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Letter from a Concerned Citizen

I'm sure you've all read or heard about the Virginia Tech shootings. First and foremost, if any of you lost a friend, or is missing a loved one, my sincerest sympathies go out to you and yours, and I will keep you in my prayers.

Journalistically, I shouldn't say such things. But for the moment, this is my damn blog and I refuse to separate my humanity from my media.

For the record, I think the print media did a stunning job in handling this tragedy, but I hope they are being sensitive to the victims in the local area. As far as broadcast is concerned, I am extremely discontented with the number of "advisors" hastily condemning the University and police responses (See: CNN, MSNBC, and FOX). I am disturbed that the shooter's "possible" race was disclosed before it was confirmed, and before any other identifying information was made available. I am also concerned about the amount of video of the event being pumped onto the internet for the morbidly curious consumer. I worry that such a thing is even desired by the public.

Yesterday we didn't have many answers. We knew the gunman is dead, but we did not know his name nor do we know his motives. We have seen pictures of a cuffed student being detained, but we do not know if there is/was an accomplice. We know 32 people were killed, we know that this is the largest school killing yet. We know that parents and students are discontent with the University's response time and system of notification. Yesterday, that was the nut of what we concretely knew.

But what are we doing with it? If the AOL message boards are any indicator, members of the American population are - by and large - taking pot-shots guessing the race of the killer. This is both absurd and highly disturbing. Not only does this kind of reaction illustrate that care for our fellow man so diluted within this culture, but it also is indicative of the pervasive racism that still lurks within our melting-pot culture. As if determining the race of the killer would be an indicator of anything at all.

There is also a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment floating around that is very disturbing. Several people have asked if the killer was a Muslim, which shows that America's growing ignorance and bigotry towards Muslims as a result of the terrorist actions of few. Most Muslims, and I know a great many, are pacifists who will readily tell you that Islam - contrary to sensational belief - does not support acts of violence. It's all blown out of proportion.

Others are pointing fingers at Bush, claiming the incident was a terrorist act he should have stopped. While yes, the act itself was terrifying and committed with the intent to terrorize, by no means do we have any evidence to support that it was sponsored by a terrorist organization, or that this was planned by a network of evil-doers. The word terrorism has become so skewed in our vernacular. Furthermore, Bush is only one person. He is not wired to a cross-continental supercomputer that can shut down any facility at a moment's notice. If this tragedy is linked to terrorism, and was planned by an organization, perhaps it could have been noticed. But if it is simply the act of one individual like the Oklahoma City Bombing, or even two - as in the case of Columbine, or any other massacre committed by an individual entity, it is ludicrous to expect anyone, let alone the President of the United States of America, to have known beforehand.

Others still are blaming the police for inadequate response to the situation. Perhaps this is spawned out of both the incompletion of the initial reports and the lack of public knowledge about the workings of the police force, but again - blame-game tactics are not helping the situation. Security was not the problem, and increasing the security available will not concretely prevent rampages such as these. There is no quick fix of adding extra officers because the tax-payers may not be able to support it. The police responded to the initial shooting and handled it as a domestic dispute and began planning to search for the killer. Neither they nor the University had no reason to assume he would travel 2,600 acres to kill an extra 31 people. Could things have been handled differently? Yes, and perhaps it would have saved lives, but shouldn't we try to eliminate the problem instead of bickering and then scrambling to learn how to be really good at responding to these catastrophes? Should we lock-down entire communities every time someone is murdered? It simply isn't feasible. How do you communicate with 24,000 people instantaneously, especially when 11,000 or more may be in transit?

America, I am disgusted. I seldom report or write on politics or violent happenings, but that does not mean I don't keep up. Have we really become this reactionary? When did logic and reason die? What has become of proportion and context?

I realize that AOL Message boards may not be an entirely credible source for adequate representation of the population, but the fact of the matter remains that the forum is updated with several new threads each second. An impressive number of people are there and they are communicating over this amazing medium called the Internet... and this is what the public is saying.

This is not the media. This is what America is doing with the media it receives. Fact-based reporting is dissolved into bigotry, ignorance, blame-games based on poorly-informed political rants, and hate.

Occasionally you will find a person or two on the boards, typically Christians, saying that we should all be deeply saddened by this tragedy and keep the families and friends of the victims in our prayers. This gives me hope, at least a shred. But it is not enough.

If this becomes a digestible media event, where reporters swarm and produce an account of a tragedy which the public consumes and then spews back a garbled message like the ones seen on the boards, we are lost. What use are documentaries like Bowling for Columbine or films like Elephant and Bang Bang, You're Dead that seek to explain or at least investigate this horrible phenomenon when Americans are so unwilling to understand the situation intelligently? If we hastily point fingers, ignore contrasting ideas, reaffirm old prejudices, and then move on to the forum about Britney Spears's fashion choices nothing will ever change. We live in a world of distractions, but at some point we need to stop and actually look at ourselves if we ever want to understand what about our particular culture spawns these violent catastrophes.

Stories like these bring me down. I do not enjoy them. I do not want to read them, and I do not want to think about them, but I do. If I haven't lost you yet in this vichyssoise of verbiage, then as one concerned citizen talking to another, I urge you to do the same. Do not flip over to American Idol. Read these stories, think on them in silence for at least 15 minutes, and talk to people about it.

I believe truth and goodness can prevail. I believe people can be taught, opinions can be changed, and problems can be solved but understanding is crucial. In this case, understanding our society and its responses, it needs to begin at the base with the individual.

This particular individual happens to be a journalist, and she is worried. But she is heading back to the boards nonetheless.

Edited to Add[ETA]: FOXNews.com went ahead and wrote "what one person described as an Asian male in a vest."
ETA2: The "Asian" quote has been added to the AP copy. This is distressing.
ETA3: Edited tenses.

Comments

I really needed to read this. You give journalists a good name. It's been such a fucking long day at work and I've approached this tragedy from every possible angle except for the one I should've taken initially: a respectful one for the dead.