Thursday, August 6, 2009

Some Thoughts On Violence

It is quiet in the house in the early morning.

Both Linda and Lindsay are still asleep and the only sounds are the song of the birds outside the windows and the occasional car passing quietly by.

In many ways it is a very normal morning. I am getting back to meditating and have begun some mild exercising. Later I will take Lindsay for a run. After that, the day is open for whatever experiences come my way.

But then I read the newspapers, which are full of stories about the violent attack on a group of women in a Pittsburgh exercise class. While, here in Canada, we have just "celebrated" the first anniversary of the terrifying slaughter of Tim McLean, a 22-year-old travelling carnival worker who was riding a Greyhound bus to Winnipeg to visit relatives, only to be stabbed repeatedly and beheaded and partially cannibalized by a fellow passenger.

The stories are a raw and ugly disturbance to the tranquility of the day.

Being alone, I have time to think about these stories, although it is a hard thing to get my mind around. The very grotesqueness of the stories repels serious thought. That a group of women, their backs turned to the door, and the intruder, can be mowed down in a hail of bullets from the gun of a suicidal loner, or that a man can go from slumbering peacefully on a bus to being stabbed 50 or 60 times with a butcher knife and then beheaded is the stuff of horror movies, not real life.

The Newspapers are filled with detail and are light on opinion. In the case of McLean, they focus on the innocence of the man, an adventurous, hard working, personable young man who was not one to cause offense. Who had, like the women in Pittsburgh, no relationship with his killer whatsoever. Who, in fact was asleep at the time the attack began. Who appears to have been chosen at random for this attack.

They talk of the calmness of his killer, who went about the task of killing McLean in a "robotic", methodical fashion. They give details of the killers past life. How he immigrated from China five years ago, is married and worked at McDonalds and had delivered newspapers for a living. How he told McDonalds he was going to Winnipeg for a job interview but told his wife he was going on family business. How he has no criminal record and no history of violence. How he was found not guilty for his actions due to insanity and was sentenced to life in a mental institution.

The Newspapers call for a re-examination of safety procedures for greyhound buses but are hard pressed to explain how similar procedures could be applied to the similar buses that ply our City streets. Do you change and make more complex an entire way of doing business based on an act that is unprecedented? How likely is it to be repeated? Will we now be faced with hoards of copy cat killers vying to outdo each other?

Or will Health and Fitness Clubs require x-rays of sports bags and body searches for weapons.

Do our immigration laws need to be changed? Do we lure people here with promises of shiny futures and then put them to work at McDonalds and delivering our papers? Are violent Hollywood films to blame? Do they cause violence or act as cheerleaders for violent actions? How long will it be before either of these stories appears as a movie of the week or as fodder for CSI? Do we glorify the perpetrators of such vicious crimes by slapping their names and photos over Newspapers and TV stations across the country? Is the butchery of another human being a cheap and easy way into the history books?

And does even asking questions such as these remove the blame from his killer and place it unfairly on us?

Should we bring back the death penalty here in Canada? Although that doesn't seem to be working so well at curbing violence in states such as Texas.

Were both killers mentally ill? Could such acts ever be the work of sane men? Where mass acts of violence are committed by guns, I've noticed the killer, or killers, usually ends the experience by taking his own life.

I have no answers that aren't trite. I'm against violence. I'm against the proliferation of handguns. I'm against the glorification of violence. I haven't used either of the killers names in this post. But I refuse to live in fear because of statistically rare if horrific acts of violence and generally oppose the curtailment of my freedom through imposing even more and more restrictions for my safety.

What do you think?