Senseless Tragedy

April 2007


Senseless Tragedy in Virginia unwinds on television. More hype and hysteria at 11:00.

This morning the television was devoted to the latest national tragedy. Television news always have a tough time with this kind of story. It's usually over, or nearly over before they ever get there. Some poor kid went nuts and killed a bunch of people and then killed himself. Not much more to say, really. But they have air time to fill and if everyone else is airing the tragedy, you have to give it equal weight or people will use that against you to boost their own ratings.

So, they spend their time interviewing tearful people who don't really know what's going on. They research the dead killer and make his family miserable. They take shot after shot of police, more police, and even more police. That university looked like it had been invaded by some foreign army. Swat teams in body armor mixed with traffic control cops and plain clothes cops, FBI and who only knows who else (Homeland Security for sure).

And what good did those hundreds of police serve? That many troops, armed like that only really have one purpose: to put down an armed revolt. That's most of what they're trained for, too.

Whenever I see massed police like that, I can't help think of all the other places that has a cons tabulary like that: liberty doesn't last long under such a weight. The police are like the army: you've paid for them, now you have to use them. There is no kind of random act of insane violence that police can honestly prevent, not unless they watch everybody all the time in an Orwellian police state. Police are response forces. They step in after something happens and clean it up. Mostly they protect property.

But in the aftermath of a senseless and tragic act such as happened on the Virginia Tech campus, opportunistic politicians always extend the powers and prerogatives of the police and curtain the rights of ordinary people. The funding for even more police is approved on the spurious claim that more cops make people safer.

What makes more people safer is spending more public money on the public. Spending money to make people more secure from poverty, secure from injustice, and secure by reason that they have options. Do I think that this tragedy could have been avoided by spending more on people programs? Maybe, maybe not. If the dead child who killed the other people was purely and simply insane, maybe there is nothing anyone could have done to prevent it. But I do know that many more than 33 people die every year in Virginia, die routinely, from preventable things like malnutrition, exposure, crimes of violence, drugs, and a hundred other remediable crimes against the body politic.

Concentrating all the public attention and all the public resources against a tragedy that no one can do anything about takes attention and resources away from real issues that can be cured, or if not cured, then made less harmful for some.

I'm sorry that the 32 young people were murdered. But my sympathy for their friends and family does not extend to motivating me to accept further erosion of civil rights in the misguided theory that a life under constant surveillance is going to make people any safer or saner. The real tragedy here will fall on us all.

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