The aftermath of a shooting

Sometimes words fail us. Other times, attempts at piecing together a few sentences that sound coherent and stop short of being preachy is nearly impossible. As a writer, you try but you know your framing is always going to be off kilter.

Since Friday morning when news reports first began intimating that yet another public shooting had occurred, I’ve been resolute about limiting just how much coverage and subsequent analysis I was going to allow myself, at least in the hours following an event that’s tough to get your head around. I’ve tried to stay removed from it. What do I mean by “staying removed”? I mean outside what’s become the norm when these regularly scheduled acts of random carnage take place; the usual hand-wringing, the ideological bleating, the moralizing—all made worse and amplified by the always on, 24/7 opinion streaming and lack of reflection made all-too-easy by the social media twins of Facebook and Twitter.

The media, driven by their own round-the-clock coverage cycle began rehashing old news minutes after first reporting a shooting in Newtown, CT. Then, some new tidbit is introduced and that becomes part of the closed loop until again, another breaking detail;  a name, a new piece of footage, a correction—gets threaded in.

This isn’t some holier than thou, look at me, I’m better than you post that I used to take solace in delivering. It pained me to watch the reporting early Friday. As much as I might criticize the way that the mainstream media reports on events like school shootings, I kept turning my head back towards my Tee Vee, like a slow-motion  car wreck that you rubberneck your way past; in many ways, I was powerless to divert my attention away from news networks like MSNBC, Fox, and CNN.

As I made preparations for my afternoon and early evening assignment at the anonymous call center north of Boston, I dreaded having to take holiday orders on a day when shopping didn’t seem right, or even allowable. But like any good worker bee, corporate conditioning takes over and you do what you have to do.

I mentioned Facebook. As if on cue, the halfwits that populate the platform started weighing-in immediately. Drawing upon their vast intellectual girth, they felt it necessary to stuff their narrow viewpoints into that tiny space I was trying to maintain for processing—things like, “The shootings that took place in CT today were horrendous, but were not about guns. … Once again a sick human, used an assault rifle to attack someone, this time our children…Instead of liberals blaming a piece of of (sic) formed metal, let’s put the blame on a society that has said everything is acceptable, it’s just the way that he expresses himself!!”

Beautiful!! I’m not sure society has in fact said that “everything is acceptable.” And guns, at least the safe use of guns,  is a discussion we need to have.

Arriving at my seasonal place of work, I was wary about that period just prior to starting, when I wait in the break room before logging in and beginning to take calls. Usually the television is blaring something I never watch, like Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, or some other segment from the wasteland of afternoon television.

Friday, it was news and of course, someone just had to offer their brilliant two cents worth of analysis. This time it involved what kind of “justice” should be inflicted on the shooter and when someone informed this person that the shooter had killed himself, this very large and very loud know-it-all became indignant and called him a “coward.” Without a hint of irony, she segued into spiritual mode requesting that people pray for the families. The floodgates had been opened and others felt led to begin sharing their views and revealing their obvious ignorance. 

This kind of binary boxing of opinions was really more than I had anticipated. It took all the self-control I could gather not to say to the 10 people in that room, “shut the fuck up!” I’m sure 10 years ago I would have done that. What would have followed shortly thereafter was a tap on my shoulder, a request to log off and “follow me,” and then some supervisor feigning concern and inquiring about my own state of mind, asking me if I was “ok.” I’m sure I would have been sent home. I’d have been the freak, not this ignorant, blathering idiot in the break room.

America is a violent outlier in the world.

America is a violent outlier in the world.

How the hell can you be” ok” and perform your duties when you know that more than 20 innocent people have been mowed down at an elementary school in a quiet middle-class suburb in New England? Being able to perform flawlessly for six hours on the phone, taking order after order spoke volumes about me and my fellow seasonal order takers and about our country in general.

America will move on after this shooting. The families of 20 young children, ages 6 and 7, will struggle to piece together their shattered lives —if they are able to at all.

Any parent empathizes with what the parents in Newtown are going through. Losing a child in a school shooting is a nightmare that you want to wake up from but can’t.

While it is horrific and we’ll continue to hear stories for days if not the next few weeks about Newtown, we rarely hear about the shootings of young school-age children that occur in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and other urban war zones.

America is a heavily-armed country with a penchant for violence. Mix in mental illness, the easy availability of guns and the recipe is in place to guarantee that more of these kinds of shootings will continue to occur, more frequently for children of color, but they’ll also visit suburban locations, just like they have been with greater and greater regularity.

It’s still early in the development of the narrative in Newtown. Perhaps this time, the storyline will shift from previous shootings.  Maybe people will push back and decide that they’re going to draw a line in the sand on the issue of guns, violence, and even deciding that draconian cuts in essential services for the mentally ill is public policy that we can’t stand by and let become the norm in our country.

[Mother Jones was the source of this interactive map below; hover over the dot for information about a specific mass shooting.-jb]