April 19, 2007
Virginia Tech
I've resisted posting about this because frankly, I don't think that I have any authority to speak on this subject. I, nor any of my loved ones, thankfully were not involved in the tragedy. I can not speak to nor for the immense sense of grief and loss the families, friends, and community must be experiencing. My heart and prayers (though I'm not typically the praying kind) goes out to these people as well as the family of the shooter as it can not be easy to bear the stigma that comes with that singular unfortunate decision.

Yet, after watching NBC reveal the contents of the package that Cho Seung-Hui sent, watching the subsequent reactions this morning on the news, and, finally, prompted by a flier sent from job #2's head office, I feel as though I must say something, however scattered.

It is clear that Cho Seung-Hui--for he has a name, even though the media (almost) blanketedly refuses to use it, rather denoting him as merely "the shooter" and thus dehumanizing Cho and reducing him to nothing more than a sum of the violent and unfortunate actions of the last few hours of his life--was not a well or normal human being. It is clear that he needed more help than what was provided or received. By all accounts, he was a sick and desperate individual who failed to make the connection between what he was feeling and thinking, and the moral implications of his actions. In a sense, he deserves our pity for that--some how, some where, someone (that "someone" more likely being a compilation of multiple persons and institutions) failed this young man and he acted desperately in response with tragic results. Yet that does not excuse his actions. To take another's life is the gravest of all sins. Yet, according to research (such as that below) this type of violence is increasing.

This flier that I received cites the following passage from the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence:

Intentional violence accounts for one-third of all injury deaths in the United States.

As levels of violence in the general society have risen sharply, it is a disturbing, but not surprising, corollary that the levels of violence in and around schools have also increased.

Research suggests that violence in schools derives mainly from factors external to schools, but may be precipitated or aggravated by the school environment. Student assaults on other students are the most frequent type of violence reported in schools.

What distresses me about this statement in light of situations such as Virginia Tech or Columbine High School, is that they (said situations as well as "regular" street violence) are treated as isolated incidences. They are reported in the news, spin-off and special interest stories are generated, maybe someone publishes a memoir, and then eventually the incident recedes into some dusty corner of public memory until the next horrific re-occurrence. Furthermore, it worries me that we do not look at the human face behind the shotgun, glock or whatever weapon these individuals have chosen to carry out their actions.

Disclaimer: I do not condone or excuse the violence of Cho Seung-Hui, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold or any other such person. What they did was wrong; morally, spiritually, socially wrong. They took innocent life. Period. But... I can't help but feel that some how, again, these people were failed. Something happened at some point in their life that irreversibly damaged them. And for that, I feel for them.

Lastly, a note on violence. One has got to stop and wonder what is sparking and enabling this violence. I don't buy the "guns kill people" mentality. Guns do not just "go off." I was raised using guns and raised respecting the power of such a tool. I love shooting hand guns and if I were to move back home (or at least set up "home" in one place for longer than a year) I would work toward obtaining a pistol permit and a pistol. This, however, does not mean that just because I can/could wield a gun, that I would EVER go out and randomly shoot someone. People, plain and simple, kill people. So where does this urge to kill come from? Are we just destructive by nature? I think that yes, in part we are.

Think about, for example, the daily news (be it print form or media). When was the last time something positive and good made the front page of the newspaper, or was the lead story for the nightly news? Think about movies and T.V. Violence is the number one seller, and the target audience is males between the ages of 15-23 (I think... that stat seems to change frequently). Don't get me wrong, I think some of the most pheonomal and beautiful films ever made are/depict violent (The Departed, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Boy's Don't Cry, Hotel Rwanda, etc.) . There seems to be a disconnect, however, between what is seen on the screen (be it big or small) and what is real. Violence on the screen, it seems to me, is glorified as righteous and just in some way, and thus, it must be ok to translate that into real life. In a movie (or T.V.) if a charcter is wronged, bloody vengence is an option. We've internalized this, accepted it, and as a result it has become a "norm." Someone disses you, accidentally brushes by you without apologizing? Beat the ever loving snot out of them (true story from Boston--a group of teen girls hospitalized a 20-something coed because she bumped into one of their posse). History has proven that humans are destructive--we are the only species that intentionally wages war over non-tangible items (i.e. oil rights)--yet, we seem surprised when we act violently.

They, the media, keeps asking the question, How safe are our schools? I would say not very. Violence is not limited to a distrubed individual with a handgun. Violence can be physically, mentally and emotionally damaging with out killing. Women and minorities--including the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community--have suffered violence for a long, long time. Women are raped and afraid to report it because of the stigma. Minorities have been singled out and degraded for as long as learning institutions have been established. First they had to fight to be included (as in Brown v. Board of Education), now our youth are dealing with the negative labels foisted on them because of their sexuality (true story: a student at the college I teach at transferred because she was continually harassed via dry-erase board and later stick-it notes about her sexuality, and the school did little in way of punishment for the perps because the burden of proof lay on the accuser and, as the sneaky f*cks left messages only when they knew she wasn't going to be there, and therefore couldn't catch them, she removed herself from the situation). Violence, in this author's humble opinion, at ALL levels needs to be stamped out. Our children need to be taught with even more diligence what is acceptable and what it not, what options are available to them if they are the recipient of some sort of violence and so forth. On the flip side of that, authority figures (i.e. adults) need to be instructed in what is curiosity and what is cause for alarm (I'm thinking here about all the kindergartners who got suspended for hitting a friend and the like). We need to examine, as a society, what it is that draws us to violence and how we can "fix" that fascination.

It also disturbs me that while this violence is being glorified, we forget who the victims are (unless, of course, an exclusive story with one of them can boost ratings). They have faces, they have names, they had dreams and hopes. They should be the focus of this story, not the actions of a sick person. Yes, I understand that families want--and deserve--privacy in which to mourn. But at the same time, I think its incredibly sad that these 32 victims have been reduced to a number. When this event is remembered in 10, 15, 20 years, it won't be their names, faces, hopes and dreams that are publicly remembered. Rather, these individuals will be reduced to a paragraph or sentence about 32 people who were killed in the worst mass killing in U.S. history.

I guess, in closing (as I'm not 100% sure that this post has gone where I initially intended it to), I need to say again that what happened at Virginia Tech is a tragedy. In no way should the actions of a disturbed young man, Cho Seung-Hui, be excused. It was horrid and sinful what this individual has done. I can not say it enough, my heart goes out to the students, faculty, parents and community of Virginia Tech.

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posted by Tina at 2:34 PM
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