Despair propelled Clay Duke, the gunman who went on a shooting rampage in Panama City, Florida. In his last act of hopelessness at the Bay County School Board Meeting, Duke fatally shot himself after exchanging gunfire with the district’s security chief Mike Jones.
School Superintendent Bill Husfelt believes it’s a miracle no one else was killed. “It could have been a monumental tragedy,” Husfelt told reporters. “God was standing in front of me and I will go to my grave believing that.”
Perhaps he’s right; Duke shot Husfelt at point blank range and never hit him. In fact, it seems he never hit anyone, depite firing off numerous rounds at close range. Early reports indicate that Duke had come prepared to kill. The date was circled on his calendar and he had more than enough ammunition to kill every person in the room – if that had been his intent. Either way, it’s still a tragedy – a man is dead from a self-inflicted gunshot – shouldn’t that give us pause?
Apparently Duke was the lousiest shot south of the Mason-Dixon line. Maybe he was nearly blind. Or, like Husfelt claimed, perhaps God had indeed sent an army of angels to protect everyone in the room except for Duke: Why else would he be the only one who ended up dead? Or maybe, just maybe, when it came right down to it, Duke was too good of a man to actually take another person’s life.
We don’t typically think of gunmen as good people. We think of them as evildoers. Demons disguised as humans. Or monsters, as Duke himself suggested on his Facebook page. Surely, Duke knew that the words he used would make the headlines after his shooting spree, so he left us a message: “Some people (the government-sponsored media) will say I was evil, a monster…no…I was just born poor in a country where the wealthy manipulate, use, abuse and economically enslave 95 percent of the population. Rich Republicans. Rich Democrats … same-same…rich…they take turns fleecing us… our few dollars pyramiding the wealth for themselves.”
It makes one question how much Duke listened to the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and others who market hate talk as an acceptable form of civil discourse. There is no question, however, that Duke’s words are both heartbreaking and haunting: I was just born poor in a country where the wealthy reign.
Duke had a point. It was one the writer Lorraine Hansberry made years ago in her classic tale of class and race warfare, “A Raisin in the Sun”:
Mama, you know it’s all divided up. Life is. Sure enough. Between the takers and the “tooken.” I’ve figured it out finally…People like Willy Harris, they don’t never get “tooken.” And you know why the rest of us do? ‘Cause we all mixed up. Mixed up bad. We get to looking ‘round for the right and the wrong; and we worry about it and cry about it and stay up nights trying to figure out ‘bout the wrong and the right of things all the time… And all the time, man, them takers is out there operating, just taking and taking.
Greed has become a national pandemic here in the land of the Red, White and Blood. Like a cancer left untreated, it’s killing us from the inside out. Consider the tragic death of Bernie Madoff’s son Mark – at what price does money lose its value? The hubris with which Bernie Madoff destroyed so many lives – including those in his own family — is now nothing but a bitter bile. One can only hope that he finally understands that some things are far more precious than all the world’s glitter and gold.
Perhaps Clay Duke understood what Bernie Madoff did not. Maybe that’s why the only person who ended up dead in that Bay County board room was Clay Duke. Duke was no monster. He was simply a man broken by a system that’s failing far too many of us.
Perhaps he was a prophet sent by God to warn us all, the way Jesus did all those years ago when he stood before the people and declared: “Watch Out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”