Friday, April 20, 2007

Story of the Week. April 16-20

I had two ideas this week as I attempted to organize my thoughts. So they’re both here and if they don’t make sense, well, maybe that’s the point. If you’ve had enough, you’ve read enough and you can’t take any more about the horrible things that happened this week, then feel free to stop reading. I know I’ve overloaded at least twice this week.

Lastly, I didn’t want my blog to be about how the media has covered this story, except to say this. The sad consequence of the news industry is that the networks make the most money when the story is the most tragic, and so they are all forced to compete for coverage under the most horrible circumstances. I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but I understand why it does have to be this way. And I think a lot of news people, including the ones I work with, had to make some impossible decisions this week. Here is my story of the week.

A Terrible Week, Past and Present

The murderer walked into a gun shop four weeks ago and showed his 3 forms of identification, signed the right papers, and walked out with a pistol and 500 rounds of ammunition. All of this was legal. If it hadn’t been legal, maybe he wouldn’t have been able to get the guns, and 32 people would still be alive at Virginia Tech.

Maybe we should ban guns.

Wednesday evening, we found out that the murderer sent a package to NBC news. In between killing two people in a dorm and massacring 29 more in an academic hall, he stopped at the post office and mailed a package to “Rockefeller Ave” in New York City and wrote in a 6 digit zip code. Maybe the postal worker should have checked the package, then she might have stopped him from going to the second building.

Maybe we should inspect all letters and packages.

The murderer may have been inspired by a South Korean film called “Oldboy.” One of the pictures he sent to NBC is identical to a scene in the film, a picture of him swinging a hammer above his head. Maybe if he hadn’t seen that movie, he wouldn’t have gotten the idea to go on a shooting rampage.

Maybe we should ban violent movies.

The murderer wrote two plays in a creative writing class. One was about a kid who accuses his stepfather of sexual and physical abuse, then he threatens him with a chainsaw. Both are disturbing and graphically violent. And the professor in his class was worried. Maybe if she had said something, she could have stopped it.

Maybe we should force writing teachers to submit all of their students’ work to the police.

Maybe we should ban creative writing.

The murderer was born in South Korea and came with his family to the United States in search of a better life. Instead, he cut short the lives of 31 others, and himself. Maybe if he never came to the United States, none of this would have happened.

Maybe we should end immigration.

The murderer took advantage of the blissful serenity of an expansive college campus and was able to go undetected into a dorm room, leave, go to the post office and cross campus to an academic building to commit a massacre without impediment. Maybe if campus security had been stricter, if there were metal detectors in dorm rooms, say, he would have been stopped.

Maybe we should have metal detectors in dorms, and guarded gates to our college campuses.

But we do have guns, and violent movies, and creative writing. And we are allowed to say what we want and do what we want. And almost anyone, for now, is allowed to come here in search of a better life.

Monday, the day of the Virginia Tech Massacre, was also Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. A day where we remember that we cannot forget what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. A day where we hope that, by remembering, we can make sure it never happens again.

We remember that in order to execute the final solution, Hitler (who was born on this day in 1889) first gradually took away freedoms from the German people, and especially from the Jews. He restricted what they watched, what they studied, where they went, and how they communicated. And then he exterminated by the millions.

It's natural to want to blame someone or something for what happened in Blacksburg this week. But restricting freedom through regulation is not necessarily going to stop the next act of senseless violence. And in the meantime, you only create fear and more victims. Sometimes the consequence of living in a free society is that people are free to go astray.

This week, we also remember the Waco Siege (April 19, 1993), the Oklahoma City Bombing (April 19, 1995), and the Columbine High School Shootings (April 20, 1999).

Maybe we should ban this week.

The massacre at Virginia Tech and its aftermath is eerily similar to what happened at Columbine 8 years ago. That tragedy reshaped by high school experience. I attended a high school of similar design, and with a similar student body. And after Columbine, I think there was a belief that yes, this could happen here if we forget Columbine. In our community we didn't forget Columbine. The next year, I was part of the inaugural cast of a play called "Bang Bang You're Dead", a play that explored the possible causes of school violence. The play has few answers but incites thoughtful and important discussion. And in the wake of Columbine, it was important to keep the dialogue open.

There is no explanation. What happened was horrible, it's sickening. I've been watching the coverage all week and it doesn't get better. There are no answers and no explanations.

But there is one source of strength that comes from this week. The students of Virginia Tech have been incredible. All week we have heard from Virginia Tech students from all backgrounds and colors who came together in an amazing way. And on Facebook, students from all over the world have banded together, feeling the tragedy as if it happened on their own campuses too. They have written the types of things and come together in a way that makes the racial divide of last week's top story seem petty. In the coming years, when these students of my generation take over, my hope is that we'll act like this all the time. That way, we'll honor the heroes of the terrible events of this week, past and present.

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