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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Responding to Atlanta: Giving in Grief and Outrage

Joan Harrington

Candice Choi/Associated Press

Joan Harrington is the director of Social Sector Ethics (@SocSectorEthics) at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Views are her own.

After the shooting in Atlanta, which killed eight people including six Asian American women, there was an outpouring of grief and renewed outrage over the violence against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders.

As is common in America after these senseless acts of violence against people based on color or religion, we express our grief with acts of mourning at the scene and raising money for the victims’ funerals and for their families. We calm our outrage by giving to causes that we hope will change policies and heal the injustices.

We saw this in Atlanta; the flowers and tributes outside of the locations where the shooting occurred. People raising funds so victims could have proper services and a burial that hundreds of people would attend for a person they did not know. Donations to AAPI causes skyrocketed as people sought to do something, anything to try to make things better.

Recall the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018, where a Neo-Nazi killed 11 people and wounded six. Gifts immediately poured in. Within days, Muslim-Americans raised over $100,000 for the victims and their families, the City’s NHL team organized a donation page and blood drive, and a Go Fund Me initiative raised almost $600,000.

Think about the church in Charleston, South Carolina, where a white supremacist gunned down nine Black worshippers on June 17, 2015. President Obama gave the eulogy for one of the victims, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, and led the attendees in “Amazing Grace,” trying to heal the pain. The local community held prayer vigils and fundraisers. 

This is what we often do in the face of this kind of hatred and death or in the face of other emergencies like natural disasters. We give generously to try to make the world a bit better and to help us feel better. Charities raised over $28 million after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut. Then Governor Malloy noted, “Each time our state is hit hard by a large-scale emergency or extreme weather-related events, we see the best in human nature—that innate impulse and need to help and give during another person’s darkest hour.”

But then, after the initial pain recedes, we tend to stop giving and responding to those causes. Sarah Risher, who wrote a book on the Charleston church shootings said, “We have a tendency to be emotionally reactive when these things happen, and we go on for a couple of weeks and we get the hashtags," she says. "But when it comes to the hard work, then I believe we retreat right back to our separate corners and live our lives."

We can do better. After giving from our hearts and from our impulse and need to help, we can continue to give what we can to causes that will make lasting and sustainable change. We must do better.

Apr 22, 2021