OPINION: On Friday afternoon, I walked through the middle of Queenstown and I started to cry.
I cried because as I was walking along the streets of our beautiful, culturally-diverse town, a couple of hours up the road from my home, 50 of our people were mercilessly gunned down as they prayed.
As I walked, I could see the news was starting to trickle through – faces all around me showing the same shocked disbelief I was feeling, as they stared intently at their phone screens.
And if I, a white, agnostic woman was feeling scared and horrified, I can’t even begin to comprehend what others were going through.
I’m also a Cantabrian. After seeing the devastation and awful aftermath of the earthquakes, this felt like another blow to a city that’s already suffered more than its fair share.
But this wasn’t an unavoidable natural disaster. This was someone who made a deliberate, conscious decision to inflict misery and hatred on Muslims.
It felt like I’d been sucker-punched. This doesn’t happen here. This isn’t us.
But, reflecting on it now, I think maybe I just didn’t want to believe this could be us.
It’s not like we haven’t seen it before, albeit in far less horrific circumstances.
It’s in the racist comments from drunk idiots that spark bar fights here in Queenstown.
It’s in the skinheads I saw as a kid, in their camo gear and boots, striding around Christchurch like they owned it.
It’s in the Facebook posts from self-proclaimed nationalists I tutted and shook my head at, back home in Timaru.
It’s in the gun lobby – I didn’t even know we HAD a gun lobby – that is pushing back against moves to tighten our gun laws in the wake of a mass shooting.
And it’s in all of us, myself included, who have failed to call out casual racism from friends, family, or colleagues.
Maybe this is us, at least a little bit. But it doesn’t have to be.
We have to own this, and we have to do better – for people like the preschooler whose future was stolen, for the man who was killed trying to shield another person from bullets, and for everyone who still believes they can come to our little country at the bottom of the world and make a better life.