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4:58 pm EDT 63°F (17°C) in Wells, ME
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Finally, the huge storm that churned off the New England/Canadian Maritime coast for almost three days has pulled away, out to sea, and it has left us with an amazingly beautiful day here in the extreme southern part of Maine. After I get this unloaded, it looks like I have another very long deadhead — almost 400 miles (640 km) into upstate New York in fact — to go get a load destined for North Carolina.
I really don’t want to turn this into a Virginia Tech massacre blog, but I did want to mention something else I heard about it that really has gotten me to thinking about the changes we need to make in our culture to prevent a repeat. About 16 hours ago, around 1:00 am EDT this past morning, I was driving along Interstate 495 in Massachusetts, and decided to tune in WBZ-AM (1030) out of Boston. The Steve LeVeille Broadcast was on at the time, and he was discussing several facets of the incident; at one point, he made a comment — an enlightening and mostly correct one, in my opinion — that the vast majority of the student-perpetrated school massacres we have seen in the last 10 years have occurred in suburban areas, or larger rural cities that somewhat resemble suburbs.
This is a trend that I would say probably started on Groundhog Day 1996, when 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis killed a teacher and two students at Frontier Junior High School in Moses Lake, WA. Two more shootings two months apart occurred in suburban areas: Luke Woodham shot two and wounded seven on October 1, 1997 in Pearl, MS, and Michael Carneal killed three and wounded five in West Paducah, KY, exactly two months to the day later. The trend continued with the Columbine High School massacre, exactly eight years ago today, in the Denver suburb of Littleton, CO; it continued even further when Charles Andrew “Andy” Williams killed two and wounded 13 at Santana High School in the San Diego suburb of Santee, CA, on March 5, 2001. I don’t know if I would call Blacksburg, VA, the site of Virginia Tech, a “suburb” itself, but we do know that the perpetrator, Cho Seung-hui, had a suburban background; after his family moved here 15 years ago, they eventually settled in unincorporated Centreville, VA, in the Fairfax County “exurbs” of Washington, DC.
Another common factor in almost all of these school massacres was bullying, ostracism, or purposeful shunning by the “mainstream” against those who would eventually go on to perpetrate these heinous crimes. I went into a lot more detail about this on Wednesday, so I’m not going to repeat myself, but this has been a major factor; in fact, we have now found out from former high school classmates of Cho that he likewise was picked on incessantly.
I don’t think that the combination of these things — lots of school shootings in suburbs, or committed by people with suburban backgrounds, and the ostracism and bullying that has been shown to lead certain people to commit these massacres — is mere coincidence. In many places, American suburbs are filled with the type of people who believe that they’re somehow “better” than other people; this can be for many reasons, chief among which, I would say, are financial status and race. “I’m better than those niggers who live in the city — I don’t have to live with them!” or “Look at my beautiful Lexus — it means I’m better than you, Pontiac owners!” are examples of this kind of thinking — people may not come right out and say it, but this is probably how a lot of suburbanites, especially in farther-out suburbs and exurbs, actually feel.
Outer suburbs in many areas didn’t really begin to take off until school desegregation and mandated busing came into effect in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was largely well-off whites who felt like they were somehow “better” than black people, who became some of the earliest residents of what are now outer suburbs and/or so-called “exurbs.” “I will NOT send my child(ren) to school with any niggers — not one! If they say I have to, then we’re gonna move where there are no niggers!” is exactly the attitude these people espoused in that specific situation. In general, people like that just think that they’re “better” than somebody else, or maybe even everybody else.
I do not intend for this to be an indictment of all white people, or all suburban residents — not at all. It is a certain small, yet politically active (pretty much universally for Rethuglicans) subset of white suburbanites, who feel like they are “better” than blacks, or middle-class people, or gays, or non-“Christians,” or whoever else it may be, that I am talking about here. This is also not as true for suburbs everywhere in America; I’d say there’s a little bit less of it in the Northeast, and more in other parts of the country. One of the ways to tell where it is the worst is to look at how “sprawled” a metropolitan area is; the six American metro areas I would call the most sprawled — Atlanta, Houston, Detroit, Chicago, Dallas, and Washington — are the places where this attitude among suburbanites that they are “better” is most pervasive.
The children of suburbanites who have this attitude pick it up, and begin to act upon it in their dealings with peers in school. Over the school years, it leads these children to bully, pick on, or otherwise ostracize the group(s) their parents believe are “less” than them. From here, my argument from Wednesday comes in; if a child who doesn’t have the right coping skills — say, a kid whose parents both have to work long hours to keep up with the Joneses, and therefore don’t have time to help the kid with his problems — is the victim of such ostracism, we’ve got a future school shooter on our hands.
I am also not trying to suggest that race is necessarily a factor in these student-perpetrated mass school shootings — in fact, I can’t name one where race has been a specific motivating factor. Race may not necessarily be the basis upon which these suburbanites feel that they are “better,” and certainly racism isn’t the biggest driver of this attitude today as it was in the 1960s. Today, it’s just as likely to be financial status — i.e., you’re “worse” if you can’t afford the $650,000 homes in the rich suburbs — or religion (gotta get away from those Jews, Muslims, and “godless,” “immoral” homosexuals) that drives this kind of an attitude among suburbanites.
No matter what drives that kind of an attitude, it is wrong, it is against the true example of Christ, and it is destroying America as we know it. NOBODY — I repeat, NOBODY — is any better or worse in the eyes of God on the basis of anything but his/her actions, and even those aren’t judged until after the person dies. When we divide ourselves by thinking we’re any “better” than somebody else, we divide ourselves from God, Who has commanded us to love every single one of His children as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). This means that we are not to think we are somehow “better” than somebody else, even if we are in fact better-off in material ways; we are instead instructed to humble ourselves (Matthew 5:5) and serve our fellow human beings (Matthew 20:26-27).
What can we do to change our society in ways that will prevent another school massacre like the Virginia Tech one? Certainly, the best start would be for our leaders — particularly Rethuglicans, who are far more guilty of this than Democrats — to stop pandering to racism, classism, homophobia, and all of the other destructive, anti-Christian hatreds in our society, and start condemning them in no uncertain terms. If haters start to see that they have no political outlet like the one they currently have with the GOPstapo, they will eventually do one of two things: (a) go even further underground with their hatred to the point where it’s practically invisible, or (b) learn to change their ways. If we combined that with a much stronger commitment to diagnosing and treating mental illnesses, especially the kind of severe depression seen in so many of these perpetrators, we would go a long way toward eradicating the school shooting from American culture.
I still have at least two completely separate topics to take up here, and I still haven’t found the time to do it. That USA Today article is now a week old, and what it talked about occurred this past Sunday. Oh well, whenever I get a chance, I’ll write about those. Until then, goodbye for now.