Thursday, June 2, 2016

"Armed and Dangerous" - A Repost

I will not be attempting to cover the three-part rally against gun violence due to mobility issues. I'm sure the official press outlets will do a good job.

This week I was looking into odd spikes in readership and I found people were reading a couple of posts from 2013. One from April 20, 2013 struck me as worth posting again, in light of the question of what drives some young people to violence. The events noted in the first paragraph were the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three and injured an estimated 263 others, and the West Fertilizer Company explosion in West, Texas.that killed 15 people and injured more than 160 others in addition to damaging or destroying 150 buildings.

Commentary on Danger and Terror (repost from April 20, 2013) 

Horrific events in Boston and West, Texas dominated the news this week and left a nation hurting. How could young men plot and carry out a scheme intended to kill and maim many at what would otherwise be a celebratory occasion with participants from around the world? How could a small community nestle next to a facility that contained such potential to destroy lives and property?

These questions and many more related to those events will take years to unravel and explain. But while listening to the interminable offering up of incidental details and speculation in radio news coverage, my mind wandered to some local examples of danger and outcomes.

What do you think when you hear the name of Picatinny Arsenal? Years ago, it was a scary place to think about. I found the source of those lingering fears in a Department of Defense article online. Twenty-one killed, 53 injured - a Congressional investigation and establishment of a safety board ensued. The Arsenal is still there and except for a 2008 incident that led to further safeguards, it is a job-producing good neighbor to Skylands communities.

My other thoughts had to do with what goes on in the mind of a young person that leads to violent behavior. The person I was thinking about was a student in a special school where I once worked. Handsome, with a winning smile, he was already warring with demons inside that made his personality turn on a dime. The upshot was a fascination with power and control. A sheet of math problems could turn him to jelly and he often deflected his fears by running away, knowing he could force adults to stop what they were doing to focus on getting him back inside the school.

It was almost touching when this very recalcitrant student asked for help with spelling one day, given his bravado in the classroom. But his question turned out to be "How do you spell 'armed and dangerous'?"

He told several of us that when he grew up, he intended to find us and kill us. Tough talk from a kid, even one with big issues. No matter how he tried to turn everything into a power play, we assured him we stood ready to help him learn and grow as a person.

The school employed a behavior modification system that was in effect a contract between the student and staff aimed at increasing a child's sense of responsibility for his or her actions. One day this person decided to destroy the chart that documented his iffy quest toward these goals. When I tried to preserve the chart, he bit me on my upper arm so hard that it was bruised for weeks. At a conference with his mother present, he couldn't help smiling slyly when this choice was discussed.

He won whatever battle that represented to him, because I decided I was no match for his demons, not even close. I left the school for safer employment while raising my own two children. Years later, it still made me shiver to think of this child as a young man loose in the world with such rage in his heart. I hoped and prayed he found relief and had gone on to have a happier life.

This child wore his anger on his sleeve, so to speak, but now authorities must probe the lives of two seemingly well-adjusted young men to find the seed of hate that led them to plot the killing of others in a way intended to crush the spirits of many more. One is dead, one lies grievously wounded. But what killed or wounded their humanity in the first place?

Churches will be full of calls for peace and love this weekend and certainly Bostonians have already rejoiced at being loosed from fear of two who would terrify their city. The weeks ahead will bring many explorations of good and evil in human behavior and whether we as individuals or nations should, in the face of evil, hunker down or extend a hand for amity. On this particular planet, the question remains unanswered.


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