line at the bank or maybe the guy at the next table in a restaurant?
White Vermonters must manifest conspicuously courageous leadership in order to keep us all safe. Turning a blind eye and deaf ear heightens insecurity. In the absence of this leadership, every young white male becomes the object of suspicion by our otherwise diverse neighbors.
Is that white guy standing in line at the country store a threat? Is that white guy pumping gas a threat? Is that white guy picking up his children at school a threat? Is that white guy plowing driveways a threat? Is that white guy waiting at the DMV a threat? Is that white guy buying ammunition a threat? Is that white guy wearing a Confederate belt buckle a threat?
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, our state harbors five hate or anti-government groups that espouse violence. The presence of such groups and their sympathizers in Vermont makes our diverse neighbors wonder if the sons, grandsons or nephews of local business owners, worshipers, store clerks, mechanics or anyone else are threats.
White Vermonters must engage other white Vermonters outside of the comfortable confines of their echo chambers to keep all of us safe. We need to find out who in our communities have been seduced by abhorrent ideologies, whether they have expressed violent intent and if so, report them to law enforcement. We must proactively bring these disaffected young white men back into our communities. We might also restore teaching civic education and begin teaching history from multiple perspectives in our schools.
No more thoughts and prayers. Get up, get out and engage.
Curtiss Reed Jr. is Vermont Partnership for Fairness & Diversity executive director.