Tag Archives: mass shooting

The SHES – VAWA Connection

Media coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary School (SHES) massacre has focused on the 26 children and women who were murdered in the school on 12/14/12.  However, let’s not forget that the gunman first shot his mother to death in their home.

And let’s keep in mind how often gunmen kill the women they allegedly love or have loved.  Here is a sampling of incidents that have occurred since the Newtown incident.

  • On/around 12/14/12, a Missouri man shot his wife, the teenage boy for whom they were guardians, and then himself in their home.
  • On 12/17/12, a Michigan man shot the mother of his 2-year-old son, shot her sister, and then shot himself in their van.
  • One day later, a Colorado man was released from jail on domestic violence charges.  His ex-girlfriend had taken refuge with her sister and brother-in-law, so the Colorado man went to the home of his ex-girlfriend’s sister and shot his way into the home.  Then he shot his ex-girlfriend, her sister, and her sister’s husband before killing himself.
  • On 12/20/12, a Pennsylvania man broke into the apartment of his ex-girlfriend and their 4-month-old baby, and shot his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend.  A North Carolina man shot his mother in her home and then shot himself in a parking lot about a mile away.  An Arizona man, whose ex-girlfriend had a restraining order against him, shot his ex-girlfriend, and later shot himself in his own home.
  • The next day, a Texas man shot his mother and then himself.  An Indiana man drove his vehicle literally into the home of his ex-girlfriend, went into the home, shot his ex-girlfriend, and then shot himself.
  • On 12/23/12, a Utah man, whose wife had a protective order against him, went to his estranged wife’s house and shot her boyfriend, whom he encountered on the back porch, before turning the gun on himself.
  • On Christmas Eve, a New York man, who served 17 years in prison for bludgeoning his grandmother to death, apparently killed his sister, set the house they lived in on fire, and then shot four of the firemen who responded to the blaze before killing himself.  A Georgia man shot the mother of his 6-month-old son and then shot himself in the apartment that they shared.  A Wisconsin man stalked and then shot his wife while she patrolled the streets in her job as a police officer.
  • A Pennsylvania man shot his wife during an argument and then shot himself on Christmas.
  • A couple days later, a Kansas man shot his grandmother and her husband before shooting himself.
  • On 12/29/12, a Virginia man shot his wife and then himself, leaving their 12-year-old daughter an orphan.  A Texas man stabbed the mother of his children to death during an argument and then killed himself with a gun later.  Another Texas man shot himself after shooting his wife.
  • Today, a Kansas man killed his grandmother and her husband before shooting himself.  And Illinois police are reporting the death of two people in what appears to be a domestic related murder-suicide.

We don’t just have a school shooting problem, we have an epidemic of gender-based violence on our hands.

According to a national survey conducted by CDC, millions are harmed by severe physical violence, sexual assault, and stalking each year.  Most of the victims are women, and most of the perpetrators are men.  To put the numbers into perspective, imagine that the four or five women you care about most in your life are standing before you; one of them will likely be physically assaulted and one of them will likely be raped in her lifetime.

In an effort to address this epidemic, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was enacted in 1994.  VAWA works to hold offenders accountable and to provide services for victims.  Despite its name, VAWA’s provisions apply to both women and men.

Every few years, Congress reauthorizes VAWA, and VAWA has had a history of strong bipartisan support until recently.  Most of us believe that VAWA’s provisions should protect all victims of domestic, sexual, and dating violence, but some elected officials don’t seem to share that conviction.  The current version of VAWA that passed the Senate includes new provisions to better protect immigrants, members of LGBT communities, and Native Americans.  As of this writing, VAWA reauthorization remains stalled because House leadership opposes the protections for Native Americans.

Right now, jurisdictional loopholes exist that allow non-Indians to commit violent crimes against Native women on tribal lands without consequence.  And non-Indian men know it; non-Indians commit 88% of violent crimes against Native women on tribal lands.  Is it any wonder that native women experience much higher rates of violence than women in other groups?  Once again, think of the five women you care about most; about two of them will be raped and three of them will be physically assaulted in their lifetime.

So what does the beating of a Native woman by her non-Indian husband on a reservation have to do with a school shooting in a Connecticut town?  Everything.  Both are examples of men’s violence against women and children.

We need to work harder at sending the message that we do not condone violence against any person or group of persons.  We need to recognize when our policies themselves are violent, and we need to take steps to change them.

