Another terrible mass shooting has taken place in the US. This time, a 24-year-old man allegedly opened fire into a crowded movie theater showing The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, killing at least 12 people and wounding 59. This is a horrific tragedy for the families and friends of all the victims, and the whole town of Aurora. That this massacre happened in a movie theater, with children and families, can only create the feeling that nothing is safe in this violent society we live in.
The major news media, along with politicians, have already declared that this massacre only reflects the senseless actions of a lunatic and had nothing to do with the society and world we live in. They speak as if this tragedy happened in a vacuum, and they would like us to believe that nothing like it has ever occurred before. But the sad truth is that violence like this is far from uncommon.
Just two weeks ago, eight young people were shot dead in Oakland, CA, only one week after five others were shot directly in front of a movie theater in Jack London Square. Of course this violence is not unique to Oakland. All across the country in the poorest cities, young people, who can’t help but feel as if society has failed them and thrown them away, are killing each other. And who can forget Columbine High School in Colorado (less than 30 miles from Aurora), where 12 students and one teacher were gunned down by fellow students in 1999? Unfortunately, the list goes on and on.
Tragic acts of violence are part of everyday life in this society. How many stories have there been about hysterical adults, who after losing their jobs or their homes, shot themselves and murdered their families? Or the 18 US veterans who commit suicide every day – so many that now more soldiers have died from suicide than combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Is this violence really a mystery in a country with one of the most violent militaries in history? The US military has destroyed the lives of millions of people living in Iraq and Afghanistan, even bombing entire villages, weddings, funerals. This is a military that regularly carries out torture and assassination. Or what about the Americans who sit behind computer screens, far away from the faces of the innocent people they daily drop bombs on through drone aircrafts? Is all this violence really that different from what happened in Aurora?
Recognizing the violent nature of this society does not in any way diminish the unbearable tragedy of what happened in Colorado – it can never justify this, nor is it a diagnosis of why the gunman did this. But it is important to see that there is no escaping the impact of the violence of our society – it shows up all around the world, and it will keep showing up here in the US too.
Hopefully this massacre will bring more people to question the causes of all this violence in society. What is pushing so many young people to gun each other down in the streets? What reason could there be to kill millions of innocent people in war? What could drive a young man to open fire on helpless people in a movie theater?
In the case of this shooting, it is far too soon to say. But we do know that the society we live in creates enormous separation between everyone. Every day we all walk by people who are homeless. We ride public transportation and never even talk to each other. We can live in the same place for years without even knowing our neighbors. We are all isolated from each other, on our own, or in our little family unit, struggling to survive, trying to cope.
And add to this isolation the constant stress and pressure we’re under just to make ends meet. Usually this pressure shows up in some form of self-abuse, depression, drug use, alcoholism, or even suicide. But sometimes this pressure explodes into these violent attacks on innocent people.
There is no question that someone who massacres helpless people while they innocently watch a movie is sick. But can they be any sicker than the society they were brought up in?