Posts Tagged ‘Gun Violence’

It seems very likely that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has done terrible things. He and his brother were suspected of the bombing at the Boston Marathon and the events that have transpired since their photos were released on April 18 have done nothing to ease this suspicion. Still, seeing media coverage of the events between the time his photo was released and his subsequent capture, I couldn’t help but feel bad for him.

Lots of people have probably fantasized about violent acts, even if few carry out those acts. Watching the media coverage I couldn’t stop thinking about Dzhokhar as somebody whose fantasies had become real in the worst possible way. He and his brother seem to have carried out the bombings at the Boston Marathon without much of a plan. Afterward, they did not flee the city, they appear to have carried on as if nothing had happened. Dzhokhar attended class, went to the gym, and even went to a party.

It seems unlikely that the weight and ramifications of what he had done were “real” to him at this point. The fact that he stayed in town seems to indicate that he underestimated the ability of the police to identify him based on video and photos before and after the shooting (the sheer amount of data that police combed through to identify the suspects was, indeed, staggering). But three days after the bombing he was identified, looking like a frat guy, as the suspect in the white hat.

This is where I suspect that things started to get real. With no apparent plan (or, at least, no good plan), the Tsarnaev brothers shoot and kill an MIT police officer, hijack a car when they apparently already had one, allow the driver of the car to flee, and engage in a firefight with police. Likely injured, Dzhokhar gets in a car and attempts to escape, running over his own brother in the process, before eventually abandoning the car and escaping on foot. He and his brother had been identified. Things had gone awry. His brother was dead. Dzhokhar was alone.

Waking up on Friday the 19th and reading about the shootout in Watertown, I wondered how Dzohkhar felt. His brother was dead but the entire city of Boston was at a standstill because of him. If he had access to TV or the internet I surmised that he either  felt very powerful or completely out of options. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, as they say. Based on his eventual capture, though, I suspect that the latter is closer to how he actually felt.

Having been shot by the police, Dzhokhar spent Friday the 19th bleeding and hiding in a boat in somebody’s backyard. The world knew his name and what he was accused of doing. The entire city of Boston was looking for him. He knew that his brother was either dead or in police custody. Escape was impossible. His own capture or death was inevitable. He was as alone as a person can possibly be in this world, bleeding, lying in a boat in a stranger’s backyard. I felt bad for him.

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The recent shooting in Newtown, CT, caused many to think about gun control laws. Of course, the NRA held a press conference blaming violence in the media – including movies and video games – and arguing, as always, that the solution is actually more guns, this time in the form of armed school guards (overlooking the fact that armed guards do not always prevent school shootings). Earlier this week, Senator Lamar Alexander reiterated the claim that media violence, particularly video game violence, is worse for us than the presence of guns in our homes, stating “I think video games is a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people. But the First Amendment limits what we can do about video games and the Second Amendment to the Constitution limits what we can do about guns.”

While it is nice that he recognizes first amendment rights as well as second amendment rights, his statement fits into the larger narrative that we should look everywhere but at gun laws in order to prevent gun violence. The fact that video games are playing a role in this narrative is also interesting because it demonstrates the extent to which they are still seen as a fringe activity. As the previously linked Ars Technica article points out:

“[I]f Alexander had said, “I think TV is a bigger problem than guns, because TV affects people,” he’d have been laughed out of the room. That’s because TV has been an established part of the cultural landscape for the entire memory of almost every person alive today. Thus, TV’s effects, both good and bad, are a well-known quantity to practically everyone. Video games, on the other hand, are still seen as a new and hard-to-understand media bogeyman by many of the elderly voters who vote in disproportionate numbers and, consequently, by many of the politicians they help put in office.

When discussing the media in class, I like to use the following quote by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from 1811:

“Where the reading of novels prevails as a habit, it occasions in time the entire destruction of the powers of the mind: it is such an utter loss to the reader, that it is not so much to be called pass-time as kill-time.  It conveys no trustworthy information as to facts; it produces no improvement of the intellect, but fills the mind with a mawkish and morbid sensibility, which is directly hostile to the cultivation, invigoration, and enlargement of the nobler faculties of the understanding.”