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A More Conscious Kindness

The Newtown massacre has captivated the nation’s sympathy, more so than other violent incidents in recent history.  Two weeks after the murder of 20 children and seven women, media coverage continues.  People are still talking about the changes they want to see.  A super strain of compassion is driving us to commit random acts of kindness, and to drown Newtown with so many gifts that they have been forced to nicely beg us to stop.

Rarely does an act of violence galvanize the nation the way that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting has.  Why is that?  What exactly about the Newtown murders makes us behave with such caring and conviction?

On 12/23/12, Huffington Post published The Unbearable Whiteness of Suicide-by-Mass-Murder, an article by Michael Kimmel and Cliff Leek.  The authors explain how our response to violence is shaped by race.  When the shooter is white, we’re quicker to attribute his behavior to him having a mental illness.  When the shooter is not white, we’re more likely to assume his behavior is the result of the culture within which he lives.  Either way, we divest ourselves of responsibility for the shooter, regardless of his race.

However, we allow our view of the gunman to also cast a shadow on our view of the victims.  Victims who are murdered by a sick individual are likely to garner more of our sympathy than victims who are murdered because we believe they are members of a violent culture (unlike ours, of course).

There were 16 mass shootings in the United States in 2012.  Sandy Hook was the deadliest, followed by the Aurora movie theater shooting in Colorado in July.  Any guesses on the third deadliest massacre this year?  I’ll give you a hint.  In August, an Army veteran walked into a suburban place of worship and opened fire upon the families, killing six people.  Do you remember?  That shooting took place inside a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

On 12/25/12, Alternative Radio rebroadcast a talk by Deepa Kumar, author of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire.  Kumar shares how our concept of Muslims as violent extremists has manifested in both blatant and subtle acts of racism against Muslims and anyone we perceive as being Muslim.  In one example, she mentions how little attention the mass shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek received in comparison to other mass shootings.

On 12/26/12, KPFA conducted an interview with Beth Richie, author of Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation.  Richie explains how black women are both victimized and then criminalized, while white, middle-class women are more likely to be seen as innocent victims who are taken up as national causes.  She notes that the mainstream movement argues for innocent victims instead of looking at the ways that race and class position some women to be more vulnerable to violence.  Richie shares that even when black women are murdered, the media tends to tell a story of the women’s wrongdoing, criminal records, and so forth, instead of telling the story of their victimization.

Twenty children were killed in Newtown.  Over 530 youth, mostly African-Americans and Latinos, have been shot to death in Chicago since 2008.

Our compassion and support for the Newtown families are appropriate responses.  Isn’t it time we spread our caring and kindness around?

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Personal Responsibility, Not Selective Passion

People have been moved by the tragic mass murder of 20 children and 7 women in Newtown. People are signing petitions. People are pushing for gun control and other policy changes. Everybody’s passion, as selective as it may be, to take steps to prevent another massacre is heartening.

And yet, the anti-violence advocate in me is feeling less than satisfied.

We aren’t going to fix this problem solely through federal legislation, no matter how good that legislation may be. Each of us also needs to take some personal responsibility for decreasing violence in our world by sending a strong message that violence will no longer be tolerated.

Let’s stop pretending that shooting sprees are unimaginable. Let’s acknowledge that our evening news, our blockbuster movies, and our video games are besieged with massacres and other violent acts. Let’s admit that lots of people have imagined and recreated and promoted violence for their own personal gain.

Let’s stop treating violence as entertainment. Let’s stop glorifying violence. Let’s stop trying to make the killing of characters ever more realistic and gruesome. We may not be the ones producing violent movies and video games, but too many of us are making violence profitable for others. Let’s not waste one more dollar or one more hour on glorified violence disguised as entertainment.

Let’s recognize violence in all its forms. The gunman who shoots dozens of people he does not know. The man who beats his wife. The guy who rapes his date. The kid who bullies his schoolmate.

Let’s make a pledge to never behave in violent ways. Let’s speak out against violence when we see it. Let’s encourage healthy work, school, and play environments. Let’s teach our boys strength through compassion and fairness. Let’s remember that what we do, not what we say, determines what kind of role model we are, and we are all role models to somebody.

Let’s stop our complicity. Let’s do our part to create a world where our young men truly can’t imagine shooting even one person, let alone 27.

