The deadly silence in America12/19/2012
What the hell is going on in that house?
That’s what I thought routinely in Lake Worth, Fla., as I’d hear the cries of kids in the house next to me. Some screaming. Just strange stuff. It’s been 20 years since I lived there during an internship for The Palm Beach Post. I never saw a kid come out of that house with bruises. Never caught a glimpse of a battered wife.
Maybe they just yell a lot there, I surmised. It’s a house animated by passion, perhaps. Maybe I’m getting mixed signals or just don’t understand.
Then I’d turn on the fan in my bedroom for the white noise, read for a while and fall asleep. I never said anything. It’s not what you know; it’s what you can prove, right?
And we are all taught from an early age that about the worst thing in the world is to falsely accuse anybody of anything. So our default position is silence.
We rationalize away our instincts because people have a right to privacy, the benefit of the doubt, the space to be terrible parents.
It’s going to be uncomfortable, but that has to change.
We have to speak when we suspect people are capable of something awful.
“Because what choice do we have?” President Barack Obama said in a speech in Newtown, Conn., Sunday. “We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”
The president was clearly referencing gun control.
Yes, more limitations on firearms and ammunition will erect barriers to murderers obtaining the means for massacres like the one last week in Newtown. But we already are a nation awash in guns — 88.8 guns per 100 people, the highest ownership rate in the world and 40 percent greater than the second-most armed populace, Yemen, according to data compiled by The Huffington Post.
And if those intent on chaos don’t have guns maybe they graduate to bomb-making, a prospect Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper raises. There’s a lot of information on the Net. Take away the guns and what’s next? The monsters among us aren’t going to downshift to knives, fists.
Here’s what we know: The mass murderers in the infamous shootings across our land often showed signs of aberrant, anti-social behavior well before triggers were pulled on Bushmasters. We are getting such a picture of the Newtown shooter, just as we did with the killers at Columbine, and, this summer, the theater in Aurora.
But parents are protective. Co-workers and fellow students don’t know what to say, where to go. There are still stigmas attached to mental illness. We hold pancake breakfasts and soup-supper fundraisers in rural Iowa for kids battling cancer. They have our support, our empathy. But the kid with a disease of the brain — an organ of the body — is look-the-other-way business. We Boo Radley those kids.
What are the signs? Where do we go when we see the signs? Does it always have to be the police? If it is a kid we notice acting in a disturbing way, not reacting to obvious social cues or ranting on Facebook or a blog or elsewhere, is there someone at the school we can contact? Do we have to give our names? Should we? How do we reach out to parents with troubled kids, inspire them to come forward for our help, not our judgment? Our school and police and lawmakers need to answer these questions, show us where to go with instinct — and where to get fast with evidence. I can guess where I should I go with all of this, but frankly, I don’t truly know.
It is, admittedly, hard not to judge the parents and other family members of the spree-shooters. Surely there were signs of problems. We hear reports of this.
But parents get their priorities wrong. The instinct to protect a child at all costs is a root problem.
Iowa is a Christian state. And as Christians our most important relationship isn’t with our kids or our spouses. It is with God. Pure evil does exist, and sometimes it might reside inside your kid, hard as that is to accept. Shielding such kids from society is the wrong ordering. What should come between a parent and a child? God.
We know in our hearts we should say something about these disturbed kids because we see the signs.
It’s better to be wrong and embarrassed, or even hated by a neighbor or the mother of a 16-year-old in your daughter’s class, than to be quiescent in the unfolding lives of those capable of carnage.
The silence must end. CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.