I first present this to students without the bolded words and ask them to guess what it is about. They provide a wide variety of responses, but nobody has ever guessed that it is about reading novels because today reading novels is seen as a valuable use of one’s time, not the “kill-time” that Coleridge saw it as. The Ars Technica article also links to an article that I wasn’t aware of discussing the broader moral panic surrounding novels. Maybe the NRA will bring us full-circle and blame murder mysteries for the next school shooting.

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David Cole, in a recent op-ed for The New York Times, discusses the connection between race and attitudes about the second amendment:

The history of gun regulation is inextricably interwoven with race. Some of the nation’s most stringent gun laws emerged in the South after the Civil War, as Southern whites feared what newly freed slaves might do if armed. At the same time, Northerners saw the freed slaves’ right to bear arms as critical to protecting them from the Ku Klux Klan.

But as long as gun violence largely targets young black men in urban ghettos, the nation seems indifferent. At Newtown, the often all-too-invisible costs of the right to bear arms were made starkly visible — precisely because these weren’t the usual victims. The nation took note, and President Obama has promised reform, though he has not yet made a specific proposal.

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In the wake of shootings that involve classrooms, whether elementary, middle school, high school, or college, I ask myself what I would do in a similar situation. I have been fortunate to never have a a student that I was genuinely afraid of, but that is no guarantee against violence. Claire Potter, a.k.a. Tenured Radical, has had such an experience and discusses the possible ways that the situation may have played out:

So because I knew nothing, except that this had occurred in a small town near my old rowing club that I had driven through multiple times to get to I-84, what I thought about was the campus shooting I experienced on May 7 2009. On that day, a young woman at Zenith was gunned down in front of her friends at the campus bookstore by a man who had stalked and threatened her for several years.

And on that day, the campus went into, as they say now, “lockdown.” We had very little information about what had happened, or what might happen next. My office was in a small building: we locked all the doors and gathered upstairs. I, at least, was well aware that if the gunman proceeded up the hill towards the main campus, ours would be the first building he got to.  As we waited, for hours, I turned different scenarios over in my mind. Most of them had to do with running away: how thick was the front door? If the gunman entered our building, could we all escape in good order through the back? And as Director of the building, would it not be my moral duty to help everyone else get out in front of me, be the last to leave, and assume the greatest risk?

In case you have never had this experience, these are the kind of things you think about as you are waiting to see if you are going to die you are going to become a casualty. After a bit, my co-teacher, a young postdoc, and I quietly confided to each other our worst fear: that the shooter was one of our students, a young man I will call Jack. Jack’s eccentricities had morphed, week by week, into what both of us believed was a full-blown psychosis, resulting on odd to scary behaviors.

Suddenly, the front doorbell rang: we looked out the window and — it was Jack. What to do? If he was the shooter, could we keep him out? If he was not the shooter, he was in danger, and as his teachers, we had a moral obligation to help him. What if, floridly psychotic or not, murderer or not, he had come to us for help?

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Following Sunday’s post about Jason Alexander’s take on gun control laws, here are three songs by Pearl Jam related to gun violence, from their first, second, and sixth albums, respectively. All of these songs are connected to the broader theme of our society’s belief that guns solve problems, which Katherine Newman identified as one of six necessary, but not sufficient, causes of what she called “rampage” shootings.

First, and most well-known, is “Jeremy”, from Ten, which details a teenager’s suicide. It was also (coincidentally, I believe) discussed on Brad Koch’s blog Friday morning with suggested classroom connections to suicide and gun control:

Next up is “Glorified G”, from Vs., which describes the kinds of conservative attitudes that Jason Alexander takes on in his post:

Finally, the song that you’re least likely to be familiar with. “Rival” is from Binaural and was written in the wake of the Columbine shootings:

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