An Answer to Violence in America
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People are pondering the tragic loss of 27 people -- 20 of them first-graders -- in Connecticut this week. The perpetrator barely out of his teens. Many people are discussing the avenues of cause and effect. There is talk of more gun control, better mental health care, and greater security at schools.
I saw evil and the fruit of its expression when I stood over the bodies of Harris and Klebold in the library at Columbine in 1999. As a detective specializing in crimes against children, I was assigned to investigate what occurred in the library. There before me lay the evildoers with their weapons next to them. The bodies of their lifeless victims lay nearby. Within seven minutes of entering the library, these two teenagers had murdered 10 students and wounded 21 others. Destruction and devastation were imposed upon child victims and witnesses, their families and friends, and an entire community... in just seven minutes.
The attire Harris and Klebold chose to wear for their infamous outing was telling. Harris wore a t-shirt with "Natural Selection" on it. It was his statement of faith. Human life has little value when you view yourself as superior and stronger to others. Weaker persons become disposable.
Klebold shared this worldview. Klebold's t-shirt said "WRATH" in red letters. Both killers loved the video game "Doom" and the movie "Natural Born Killers." Both felt entirely justified in planning and carrying out the killing of innocent persons. They sought the notoriety of being "the best" at revenge, even though they knew they would not be around to enjoy it in person. Imagining the notoriety others would give them was enough to satisfy.
America doesn't like restraints, for the most part. We don't like someone telling us what to do, say, or think. And worse, we hate being told we can't. We want the freedom to say and do as we please.
May I suggest that America consider the unthinkable: If you want evil to subside, try restraining yourself from glorifying it.
The human heart is capable of not only doing evil, but craving evil. If we use our freedom to enhance this craving, we should not be surprised by the increase of heinous acts. Freedom - it is no longer an admirable quality in a society that misuses it. If America chooses not to restrain those messages that devalue life, we bear some responsibility for corrupting the conscience of our citizenry -- especially our youth's.
Instead of asking "Why?" after these man-made tragedies, we might be asking "Why not?" Evil is "self" satisfying. Whatever the reason, you can be sure the person who decides to pull a trigger on innocent persons is expecting some kind of gratifying payoff. America can lessen the appeal of evil by stopping its wholesale promotion.
If we are to save lives in this country, we must be a society that values life. Do we, as a nation, desire our citizens to have consciences? Then we should no longer approve and support those things which corrupt the conscience. If we say murder and sexual violence is wrong, why are we using it as a mainstay in our entertainment? Movies, TV, books, videos, songs, websites, etc., are major influences on today's younger generations. Could it be that America doesn't limit the onslaught of violent or sexual messages because so many people are making a financial "killing," featuring the things we say we abhor?
What we allow, approve of, fund, or profit from is all acceptable because we tell ourselves "it doesn't hurt anyone." Tell that to my 10-year-old neighbor, Jessica Ridgeway. Her kidnapping, rape and murder were national headlines a couple months ago. Her teenage killer had immersed himself in readily available pornography. You are fooling yourself if you think it wasn't a contributor to his moral decline.
Self-restraint by definition is a measure or condition that keeps someone or something under control or within limits. Americans have long believed in the value of punishment as a deterrent to future crime, not just for the guilty offender, but for those who might contemplate doing the same thing. The idea of getting caught and facing serious consequences detours many from acting out the evil they ponder.
The law is an outward restraint, a warning of what is wrong and punishable. But it is only that; and therefore of limited value in solving the deep problems in our culture. Better, though not as easy, is to change our hearts.
Some people posses a moral compass, an internal restraint that prods -- or sometimes yells -- at them to stay on the right path. Those who heed that voice can correct their trajectory. They respond to such warnings not only because of accountability, but because of an inner conviction that human life is valuable. These have a conscience.
Others do not. Not because they were born that way, but because they've been desensitized to the value of every individual's life. The only life that matters is their own.
The human heart is far more difficult to change than the laws intended to govern its behavior. Deep inside, it's our moral values coupled with self-discipline, which determine our actions. The predominant values of society - wether good or evil - will end up shaping our children and the world around us. What do you value? Is society promoting those values or eroding them? Is there something we should being saying "no" to?
Do some soul-searching. It is not too late to change our trajectory. Self-restraint can lessen the incidents of mass shootings and sexual violence. But has America got the courage to use it?
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