Who’s Paying Attention?

by Bradford Greer

Shortly after 2am on Sunday, June 12, Omar Mateen walked into a gay nightclub with a semi-automatic weapon and opened fire. He sprayed bullets in rapid-fire succession through the club. When he was out of ammunition, he dropped the clip, reloaded, and continued firing again and again and again. Law enforcement officials at the scene said he was calm and collected on the phone when he called them. He praised the Boston Marathon bombers. He told negotiators he had accomplices and explosives. After three hours he had murdered 49 people, injured 53 more, and traumatized over 300. Mateen himself was dead.
The 29-year-old was known to speak out against gays, Jews, and other minorities. According to FBI Director James Comey, Mateen previously expressed his desire to become a martyr to FBI agents during their extensive 10-month investigation of him. At different times he claimed ties to Al Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim terrorist group. He had been known to associate with a suicide bomber from his mosque. He was on a terrorist watch list, but the case was dropped after extensive interviews and investigation. Yet a man like this was allowed to buy a semi-automatic rifle and ammunition.Who in law enforcement was not paying attention?
Mateen was known to become incensed at the sight of two men kissing, yet he was also known to be a patron of Pulse, the nightclub known to be a safe space for gays and lesbians to congregate and enjoy themselves. It is possible he was also on gay chat and meeting sites. Who in his life was not paying attention?
He beat his first wife, and intimidated and controlled his second wife, who is currently under investigation for a complicit part in this massacre. She went with him to purchase ammunition at Walmart, accompanied him to Pulse on at least one occasion, and admits she suspected he was planning a catastrophic event and tried to talk him out of it. Who did not have the courage to say something?
His father, Seddique Mir Mateen, stated that he was horrified, and that Omar had defied Seddique’s principles as a father and a U.S. citizen. “If I had known one percent of what he was planning I would have called the FBI,” Seddique said. His father also said it was up to God to punish gay people. How much of a surprise could it have been that this conflicted man turned out to be a mass murderer?
“If you see something, say something” has been the government’s watch-word since before 9/11. Who was not paying attention? What good is paying attention if the FBI can believe subjects when they are not telling the truth and someone with as sketchy a background as Mateen can go out and purchase an assault weapon without raising suspicion? If Mateen’s motives were to intimidate the gay population across the land, he failed. Made us more careful – perhaps?
In Rhode Island, the 40th Anniversary Celebration – Pride XL: Progress, Celebrate, Excel – took off in Providence with merriment and determination to rise above the tragedy. Rhode Islanders were paying attention but were not deterred.There was a significant police presence and security was high.The attendance swelled beyond expectation as the celebrants let it be known they would not be intimidated.While it was clear the Orlando 49 were close in our hearts, Pride XL revelers showed up with XL courage and XL pride.
Even the local media gave more coverage to PrideFest than the sketchy pass-over they usually do. The Providence Journal, which usually publishes the most titillating or unusual photos of the festival, focused a bit more on ordinary citizenry celebrating love and freedom. Also, a first: a full Waterfire brought thousands of heterosexuals into downtown Providence who comingled peacefully with Pride goers.
David Cicilline and Mayor Elorza made appearances at The Alley Cat and Dark Lady block party. The Mayor echoed his speech from Monday’s candlelight vigil, reaffirming his pride in our community and the state’s unity with its LGBTQ citizens. Revelers cheered. Throughout the several block parties and Waterfire, Rhode Islanders made this very clear:While they embraced the victims of Orlando, they would not be frightened into submission. They would not succumb to hate.They would overcome violence. Acceptance, tolerance and freedom would prevail at Pride XL!