Alan Martinez, left, and his nephew, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, at the Alhambra in Spain in the winter of 2006. Photo: Courtesy Alan Martinez.
Years ago I thought that someday I would have a niece who I would play dolls with and have long talks with about her boyfriends. Instead I got a nephew, Chris, who played take-no-prisoners football and ambidextrous basketball. My brother, Richard Martinez, and I would talk sometimes and wonder “where the hell did that come from?” as neither of us was athletic in school and Richard had as little use for playing sports in high school as I did. Yet I would go to games with Richard to see Chris play, not always with a clear sense of what was going on. And yet when he was little Chris loved playing “boat” with me on a log in the Big Sur River and loved the haunted houses I made for him out of chairs and tables and bed sheets every Halloween.
For all Chris’s demeanor as the straight-up good kid, he had a slyness about him. Some of my favorite times traveling with Chris was when he and I would hatch small conspiracies against Richard – either about watching South Park videos he wasn’t supposed to watch or staying up too late. I was the uncle who let him do and think about the weird stuff. I got to show him around the Alhambra and explain to him how the architecture of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane worked. We talked about Cicero’s essays and Roman history. And he knew that I had AIDS and about my political activity. Chris wrote part of his college application about me, about how much he admired me. I was kind of stunned. To have the experience, for someone like me who grew up queer and in mortal fear of jocks – to have this gentle resolute young man, my nephew, admire me….
And now he is dead, murdered with five other young students in a totally preventable massacre in Isla Vista, near UCSB. Richard and I, and our family, know that this is a complicated issue. My brother is a public defense attorney in Santa Barbara County and Chris’s mother is deputy district attorney of San Luis Obispo County: they have been dealing with crime, gun violence, mental health issues, and violence against women for decades. They know what they are talking about. Richard has been speaking out about the role of the National Rifle Association, misogyny, and the culpability of the media in this and other massacres in all of his interviews, but all the media outlets (with the notable exception of CNN’s Anderson Cooper and the BBC) were slow to air these comments, instead endlessly focusing on the insanity of the shooter. So I welcome this opportunity to touch on these three issues.
The NRA leadership has worked hard to promote its stance that guns aren’t part of the problem. They work to prevent any discussion of gun control. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her book On Violence , when you bring a gun into the room, discussion stops. Every time there is a massacre, the NRA leadership is expert in bringing the metaphorical gun into the room and stopping the discussion on gun control. When Fox News aired the press conference at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, it went so far as to edit out Richard’s mention of the NRA.
We have also said that what is frightening about the killer’s view of women isn’t that his views are monstrous, it’s that his views are so commonplace. He thought that women were objects to get and that they owed him something and that he had a right to manipulate and intimidate women to get what he wanted. It’s so messed up and sad. If you don’t think these attitudes of entitlement are commonplace, just look at the comments sections under postings of videos of my brother.
Finally, by repeatedly showing the killer’s photos, posting his video, using his name, and endlessly analyzing an ordinary, lonely, mentally ill young man who had, after all, a fairly commonplace point of view amplified through his pain, the media is giving the killer exactly the sort of fame he craved as the capstone to his twisted plan for himself. And, perhaps more importantly, this gives other lonely young men a roadmap for how to achieve recognition. These angry, lonely young men need help and love and real connection to others, not templates for how to become heroes in their own minds. They need a different culture of manhood to grow up into. Like the one that Richard and many others and I provided for Chris.
We don’t care that people tell us that this is beyond solving. I don’t care that I feel sometimes that preventing new massacres is hopeless. Why the fuck should I care about hopelessness? We’re doing this anyway. We’re going to end this ongoing slaughter. And by “we” I mean all of us, including you. Send a postcard, email, tweet, whatever, to every politician:
NOT ONE MORE.
San Francisco resident Alan Martinez is the uncle of Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez. This column originally appeared in the Bay Area Reporter.