White Men and Mass Murder

In the aftermath of the horrible shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I find myself asking what it is that compels people to want to commit mass murder.

And…I wonder why so many of these mass murders are done by white men.

I know people don’t like to talk about race, and I know it’s easier to talk about black on black crime.  While black on black crime raises hardly more than a whimper or cause for concern, when a black kills someone white, there is a fair amount of outrage.

But this mass murder thing: why is it that white men seem to be the primary perpetrators in crimes like these? Why is there still a sense of shock when it happens? How come there aren’t some studies being done to find out why this happens? Black on black crime has been said by some to be caused by the deep levels of self-hatred African-Americans have. Black on white crime is said to be caused by long-held anger on the part of blacks. White on black crime is credited to racism in many cases…but mass murder, perpetrated by white men on crowds of people, most of the time predominantly white, has no reason given, or at least I haven’t heard the reason. Have I missed something?

The latest alleged murderer, James Holmes, has murdered at least 12 people as of this writing, including a three-month old baby. He came into a crowded theater, released tear gas, and then opened fire. He apparently carried an arsenal of weapons, and he told police he had booby-trapped  his apartment to explode. He came dressed all in black, and he apparently shot with abandon, aiming at nobody, yet aiming at everyone. This young man, 24, is, or was, a PhD candidate. I would assume he came from a fairly nice family, as “nice” is defined. So, what happened?

I think about the young men, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who shot and killed and wounded students at Columbine High School; the young men, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who blew up the Murrah Federal Office building in Oklahoma City, the young man, , T.J. Lane,  who is accused of shooting students at Chardon High School in Ohio earlier this year; and of course, there was the horrific shooting in Arizona where Jared Loughner shot Representative Gabby Giffords and 18 other people in 2011…all white men, and I don’t get it. Why does this keep happening, again and again?

Could it be that white men harbor some degree of self-hatred too? Or is it they carry a lot of anger about …well, about what?  If white men are angry, and especially so angry that they feel compelled to shoot whomever is in their way, why are they that angry?

Isn’t it a topic or subject or situation that somebody ought to at least look into?

My heart is so heavy for the people who were shot in Colorado. All they were doing was watching a movie, and now, some are dead, some are wounded, and all who survived or who will survive are forever changed. It seems like a fair amount of Americans are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, all due to domestic violence, and much of due to these mass killings.

It just seems that the tendency of white men to express their anger and rage through mass murder ought to be a subject for study. It’s proper to be horrified when these atrocities happen, but horror isn’t worth a dime if it cannot and does not lead to serious study so that the problem can be alleviated or reduced.

There are just way too many mass murders in America, too many white men who punish a slew of people for something they are upset about. It’s time for it to stop. Past time, actually.

A candid observation …

The Big Business Called Prisons

Cover of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarcer...
Cover via Amazon

While the country, or parts of the country, express justified rage and anger toward Rush Limbaugh and his hideous and inappropriate statements directed at Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke, another outrage is being allowed to move forward, quietly but steadily.

In a February 14, 2012 article posted on The Huffington Post, the story was told of how a private corporation, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is offering cash-strapped states big money for their prisons. The article, by Chris Kirkham, said,”As state governments wrestle with massive budget shortfalls, a Wall Street giant is offering a solution: cash in exchange for state property. Prisons, to be exact.”

CCA is a for-profit operator of prisons. That means the corporation, and others like it, exist because there are prisons; their financial success depends upon prisons continuing to exist and continue to be filled. According to Kirkham’s article, CCA is “a swiftly growing business,with revenues expanding more than fivefold since the mid-1990s,” as the “War on Drugs” became a major issue in America.

Harley Lappin, who retired as the head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, is the Chief Corrections Officer (CCO) of CCA, and Board members include only one African-American, Thurgood Marshall, Jr., the son of the late United States Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.

What’s the big deal, you ask? The big deal is that America cannot seem to let go of its plantation system. With money in the picture, as the driver of how prisons are operated, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there is a big incentive for America to keep its prisons filled. CCA is doing business; it is not interested in rehabilitating people. In a recent letter to governors of 48 states, Harley Lappin wrote “…CCA is earmarking $250 million for purchasing and managing government-owned corrections facilities. The program is a new opportunity for federal, state or local governments that are considering the benefits of partnership corrections.”

In that same letter, Lappin said that on January 12 of this year, CCA assumed ownership and management responsibility in a transition described as seamless. This transfer culminated a process that, according to state officials, generated more than $72.7 million in proceeds for Ohio taxpayers (he was talking about the purchase of an Ohio prison),about $50 million of which was allocated for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.”

What does all of this mean? It means that the “new Jim Crow,” as Michelle Alexander has so excellently written about in her book by the same name, is alive and kicking. Who will fill the prisons? Black and brown people mostly, as has always been the case. What Alexander describes in her book as “military policing” will increase in urban neighborhoods, so as to make sure the source of profit for those who are buying the prisons, does not disappear.

Clearly, the target of prison inmates, since the Reagan Administration’s declared “War on Drugs” has been black and brown people, primarily men, who are addicted to crack cocaine. From the time the “war” began, there was money to be had for state and local law enforcement agencies for the numbers of people they arrested. Now, with this blatant “prison for profit” industry rising as one of the, if not the, fastest industries in America, there will be even more money earned on the backs of America’s black, brown, and poor people.

CCA has recently found an additional source of revenue-makers: illegal immigrants. The HP article said that CCA has found a “new opportunity in the business of locking up undocumented immigrants.” It’s business, not personal, right?