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The Elephant Has a Name

No sooner had news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre captivated our nation in shared sorrow, then gun control headlines quickly dominated the media, with mental health headlines coming in a close second.

So disheartening.

Not because I think keeping weapons out of the hands of people who are inclined to harm others is a bad thing.  And not because I’m against ensuring that people who have mental illness receive good services and support.

I simply was dismayed that 20 young children and 7 adults had been murdered, and once again it appeared that we were going to avoid talking about the elephant in the room.

But then, I heard an expert open the door a crack.  And then another expert seemed to imply there was an elephant.  I saw the articles of Jackson Katz and Michael Kimmel naming the elephant in the room.  Today, President Obama stated, “We’re going to need to look more closely at a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence.”  Vice President Biden, a man who seems to understand the gendered nature of violence, the man who wrote the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, will lead a group to come up with a set of concrete proposals.

Perhaps there will be enough of us who are ready to change our social norms.  Perhaps we will find a way to sever the ties between violence and masculinity in our culture.  Perhaps we will get it right this time.

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Getting Beyond Crazy

Twenty-eight dead. Lone gunman. On Friday, December 14, 2012, news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, blazed across every form of media like a wildfire.

Many of us are responding to that wildfire with a flood of feelings. Heartbroken. Devastated. No words. In tears.

We’re sending our hearts out to those who are grieving. We’re sending our prayers.

Some of us are angry. What the hell is going on? What the hell is wrong with people?

Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora movie theater. Portland mall. A reporter inevitably asks, “Why does this keep happening?”

We presume the gunman must be crazy. We say he must have snapped or been on drugs. Well, I guess we can’t do anything about that.

We call the situation a senseless act. Hey, if it’s senseless, we rational people certainly aren’t going to be able to comprehend it. Right?

We say the crime is unimaginable—meaning that we can’t imagine ourselves committing such an atrocity, so the killer had to be crazy. And now we’re back where we started, deeply sad, yet lacking any responsibility.

In other words, we let ourselves off the hook instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue and action.

Even when we push ourselves a bit more, we don’t seem to get at the crux of the matter. We talk about how we can do a better job of keeping guns out of the hands of killers, as if guns are the only means of committing violence. We mention school drills, lockdowns, and other methods of teaching people how not to be victims, as if skills are a guarantee of safety in the face of a weapon-wielding murderer on a rampage. We take too much comfort in the notion of being able to protect ourselves and of dis-arming others who would try to do us harm. How safe are we, really, if somebody wants to hurt us?

If we really want to know why this keeps happening, we’re going to have to lower are well-honed defenses and be honest with ourselves. While most men would never engage in a shooting spree or any other violent crime, men committed every mass shooting, from Columbine in 1999 to Sandy Hook today. This is not a coincidence. Violence has a gendered nature.

The men who committed these killings are every bit as deadly and hateful as suicide bombers. When the mass murderer is from another country and uses a bomb to do his killing, we call him a terrorist and attribute his behavior to his culture. When the killer is from our own country and uses guns to murder others, we look for any explanation other than our culture, especially when the murderer’s white.

And let’s not skip over the fact that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter began his rampage by killing his mother. In 2011, the Seal Beach shooter killed his estranged wife and seven other people at the salon where his wife worked. In 2009, the Pinelake Health and Rehab nursing home shooter was also targeting his estranged wife at her job when he killed eight people.

Sometimes murderers have one person in mind when they kill a lot of people. Sometimes they plan a massacre, but just kill their main target, as in the case of Wesleyan University student Johanna Justin-Jinich, who was stalked and shot to death in the bookstore café where she worked in 2009. More often, killers have just one target, as in the murder of Kasandra Perkins, who was killed by her football-player boyfriend earlier this month. Allowing ourselves to perceive these as completely different scenarios prevents us from recognizing the factors they have in common.

We can’t fix what we don’t acknowledge. We have created a culture where men can see themselves harming others and where men see violence as a viable option. We have continued to feed a culture where others are valued so little, they are seen as expendable.

We have consistently chosen to focus on responding to violence after it has occurred. This feels more manageable than the alternatives, but this strategy only treats the symptoms of violence, rather than curing and preventing the violence. Up to this point, we’ve clearly decided that symptom management is sufficient.

Perhaps someday we will become fed up, heartbroken, and brave enough to tackle the disease of violence that’s killing our children, our women, and our men. I wonder . . . how many more will it take?

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