Monday, July 18, 2016

From Orlando to Nice: One month of madness


2 days ago

Carl Court, Getty Images

People gather and place tributes on the Promenade des Anglais on July 15, 2016.

Has our world come off its wheels?

On Sunday, June 12, we awoke to news of a massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando when a gunman walked into the club's Latin night armed with a semiautomatic and a handgun and began spraying bullets across the dance floor. Forty-nine people would die and more than 50 would be injured.

Dramatic video showed terrified clubgoers huddled inside bathroom stalls hiding from the gunman, who would periodically text and post on Facebook during the three-hour reign of terror.

Orlando became the worst mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, something so horrific that we knew it would take weeks and months to process and heal.

But tremors from Orlando had barely subsided when another scene of carnage raced across screens from one of the world’s busiest airports about two weeks later. Three terrorists armed with bombs and guns killed 41 people and injured more than 100 in an assault at Istanbul Ataturk Airport in Turkey.

Videos from inside the airport were unnerving: People tearing across the terminals in panic; victims staggering and falling on to a blood-soaked floor.


Nice attack suspect identified as Mohamed Bouhlel

A week later our world was rocked again. This time by a cellphone video of a white police officer raising his gun and firing into the chest of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, La.

One day later, another shocking video was broadcast on Facebook Live: The girlfriend of Philando Castile, a beloved cafeteria worker, calmly explains how her boyfriend was just shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn. Castile lies slumped next to her in a bloodied shirt, moaning, as a cop’s gun glistens outside the window of the car.

The shocking stretch was not done yet. The next night we watched as a sniper in Dallas sent ripples of panic through a crowd peacefully protesting police brutality. Videos showed the gunman sheltering behind a building column at El Centro College, then firing on officers point blank. Five cops were killed; 11 other people were injured.

It would be the deadliest day for law enforcement since 9/11.

And now we have Nice, where a festive celebration of Bastille Day along the banks of the French Riviera turned into a bloodbath when a man in a truck drove through the crowd along a promenade, killing 84 and injuring hundreds.

What can we say about a world in which its atrocities are broadcast up close and personal at rapid-fire speed? We barely have time to register one tragedy when another one dripping in all its horror smacks us head-on.

Daniel Antonius, who has studied terrorism and how it affects us, says the world has not gone mad. “There presently are a number of volatile conflicts scattered around the world, which is not a new phenomenon,” says Antonius, author of The Psychology of Terrorism Fears. “However, the reach of the conflicts and some of the groups involved is alarming. And the psychological impact is also a tremendous concern.”

David Ramos, Getty Images

People visit the scene of a terror attack on the Promenade des Anglais on July 15, 2016, in Nice, France.

News coverage and social media obviously play a role, he says.

“On one end, we crave information about mass shootings and terrorist attacks such that we are better informed about government responses and such that we ultimately feel secure from future attacks,” says Antonius, director of the psychiatry department at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo.

He says that seeking information during times of tragedy is normal and “can be used to restore some sense of normality in people’s life.”

However, that has a significant downside “in which people live and relive the attacks when they watch or read stories about them,” Antonius says. “This overexposure can cause increased fear, anxiety and helplessness.”

Whether an Islamic State-linked militant, a gay-hating extremist or a rage-fueled racist, it is a sad and painful loop: The news alerts, the panic, the shell-shocked survivors, the tears, the vigils. The videos.

But Antonius says there is hope.

“For many people the sense of fear will turn to constructive anger. In the context of such constructive anger, people gain a sense of being in control and feeling more optimistic.”

Fear, he says “is a powerful motivating force for pursuing a perceived sense of safety and security, and being able to live a ‘normal’ life. In other words, people find ways to move on and become more resilient.”


Amid bloodbath in Nice, hero on motorcycle emerges

In the gloom of the last four weeks that may be difficult to believe. But for every madman with a truck, there are tales of courage and grit — like the motorcyclist who jumped onto the vehicle Thursday night as it careened down the Promenade des Anglais. A one-person force for good taking on evil in an attempt to curtail the carnage.

In this dark and distressing time, maybe that is the video that should repeatedly play in our heads.

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