While the politicians are mouthing off about contraception, nobody talks about this unethical use and misuse of law enforcement; in fact, the very existence of this “in-your-face” modern day plantation system leads one to muse, “what law enforcement?” If the focus of arrests and imprisonments were all drug users, prescription drugs and powder cocaine as well as street drugs, there would be much less room for cynicism. As it stands, however, under the guise of “law and order” and “protecting the taxpayers,” black and brown people are disproportionately going to be the ones who help CCA and other for-profit prison corporations get wealthier and wealthier.

There is so much that goes on in this country that “we the people” know nothing about. It is by design. If we do not know, “they” can do what they want. And in this instance, that is exactly what is happening, and what has been happening since the Conservative darling Ronald Reagan declared this infamous “war on drugs.”

With the war on women being waged in this GOP presidential nominee battle, as well as the war on voting rights, primarily for black, brown and elderly voters, and this unsavory ploy to keep prisons filled with only certain offenders, it makes me wonder about all this talk about “values.” The term seems to have a very narrow focus, but then, that is nothing new. From the beginning, “we the people” was a very narrowly defined group of white, male property owners, and the fight going on today seems intent on trying to keep that vision from slipping into obscurity. Women have pounced on the attack on themselves and their rights, but black and brown people, and now, undocumented immigrants, need to pounce on the very sneaky attack being waged on their very capability to remain free and eligible to become a part of “the American Dream.”

If CCA continues to have its way, the number of black and brown people who are in reality off of the plantation will be greatly decreased, and the new “massa,” big business, will go merrily on its way.

A candid observation …

Right to Bear Arms vs Mental Illness

Rethink Mental Illness
Image via Wikipedia

America doesn’t feel so safe anymore.

The school shooting in Chardon, Ohio, has left three teens dead and their families devastated. The alleged killer has forever altered his life and the lives of those whom he killed and injured, and countless others. Sending one’s child to school used to feel like a safe thing to do. Not anymore.

Frank Ochberg, in an article on CNN’s web page entitled Why Does America Lead the World in School Shootings,” concludes that there are a number of factors leading to primarily boys going into schools with guns, including bullying and revenge, mental illness, violent role models, drugs and access to guns. (see http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/28/why-does-america-lead-the-world-in-school-shootings/?hpt=hp_c1) But Ochberg says that such problems exist in other countries as well. Why is America leading the pack, and why doesn’t it feel safe anymore, not like it used to?

I remember growing up in Detroit, I had no fear. Particularly annoying would be guys talking with their friends in the middle of a side street; one friend would be in his car and the other friend would be hanging onto the open window of the driver’s side. The two would be chatting as if nobody else in the world existed. You could honk your horn and, though the two buddies wouldn’t move immediately, you didn’t have to worry that they would pull out a gun and blow your brains out.

That’s not the case anymore. There seems to be unrestrained, wild anger amongst people, anger which people either cannot or do not want to contain. Rather than deal with their anger, more and more people reach for a gun.

It’s troubling that that seems to be the modus operandi in general, but the fact that kids have so much anger and despair that even they resort to gun violence makes a tenuous situation even more frightening. A child (and yes, a 17-year-old is a child) presumably doesn’t have the control that an adult has, nor does he or she really understand the repercussions of what they are doing. Kids generally have less fear as well, because it seems that it is life that provides us the experiences that makes our fear so solid. Kids have lived fewer years, and so have had fewer opportunities for carmelized fear…but the experiences they have had, it seems, has wrecked them to their very souls.

When I was young, a fist fight was the way to handle conflict. Not anymore. It makes me shudder to think that many people, especially kids and young adults, are carrying concealed weapons, because it’s legal to do so. Cell phones have made it so that we do not have much privacy anymore; the ready and easy access to guns have made it so that we do not have the luxury of feeling as safe as we once did.

Ironically, incidents like the Chardon High School shooting, or the Virginia Tech or Columbine shootings, do not make the outcry for more restrictions on guns in this country louder; no, the defense of the right to bear arms becomes more tenacious, because violence brings with it the fear of more violence. People look on mass shootings as evidence that there needs to be more access to guns, not less.

I refuse to enter into that argument, but what I am concerned with is that we are missing something early on. We are not learning, and therefore are not teaching, effective ways to handle conflict. Nor are we paying attention to a malady which is as prevalent as is heart disease or cancer: mental and emotional illness. In Ochberg’s article, he mentions schizophrenia and depression as being major mental illnesses that we pay way too little attention to, to our own detriment.  Nobody wants to admit that they don’t feel so good in their spirits or in their minds, and so they go on being sick, and doing things that only a sick person would do – like shooting someone because he or she offended, betrayed, bullied or ignored you.

My hunch is that T.J.Lane, who will remain in custody pending his trial for a triple murder, has been sick and tormented for a long, long time. My hunch is that he gave signs but that nobody paid attention, or, if they noticed, ignored what they saw.  My hunch is also that there are a lot of kids “out there” who are angry, depressed, lost, alienated and scared…and who would, if given the chance, do just what T.J. Lane did, or worse.

I doubt we will ever gain serious ground against those who defend the right to bear arms, but we had really better let go of our inexcusable fear of mental and emotional illness. It is a problem our society cannot afford to ignore – especially since the right to bear arms is a right that some hold more dear, it seems, than the need to take care of our sick. If we don’t open our eyes and our minds, I doubt that America will ever feel safe again.

A candid observation