Thursday, September 14, 2006

Freedom of Speech, Invasion of Privacy and Who's To Blame

As is to be expected, the top story across the country remains the shootings in Montreal. One woman died from her wounds, nineteen are injured. The gunman was shot and killed by police.

James pointed out that the media take advantage of situations like this and replay the images of the grieving over and over again. I concur, and wondered if I should even mention it on the blog today.

It seems odd to just move on, because it is on my mind. It will reignite the gun control debate. It will spark another national argument on crime.

Neither of these reasons were enough to keep this in the forefront of my thoughts, to the point where I had to blog on it. What did make the difference was the direction the discussion has turned, the revelations of the gunman’s online activities. The gunman was a participant on a site that a young Alberta girl also participated on, until she was arrested and charged with murdering her parents and brother. That incident occurred just a few months ago.

Only hours before the shootings, the gunman posted pictures of himself with weapons online. And the reporter in me started kicking in with the obvious questions that will arise from these revelations. Today, people will talk about guns.

But for many tomorrow’s, people will talk about internet surveillance and crime anticipation. I mean, look at this. The online activities of famous authors are to become part of an archive? Emails will be included? I thought those were private…

Think about it. What if, by monitoring public sites – particularly those already associated with an accused killer - killers can be caught before they strike? That will be the point someone will raise. Somebody out there will not concern themselves with what crime you charge the person with, how you justify arresting them (the generous rules for arresting suspected terrorists don’t apply) and how you can prove their intent. With some shootings there are a trail of documents that can give those who remain a hazy picture. With some, there is nothing but endless speculation.

The shooters responsible for Columbine had a website. You can check out the site this killer posted on if you want to. Please bear in mind the site isn’t responsible for this man’s actions.

There are a lot of things going through my mind right now. One is that this story isn’t all that important internationally anymore, because only one person died – one “innocent” person, anyway. Another is that we distinguish – one victim and the shooter dead.

Another is that people are going to use this to justify their suspicions/prejudices about people with certain interests. I feel it’s a safe bet the website this man participated on will receive hate mail today. Should they? Certainly not based on what I know, no more than I should receive accusations if someone who comments here is charged with a crime.

I also find myself wondering about the all-too-human tendency to vilify the guilty. There is no denying this man is a criminal. His actions establish that.

Yet this impulse to label him leads to a sense of alienation between him and society. I suppose it’s what society does to make themselves feel better. We’d never do that. That couldn’t be us or our kids. We need to feel protected from our own fear because we don’t understand.

And it’s this response that has me wondering. I agree that sooner or later we all must take responsibility for our own actions. Tanginika had a fantastic post that tied to this, just the other day.

But I also wonder if, by automatically putting a label on them, branding them an outcast and leveling judgments, we’re closing our minds to consider all of the possible motivations, if we end up putting blinders on that keep us from identifying the root of the problem.

Let’s face it. School shootings happen. Again and again. This isn’t special in that regard. In Canada we gave the Montreal massacre, Taber and others. Montreal alone has seen numerous shootings over the past two decades – I was actually surprised when the news listed them. I hadn’t realized there were so many.

What’s foremost in my thoughts is that we aren’t coming up with solutions. We aren’t generating answers that go behind one person being ‘sick’. I mean, I get that – I really, really get that urge to hurl the label. I understand it.

But I think this goes beyond video games, websites, even mental illness (if applicable). We’re so quick to shrug it off when we hear the person had some condition, but that’s the problem I’m talking about. We excuse ourselves because there’s an explanation we can live with.

In Vancouver, several years ago, they shut down a number of hospitals. They shut down a facility that dealt with people with mental health issues. Those people weren’t able to function unmedicated, and without monitoring their intake and therapy, they ended up back on the streets. There was a guy who lived in our building when we lived there, and he was a bit off. He’s on the streets now. They end up, at the very least, being a public nuisance, begging for money, following people around, sleeping in alleys. And at the worst, they end up stealing, doing drugs, committing acts of violence.

One problem feeds another problem. As far as I can see, one of the root problems to all of this is that we don’t care about society. As long as everyone plays by our rulebook and doesn’t interfere with us, we’re happy. We don’t stop to think about how we’re producing the next generation of killers, and we’re all contributing to it.

