Friday Reads: Not-so-Random Acts of Hatred

download (13)

Good Morning!

We’ve had another campus shooting. This time it’s a small christian college in Seattle. These things are becoming so common place in this country that I wonder if any one is safe anywhere from gun violence. Our culture really seems to bring out the worst in many of our people.

Yet, guns aren’t the only way to express violence. Here is The Guardian’s take on the earlier post we had about the Slender Man Stabbings by two 12 year old girls. An act of violence committed against a friend over an imaginary being.

It’s easy to raise a moral panic about the Slender Man, a shadowy internet meme few people over 25 had ever heard of, at least until this week. Administrators and parents can ban the lanky specter – can put a face on the faceless figure – and reassure themselves that they are barring the door to the bogeyman. A fictional, tentacle-sprouting villain doesn’t require us to examine any uncomfortable truths about society.

But when the purported basis for violence or hatred is something more deeply ingrained in our culture, the threat becomes more difficult to face head-on. When crime is linked to deep social problems like misogyny and racism, our temptation is very much to look anywhere else for answers – and that’s dangerous in itself.

On May 31, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier of Waukesha, Wisconsin, both 12 years old, allegedly lured their friend into the woods and stabbed her 19 times. The victim survived the attack. Both suspects told the police that they attacked their friend in order to become “proxies” of the Slender Man, a fictional character created in 2009 for a Photoshop contest.

Local authorities were quick to blame the culture of online ghost stories. “Parents are strongly encouraged to restrict and monitor their children’s Internet usage,” Waukesha police chief Russell Jack said at a news conference, and the local school district banned a website called CreepyPasta, where much of the lore lived, after the attack.

Reporters are savoring the lurid fantasy like kids around campfire, or an iPad. An Australian news report dubbed CreepyPasta an “internet horror-cult that almost caused a killing”. “Many are wondering: What dark forces does this online urban legend potentially release?” asked a CTV anchor. CNN’s digital correspondent, Kelly Wallace, worried that kids today might be at risk from nefarious fictional creatures because they are generally incapable of differentiating between fantasy and reality. Another CNN opinion writer suggested that “the made-up meme could have inspired monstrous acts in real life”.

Two 12 year old girls face a justice system designed for adults.  It also demonstrates that issues of violence, alienation, and juvenile crime are not just images (47)the province of boys.  Does this crime have similarities to the Salem witch accussers and of the odd physical displays of cheerleader in LeRoy, New York in 2011? Does group affiliation and identity of young girls sometimes morph into something vile and dangerous?

There are many conflicting theories about psychological, political and social explanations for the Salem witchhunts. Some historians blame the rise of mercantile capitalism and economic tensions between Salem Village and Salem Town; some cite the boredom of and inattention to young women in the town. What is certainly true is that the panic began when a group of socially-affiliated girls began exhibiting physical symptoms and describing spectral visions.

The historian Mary Beth Norton, who argued in her book In the Devil’s Snare that the witchcraft crisis stemmed from anxieties over the French and Indian war, border disputes over Maine, and a series of violent attacks on Puritans by natives, said by phone that while court records don’t leave us with detailed evidence of how close the young accusers’ relationships were to each other, she could think of at least one tight alliance: between 12-year-old Ann Putnam Jr. and Mercy Lewis, an 18-year-old Maine native whose entire family had been killed in an Indian raid and had been placed as a servant in the Putnam household. Despite their age difference, Norton said, the girls were very close, and, she guessed, likely shared a bed or at least a sleeping loft, as per the domestic arrangements of the time.” She also noted that it was likely that the interpretation of the girls’ fits and visions was guided by Puritan beliefs that Native Americans were devil worshippers, and that, in the midst of bloody conflict between native and Puritan populations, translating the physical tics and social confusions of young women into a widespread campaign against fellow Puritans permitted some fantasy of control, since “if you can’t defeat the Indians in the woods, you can defeat witches in the courtroom.”

Norton drew a connection between Salem and the more recent, non-violent case of cheerleaders in Le Roy, New York, a suburb of Rochester, who exhibited physical symptoms that strongly echoed those displayed by Salem girls. In 2011, a group of these Le Roy students, many of them cheerleaders, began to suffer from tics and stutters, humming and involuntary muscle spasms.

And while our cultural lens wasn’t trained on demonic possession anymore, nearly every other contemporary interpretation was brought to bear: therapists, activists, and journalists attributed the outbreak to everything from environmental toxins to the post-manufacturing economy, social, familial, and academic stresses to absent fathers and mass hysteria.

