Terror & Loss

I’m sick as a person with a bad cold today. And I am confused. Over at Niobe’s blog, people have been talking about expecting extreme violence and nothing being surprising anymore, specifically since the bombing in Oklahoma City twelve years ago. I don’t understand because I am shocked and surprised by terrorism and mass murder. In the United States and Canada, we aren’t at very high risk of being murdered in either of these ways.

I’m not attacking any individual feelings here, because actually I do understand why people say it, I just can’t comprehend the sentiment. I’m not naive. I’m certainly not arguing for my experience, but in all honesty I don’t understand because even though I have been very close to terror, I could only be more surprised in the United States if an armed woman or an alien began shooting in my classroom than if a murderous young man did. Yes, we should expect gun violence in this country where guns are so prevalent, where violence is glorified, and where medical care for mental illness is so difficult to procure.

Even still, folks, what we’ve seen this week is not unprecedented and it is too common, but it is still not commonplace. Here are time lines of school massacres worldwide from Infoplease and from Wikipedia. Yes it is significant that there was an over 150 year lapse between the first massacre at Enoch Brown’s school in 1764 and the next one on the list in Bath, Michigan, and that the world has seen so many in the past century. But life is not a Quentin Tarantino movie. I’m not reducing it. When I began seeing black garbage bags blowing on the street as body bags after coming a bit too close to Israel’s first woman suicide bomber, when I panicked in Paris because the subway is just too crowded and far too many people had full backpacks, and when I found myself frightened of a woman in a burqa in Milan, I knew I had a problem. I don’t believe expecting that school massacres will occur means that as a nation we have mass PTSD, but rather that we are complacent. Again, I don’t know what anyone who expresses that they’re not surprised has done in terms of activism against violence in the past, but the sentiment saddens me.

I am not mistaking shock and surprise with outrage. I just worry that by claiming we’re not surprised, we are normalizing this kind of event. That’s what media saturation does. What wouldn’t surprise me after this event is if nothing happens, nothing changes, and politicians and pundits do nothing particularly significant about it, because their constituents and listeners won’t make it a priority. And that after the furor dies down, intellectual discussion over how to change our thought and prevent more violence will stop.

7 responses to “Terror & Loss

  1. I agree. I find it completely shocking and not at all expected. I think back to my own university experiences. My undergraduate college was in a small California city. During my time in school, that city experienced its own horrific schoolyard shooting. It was shocking to me then, and it still is now. However, I didn’t leave the school. I didn’t feel as though the city was going to erupt in a wave of senseless violence. Maybe I was naive. But I was right- it didn’t.

    These events are tragic and sick- but they are not widespread (thankfully). And actually, this really makes me sound naive, but I still have a lot of faith and hope in humanity. I still believe the good far outweighs the evil. I know… call me crazy.

  2. It depends on the context of the surprise I guess. I was surprised at the shooting in Montreal last fall, because it is rarer to have it happen here, and guns are just not as accessible.

    I wasn’t as surprised at the school shooting in Virginia because again, the US is so different, and this does seem more common in the US as horrific as that sounds.

    I also wasn’t surprised to find out the shooter had been bullied and teased and tortured, and no-one had helped him ahead of time, when he clearly needed it.

    I guess I have just gone from surprised and sad all the way over to cynical, because it’s really tiring to hear about tragedies over and over again and everyone keeps saying that they can’t be prevented when they quite clearly can. Barbara Coloroso has written about this extensively, and the Police Dept in Montreal for example, gives talks on how to deal with these gunmen. After the Montreal Massacre, they changed how they dealt with gunmen, and when it happened last fall there, only one person died, instead of 14 because the police made an active effort to figure out different procedures.

    Why didn’t the Virginia police do things right? My cynical side says it’s because they don’t give a damn who dies, my loving side says that can’t be true.

    So I just sit here, hoping someone will finally change. I think I’ll be surprised when the police and the govt. actually do something right. Which is horrible. I wish I had more faith in society.

  3. Some excellent points, Aurelia. But it’s a rare, rare policeman that doesn’t care. I’m not sure individual police officers didn’t do things “right” according to the law, but rather that gun laws & mental health laws in this country tied their hands. It seems from the discussion among VT faculty that lots of people did try to help him and that’s frankly what scares the hell out of me.

    I’m neither a romantic nor a cynic. I don’t know how we can be open minded enough to improve our law otherwise (and I know you’ve done alot in Canada, but I’m not ready to give up on the US either). We aren’t that sick. And American weapon laws aren’t a natural result of the 2nd Amendment. We can do much better.

  4. Sara, I didn’t mean to make it sound that Canada does it so well vs. the US, sorry! We certainly screw up a lot as well.

    When I said “right” I just meant that if you go to the Wikipedia entry on the Montreal Massacre, and look under “long-term” you will see a notation that describes how the police dept changed the way it handles these events, as in different protocols…things the Virginia police did not do.

    As well, this guy stalked two women, and was only referred for mental health help, but was never charged with a crime. And stalking is a crime. If he had been charged, he could not have gotten a gun, even in Virginia.

    So why don’t police charge men like him with stalking? I don’t know. Even here in Canada, they rarely do. And women die every day as a result. In my “other life” I advocate for victims of abuse, domestic, sexual assault, etc. and I have so little faith in law enforcement anymore…there are stories I can’t print on the net…trust me, you would be cynical too.

    Aghhhh….I am trying to have some hope and faith, but it’s hard. I’ll work on it! I promise!

  5. Thanks, Aurelia. I guess we’ve had different experiences there because I have a relative in law enforcement who gets infuriated at how little he’s allowed to do legally about “domestic” violence. I think officers may become cynical as well. I’m not even sure what the laws are about stalking in Virginia, but obviously they’re not strong enough. And I wonder, actually, if part of the problem may have been that he was a student. We continue to have problems regulating campus crimes, and criminals on campuses get a special pass.

  6. From what I understand from my undergrad psychology class is that the human mind is supposedly built to ignore input, not matter how extreme, that is given to it on a constant basis. This mechanism is supposed to help humans deal with immediate dangers.

    With that said I personally have a hard time whenever human life is taken be it one, 33, or several hundred. To me any taking of life needs to be acknowledged and dealt with.

    My brother’s hypothesis for the reasons behind the latest violence in the US is that the current Presidential administration’s attitude towards human life has permeated down to the masses. I agree with him to a large extent.

    As far as fear of what may happen to me personally, I don’t usually fear places I am in no matter their crime statistics unless there is violence going on where I can hear and/or see it. I tend to be more afraid of violence in places I’ve never been to. I have walked by myself in big cities at night that have have a high crime without fear.

    The only times I’ve been afraid in places I’ve been were when there were fights at my middle school where blood was spilled in the hallway and when there riots down the street from my apartment in East Lansing and I could hear the rioters clashing with each other and police. On the other hand, I am fearful of what may happen to me if I go to the Middle East, a place I have never been to, and am worried for my friends and family working and living there no matter what religion they are.

  7. Thank you, Sara, for this insightful and level-headed post in the midst of our nation’s mass hysteria.

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