I’d like to point readers to this harrowing, but particularly well written article for an account as to how the alleged shooter, James Holmes, reportedly shot 12 dead and injured a further 59.
I use these words specifically. In this particular instance, what frightens me is not the prospect of an armed and armored man rampaging through a theater killing innocents, but the prospect of the fear of that threat leading to reforms that could further erode our civil liberties.
Shortly after the highly publicized and wildly speculated upon Trayvon Martin case, calls were made to restrict gun ownership, and Zimmermann, the man accused of shooting Trayvon, was the subject of such a massive media swarm of accusations and analysis that one questions whether he could truly receive a fair trial. Should we let the decisions about a just and free society be made by a people griped with fear? Ought we not pay attention to the lessons the past has to offer about the consequences of Legislating under Influence (of terror)?
In the wake of 9/11, we passed legislation with the hope of securing our nation, while opening ourselves to surveillance by the state. We accepted that if you have “nothing to hide” then you have no reason to hide anything. This is a dangerous path. Already, the Salt Lake Tribune is posting an article questioning whether security at theaters ought to be heightened. Imagine all the fun of an airport brought to your hometown theater. At least I’ll have the excuse of wearing sweatpants and slippers to the movies, far easier than taking off my belt and shoes.
What I find ironic (in the Morissette kind of way) is that one of the larger subplots to the Batman movie at which the shooting occurred is that Batman and Commissioner Gordon lied about a DA’s killing spree to protect his memory. Casting the blame on Batman and sanctifying their fallen hero, Gotham’s citizens enacted laws that depleted civil liberties for arrested mob goons, in the same sort of dehumanization that Americans have levied on Muslims in the wake of our Middle Eastern wars.
In Batman there was Blackstone prison, a hole for the mob to be put away indefinitely, not too unlike Guantanamo Bay for alleged terrorists: A place where civil liberties go to die.
Rather than seeing this as an opportunity to tighten the noose on freedom, let us view this tragedy as an opportunity to talk candidly about how our justice system functions, and how we think it ought to. I’ll start.
I believe the guilty should be corrected for their crimes. Not punished, but reformed and if mentally ill, treated. Those who commit heinous crimes must be determined as either raised poorly, and in need of reformation, or insane and in need of treatment and removal from society to prevent further harm.
I believe we need a more robust system for finding the mentally ill and treating them before they can snap, harming others. This comic points out very well the misconceptions of schizophrenics for example.
Most of all, I believe we need to take this opportunity to show empathy for our common citizen. As the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, said in the aftermath of the Oslo slayings:
I’m proud to live in a country that has managed to stand together in the face of tragedy. I am impressed over how much dignity, care and strength we have. We’re a little country but a proud people. We are shaken but we will not give up our values. Our response is more freedom, more democracy but not naivety.
I’d like to see our response be dignity, care and strength. I’d like to see freedom and democracy, not fear.