As the reporter Susan Dominus reported in her excellent piece on Le Roy, the case appeared to come down to “two equally poorly understood phenomena: conversion disorder and mass psychogenic illness.” As Dominus reported, “Half of mass psychogenic illnesses occur in schools, and they are far more common in young women than in any other category.” In her piece, Dominus also explored the ways in which many of the sufferers in Le Roy seemed to entail social mirroring, the unconscious sharing of symptoms and affliction. Psychogenic illness, she wrote, “seems deeply connected to empathy and to a longing for what social psychologists call affiliation: belonging.”

images (48)

The Seattle campus shooting, however, fits the typical lone male shooter profile.  What beef will we find with this guy?  Failure in school?  Failure with women? Will we try to assign mental illness to this guy without looking at his easy access to guns?

A man in his 20s died and at least three others were hospitalized after a young man opened fire with a shotgun inside a Seattle Pacific University engineering building on Thursday afternoon.

A suspect, believed to be the lone gunman, was in custody after a student official and others used pepper spray and physical force to pin him down as he reloaded the shotgun, according to Seattle Police Capt. Chris Fowler.

Harborview Medical Center said four victims had been brought to the hospital, including the man who died shortly after arrival.

A 20-year-old woman was in critical condition and undergoing surgery as of 5:15 p.m. A 24-year-old man and a 22-year-old man suffered minor injuries were in satisfactory condition.

“Today should have been a day of celebration,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said to a crowd of reporters at the university, whose last day of classes was to be Friday. “Instead, it’s a day of tragedy and loss. Once again, the epidemic of gun loss has come to Seattle — the epidemic that has been threatening this nation.”

Many students reported that the gunshots — heard throughout the building — sounded like a science experiment, maybe a helium balloon popping.

images (49)So, here’s a great local story from my neck of the woods.  A group of 4 men have decided to set up a minutemen-like patrol of the French Quarter.  The leader–interviewed by the local press–said they were just out to escort workers in the Quarter to their cars.  Now, we find this out.

The organizer of the “French Quarter Minutemen,” a group that has announced plans to start armed civilian patrols, is wanted by police. News surfaced Wednesday that the Metairie man behind the group faces an allegation of stalking.

The New Orleans Police Department has issued an arrest warrant on a charge of felony stalking for Aaron Jordan, who is accused of harassing a male Municipal Court judge and a female Municipal Court employee.

“I can’t talk about it because of my lawyer’s advice but it’s something that I’m working on to take care of,” Jordan said in a brief phone interview Wednesday night before abruptly hanging up.

Jordan has been interviewed by several radio and TV stations in the past week, touting his group’s plans to provide licensed armed volunteers to escort restaurant and bar employees through the Quarter safely at night. Just shy of 700 people have “liked” the Minutemens’ Facebook page, but no actual patrols have hit the streets.

Supporters say the patrols will provide a needed supplement to NOPD’s depleted ranks. Critics warn that they could become armed vigilantes who escalate situations and make them more dangerous.

The recent publicity may have spurred the woman to report Jordan, who she claims stalked and harassed her. She was working at municipal court when Jordan was tried and convicted of trespassing in 2009.  Details of that case are unknown.

The woman filed the report with police on May 30, after “learning he was a gun advocate” which had “her in even more state of fear of him acting against her and her family,” the warrant says.

A warrant for his arrest was issued that day, said police spokesman Officer Frank Robertson III.

The warrant accuses Jordan of “intentionally and repeatedly” harassing the woman, who was a court staffer while his trespassing case was pending. The woman told police he had sent letters to her “employers and clients,” and that his “ongoing harassment has made her suffer emotional distress.”

After a series of store and restaurant visits by the Open Carry radicals, we have this delightful news item.  Some psychopath left a loaded gun in the f4c1ac722491aa5d360e14fc991558d4toy aisle of a Target Store in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  It’s a good thing some clerk found it before some child did.

A real gun was found in the toy aisle of Target on Seaboard Street. The police report states a loss prevention worker stumbled upon the gun Friday night.

The gun was in plain view on top of a superhero Playskool toy box when the worker found it; he thought it was a toy. He realized it was real after seeing it was loaded with live ammo.

The fact that it was found in an aisle geared toward children makes some shoppers feel this was no accident.

“I don’t think someone would accidentally drop off a gun. I think he purposely left it there for a child to pick up and think, ‘Oh it’s a toy gun,’ and accidentally point it at somebody and it goes off,” says Kennedy McClain.

Fletcher Armstrong III, a Concealed Weapons Permit instructor with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, explains it is never too early to start talking gun safety with children.

He narrows it down into four easy-to-understand steps: “If a child comes across a gun they should follow four steps: Stop. Don’t touch. Leave the area, and tell an adult.”

The police report mentions there was a suspicious male walking up and down each toy aisle, including the aisle the gun was found.

I’m going to let y’all discuss this today because I’m pretty disgusted by all of this.  I can’t figure out a way we’re going to get rid of this until we quit glorifying violence, guns, and entitlement.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?