What a Fix We've Gotten Ourselves Into Around Mass Slaughters
It has been a very difficult few days. The Newtown, Connecticut, murders hit hard, at a time when it seems as if we should be hardened to incidents of random violence.
The murders accompanying the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords in Arizona, the murder of Sikhs in Wisconsin, the movie theatre shooting in Colorado--these and others should seemingly have prepared us. When “only” two people were killed in an Oregon shopping mall shooting last week, there was very little publicity, as a sign of the growing acceptance.
Yet the Connecticut shootings seem somehow different, worse, more horrifying, than all those other incidents, and not just because of the number of people murdered. It’s because the Connecticut murders involved mostly children, very young children.
Along with the terrible sadness, there are elements of shame, anger, and fear that many of us feel. In this latest case, we’ve witnessed a product of upper middle class suburbia, as the shooter appears to have been, do something that seemed only to happen in the most deranged societies of modern history--Nazi Germany, Rwanda, and Liberia. In those places, the youngest children weren’t off limits to premeditated violence. These are places we always assumed we were superior to.
The anger is pretty natural, as in...there must be a way to put a stop to all this craziness. People everywhere are wracking their brains to come up with solutions. Get rid of assault weapons. Stop prescribing psychotropic drugs. Tone down the video games. Refrain from disclosing the names of the murderers, so they don’t get the attention they crave.
Then there is the fear, as in, What’s next? If our culture can produce neighbors capable of the bestiality that occurred in Newtown, then what is the next rung down the ladder?
Most of us don’t want to try to answer that last question, because the possibilities just become darker and darker. But in figuring out solutions, I sense we are going to have to go deeper than we’ve been willing to go. The first step toward dealing with most difficult personal afflictions like alcoholism or drug abuse is admitting you have a problem. And we haven’t been willing to do that...yet. We blame the nutcases, crazies, as if these individuals are aberrations, not part and parcel of our existence.
We have to begin admitting collectively that we have a deeply-seated cultural and political problem in this country. It involves, just for starters, our glorification of violence, not only in our movies, crime television series, and video games, but in our criminal justice and military systems. So when well-meaning people suggest seemingly logical solutions like banning assault weapons, they gloss over the fact that the majority in this country is afraid of giving up to our government control of weapons that they increasingly see as potentially important in defending ourselves from abusive government behavior.
Just three days before the Newton attack, the New York Times reported on the shocking increase in Americans being imprisoned for non-violent offenses over the last thirty years. “The United States has the highest reported rate of incarceration of any country: about one in 100 adults, a total of nearly 2.3 million people in prison or jail,” it stated. In reporting on “growing sentiment” that strict criminal and sentencing policies “have gone too far,” the Times pointed out that, “Nationally,about one in 40 children have a parent in prison. Among black children, one in 15 have a parent in prison.”
Those people in prison not only have children, but they have extended family, friends, acquaintances, work colleagues. It’s not uncommon for upper middle class Americans today to know someone who was locked up, sometimes for seemingly minor offenses. Readers of this blog know the awful circumstances of Rawesome Food Club founder James Stewart. They know how farmers like Verson Hershberger and Alvin Schlangen have been threatened with jail.
Our jails and prisons have intentionally been turned into ever-more-violent hell holes, so individuals with clear mental illness aren't treated and others tend to come out of them more alienated than when they went in. And all those relatives, friends, and acquaintances hear the stories.
I haven’t even touched on the extra-legal immigrant prison system. Here’s what the Boston Globe said about this system four days before Newtown:
“Every day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, detains more than 10,000 immigrants who have no criminal records and sometimes deep ties to the United States, holding them for weeks and often months in jails where they have fewer rights than criminals and little access to the outside world. It is a system that separates parents from young children, locks away the elderly during their twilight years, and sometimes puts the sick at great risk.
“Yet, that same agency has released 8,500 criminals -- including as many as 201 murderers -- to US streets over the past four years because their home countries wouldn't take them back...
“Such inconsistencies fester in a fast-growing detention system that provides little information about the people it arrests. ICE's network of detention centers -- almost all of them originally designed to house criminals -- has quadrupled in size since 1995, but ICE doesn't release even the names of detainees, purportedly because it needs to protect immigrants' privacy.”
And then there is Guantanamo, and unknown satellites, where accused terrorists are locked up, and the keys thrown away, without even a nod toward U.S. Constitution guarantees.
As I noted in my previous post, the trend is toward ever more government surveillance of ordinary citizens, as reported in last week’s Wall Street Journal.
Simply stated, we’ve placed ourselves between a rock and a hard place. Our culture’s glorification of violence nearly sanctions the deviants who carry out the slaughter of innocents, and our out-of-control legal justice system has frightened well meaning people from implementing the necessary controls on assault weapons because we can’t trust the people in charge not to abuse the controls. What a fix we’ve got ourselves into.
And I haven’t even gotten into our taboos around frankly acknowledging the realities of mental illness, and our unwillingness to invest seriously in education.