At breakfast yesterday the older of my two sons (both attend Grant High School, a few blocks from where we live) told me that his end-of-year “presentation” had been interrupted by a lockdown. The door was locked, the business of the class interrupted, and word was awaited from the principal when the teacher and students could stop hiding from an unknown danger to life and limb.
This was a practice that has been implemented in response to the rash of school shootings since Columbine in Colorado. It had special resonance because of the shooting in Reynolds High School the day before, in which an armed 15-year-old shot and killed a complete stranger, a 14-year-old, and wounded a teacher.
By the end of the day the Portland police had shot and killed a man who swung at them with a crowbar.
I want to suggest to you that the two deaths, that of the high-school freshman and that of the unemployed lout, arise from the same fundamental sickness within our society.
I begin the argument by pointing out what I will not be doing: I will not argue along the lines of a recent not untypical for progressives piece, that since my high-school teacher did not emphasize the scale of the international slave trade, the Troutdale killing followed. There, the connection between a practice that ended some two centuries ago [in this country, 150 years ago] and a killing in Oregon a couple of days ago is assumed rather than argued — that is not a persuasive approach, in my opinion. It is easy, but it is logically lacking. Insofar as I can, I want to go step by step.
Now, despite claims to the contrary, we know that there is indeed a rash of school shootings in this country since Columbine. We know that the rate of crime in the country has been dropping substantially for the last few decades, and that would naturally imply that incidents of shootings with many victims is declining as well. We know, having lived, as I like to say, for more than three decades, that there were few if any high-school shootings in middle-class communities in the middle of the last century, and they’re everywhere today, including right here in River City. The English newspaper The Guardian has the reminder
Troutdale is not the first town in the greater Portland area to experience a shooting.
Three days before the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, a [22-year-old — MM] shooter opened fire in the Clackamas Town Center mall, 20 minutes southwest of Troutdale. Three people were killed, including the gunman, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
In 1998, about 130 miles south of Troutdale in Springfield, 15-year-old Kip Kinkel shot and killed two classmate at Thurston high school with a semi-automatic rifle. Twenty-five others were wounded in the shooting. Later, Kinkel’s parents were also found dead. Kinkel is now appealing his nearly 130-year sentence.
Let me at this point return to the killing of the unemployed lout. The monopolistic [in the senses both of having a monopoly on daily newspapering and of knee-jerk defense of monopoly capital] daily newspaper in our neck of the woods began its story of this latest case of police brutality as follows:
A Portland police officer fatally shot a man near the Springwater Corridor Trail after he swung a crowbar at officers investigating an assault and attempted robbery Thursday morning, police said.
It was the third officer-involved Portland police shooting this year.
“Our job is to protect ourselves,” said police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson. “A man armed with a crowbar that can inflict deadly force on an officer … you’re going to defend your life.”
That’s the defense offered for the shooting here in town of a manifestly unarmed man running away from the police: the killer simply repeated the mantra, that he felt his life was endangered by the 25-year-old potential suicide, and all the King’s men and all the King’s horses had no effect: Officer Frashour was re-instated on the police force and awarded back pay.
The television news story said
When two officers arrived and confronted the suspect, the man attacked them with a crowbar, Simpson said. One officer fell down during the attack.
The suspect continued to swing at the officers. One officer fired, killing the suspect.
Neither of the officers was hurt.
The law is written to allow the police to shoot without warning, or even cause, so long as he or she repeats, consistently and without laughing aloud, that he or she felt his or her life was in danger. The death of this unemployed lout is only the most recent victim of this attitude. State Representative Lew Frederick, former Director of Information for Portland Public Schools — where, as a longtime teacher employed by that institution, I first met him — introduced legislation to change that guarantee of impunity for police killing, but it went nowhere.
“Our job is to protect ourselves.”
The police serve and protect themselves. They tell us that repeatedly and frequently. At the Columbine High School, the police waited from 11:22 am until 12:06 pm, 44 minutes, before entering a school where they knew armed intruders were shooting people. Their first job, was it not? was to protect themselves.
My own experience with this ass-backward attitude came when as a teacher in Benson High School I attended a required first-aid workshop on what to do with a bleeding student. The first half-hour, ladies and gentlemen, I kid you not, was devoted to how the teacher has to protect him- or herself from the bleeding student.
“Our job is to protect ourselves.”
A bleeding student, don’t you know, could give you AIDS. That there blood could seep into some crack in your skin and you’d be infected, don’t ya know. Or some other foul disease. Find the kit we’re issuing you today, in the drawer of your desk. Put on the little plastic gloves we’ve provided you. Make sure no blood splashes onto your exposed skin. Et cetera, et cetera.
“Neither of the officers was hurt.”
If that poor bleeding student dies while you’re rummaging around in your desk well, it wasn’t your fault. Your first duty is to protect yourself. The fact that the crowbar never connected, and that they outnumbered the citizen who failed to follow directions, makes no difference.
We solve our problems with overwhelming force. Locally, and globally.
The White House has announced that it will soon resume the killing of innocent civilians in Iraq since, don’t you know, the Islamic extremists might, just might, target the Homeland after taking Mosul. As the previous occupant of that office once said, “Bring ’em On!”
Fish rots from the head. The United States is a rogue nation, smashing small, defenceless states around the world with its bloated mercenary armed forces. Its President has asserted and exercised the right to assassinate with impunity his political enemies — and their teenaged sons. The decline in crime rate has been met with an enormous increase in weaponry deployed and employed by the police; just as the demise of the Soviet Union has been met with aggressive wars launched by the so-called Leader of the Free World.
The shooting at Troutdale, as explained clearly and in detail in response to the last Oregon mass shooting, at Clackamas Town Center, by Shariff Abdullah, was a mark of soul starvation.
They committed these acts because they were starved. Soul starved.
Starved, not in the sense of lacking food, but in the sense of an inability to obtain the real nutrition they needed – emotional and spiritual. In reading his tortured journal excerpts (published in a local newspaper), it was clear to me that Kip Kinkel had the experience of constant soul pain, a profound aloneness, a pain that we find hard to identify but is none the less real.
He didn’t start off life as a psychotic. None of them did. They don’t have “bad genes”. They were in pain, dying inside from a lack of experience of the Transcendent.
No, I don’t mean that they needed to go to church, or read a particular holy book. The Transcendent is all around us – and our children are not taught how to connect with it. When I say that the shooters lack the Transcendent, I mean:
A lack of experiences of community with other beings, including but not limited to other human beings.
A lack of experiences of depth, of meaning. Moving through the ordinary world, but not having an awareness of beauty, of love, of meaning, of aliveness — inherent in everyday activities.
A lack of awareness of Life and Death. A knowing that goes beyond Hollywood movies and first-person shooter video games.
The lack of a Dream – not just the sleeping kind, but being aligned with a concept, an idea that goes beyond your personal life.
The shooters were in pain. Soul pain is real. Our culture, in its ignorance of spirit and soul, cannot recognize their pain (and society’s role in causing it). Soul pain is real and important — obviously, it is more important than life itself for those who suffer it.
THEY DON’T NEED “THERAPY”. They don’t need pharmaceuticals. They don’t need counseling in how to function in a dysfunctional society. This is not a “mental health” issue. This is a societal health issue.
We Are One.
Those Islamic extremists who seized Mosul, they are our brothers and sisters. That unemployed lout is me, but for the grace of God. That 15-year-old assassin of his fellow Reynolds High School student is your son.
If we think and act accordingly, that will be a constructive response to the two deaths in our community.