How? I don’t think my taxes should pay for that. Or what about youth violence in schools? I know first-hand that problems persist, and overworked, underpaid teachers with no real training in how to deal with conflict resolution that goes to the heart of addressing bullying… they just can’t keep up. Sometimes, I go to my niece’s school and have lunch. I’ve seen so-called friends pressure her to do stuff they want to do, right in front of me. Last time that happened, I watched her, the conflict on her face. She’d already said what she wanted to do. They kept badgering. She finally freed herself of them, but only because I was there. I talked to her about it afterwards, and told her she had to listen to herself, her job in life wasn’t making them happy.

And that was a simple incident. We can all think of ones much, much worse that we’ve experienced ourselves, witnessed or heard about.

It’s a nice theory that you can move far away, stick your head in the sand, turn off the news and not be affected by the world around you. Believe me, it’s one a few of my friends subscribe to. And it drives me mad. Whatever you believe or know or don’t know doesn’t change the fact that someone can start a war that yes, might affect you. Someone can hijack a plane… I don’t need to say it, do I?

So, I’m thinking about the roots of alienation, and what prompts one person to commit jihad and another person to go on a killing spree. I’m wondering about our need to absolve ourselves of responsibility, our need to lay blame, our need to fit it into a box with a label we can understand.

And I’m thinking that, given the state of the world today, we’re obviously mislabeling some things. We’re proving we don’t really understand. Perhaps in part, on some things, but obviously not in full.

Or maybe we’d start to find some solutions, and I see no evidence of that.


Stephen D. Rogers said...


I think the link at "I mean, look at this" is pointing at the wrong URL (Tanginika's, actually, which is referenced later.


Tanginika-Simone said...

This topics are so complex, and I guess people would wish to focus on how to stop crimes right before they happen. Sure that is one approach, but really a tricky one, since the crimes reside in people's minds and ultimately, there is only a limited scope to our intervention when we base our anti crimes initiatives on suspicions, stereotypes, and conjectures. I am hopeful that the future of humanity will be more positive, but certainly there are a lot to be done on all fronts to ensure that individuals are nurtured and encouraged to follow life paths and lifestyles that are based on respect for one's life and the life of others and all things. Very complicated indeed.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Stephen, thanks. Bizarre, as I went to that site specifically a second time to get the url... I guess the moral is, don't type when tired.

Tanginika, you're right, it is complex. I fear James hit the nail on the head yesterday when he talked about exploiting these events. We seem to do that, and never actually learn from them.

angie said...

This is so damn sad. It makes me sick.

I'm not even going to get into the "look, he was on this creepy site" thing - for some folks being able to talk about their bizarre crap is what keeps them from acting on it, so I can't get too upset about it.

On a purely speculative level, I do wonder about the whole school as chosen location for mass murder phenomenon. It seems that there is some sort nexus there that hasn't been fully explored, much less understood. What is it that makes this such an attractive place to commit violence on this level? Why do these incidents seem to be on the rise in frequency and intensity? Yes, yes, mental illness, abuse, bullying, etc., etc. seem to be some common factors, but what is it about schools that are so compelling to these killers?

Sorry, just wondering out loud. I have my theories, but that's all they are - unproven, untested ideas.

This whole phenomenon just sucks.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Angie, you raised those questions about schools exactly as I was thinking about them, in the midst of all the news coverage. They talk about metal detectors like it will stop things... but it won't. As someone pointed out in an interview, this shooting began outside. If people can't get into schools, they'll go somewhere else.

Is it schools because the perception with 'school' is youth, innocence? I don't know. In some cases, when it's classmates, you guess it's because it was their environment. But random people shooting at schools, which has happened several times? I don't know.

I can't imagine how it will feel for people to go back.

anne frasier said...

i wonder if they'll find he was on anti-depressants. that seems to be the case with many/most/all of these killings. but of course that's another chicken or egg thing. but the reason i always look for that is because i actually quit taking zoloft because i was having bizarre thoughts of killing people. and the drugs create such a wall and such disengagement. but i also recall getting angrier than i'd ever gotten in my life when on that crap. that's a potent and dangerous combination.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Anne, indeed, that's scary. It's one of the reasons I border being anti-ridilin. I'm not, exactly. But I'm not for it either. Too many drugs are being used as quick fixes these days, and we have no idea what the long-term psychological effects will be. Chemicals in food, drugs in the system... It's scary.

Kevin's familiar with the DSM, so, he offers me a lot of insight. I'm glad you knew enough to get yourself off. There are a lot of victims out there who create other victims, especially if you get the wrong medication.