Riding in the taxi to school yesterday, a curious driver roused me from a semi-conscious state to ask me where I was from. “From America,” I quickly replied, still in a zombie-like state. He then delivered to me the news of the Virginia Tech shooting, where over thirty students died in a student’s violent, angry rampage. The driver kept asking other questions about America, guns, and this particular shooting, but I didn’t have any good answers for him. I hadn’t been following it closely, and I was not in the mood for yet another conversation about my violent homeland.
Before I get up on the soapbox, I do want to say that the victims, bystanders, and community in Virginia are in my thoughts and prayers. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones in such a senseless loss.
After reviewing things more carefully, I want to stress that I don’t consider any survivors or any institutional player responsible for the school shooting. The professionals, school policies, authorities, and other characters during the weeks and months preceding the attack all appeared sensible, appropriate, and well intentioned given the circumstances. Hindsight always being 20/20, we should use this opportunity to reflect on American violence and its causes and not dissect every piece of what happened at Virginia Tech.
The undeniable fact is that the world widely regards America as an unsafe, dangerous, and violent nation. People don’t travel to America because they worry about safety. No single school shooting or lack thereof is going to change that perception overnight. America has earned that reputation over many years and should feel a great deal of shame and remorse because of it. I hope America takes Virginia Tech as an opportunity to reflect on its faults, instead of grabbing onto narrow explanations and simplistic excuses that distance us from the reality of America’s collective failures. I hope instead that we make sense of the pervasive violence in American society as a whole, and worry less about Virginia Tech, Columbine, or other shootings.
In my current country of residence, Japan, 53 people were murdered last year. According to the 2005 FBI Uniform Crime Report, 16,692 people were murdered in the United States. That’s over five times the number of people who died in the attacks on 9/11. This occurs every year in the USA. This number is currently increasing, yet no one reports this. Nobody I know of holds candlelight vigils, special legislative sessions, or prayer meetings for these people. Nobody’s talking about where we went wrong or what we could have done differently.
We blame the killers, the police, the schools, public policies, bullies, TV violence, video games, guns, the president, congress, the NRA, and all that other stuff. It’s their fault, not mine! We blame everybody and everything but ourselves. We refuse to even see this tragedy that is 16,000 strong and growing year by year. And when we all refuse to see this, we all become the ones to blame. When we do nothing but blame other people, we all become at least partly responsible. We should open our eyes to this tragedy and others to see that things really should be much better than they are. Perhaps then, the victims at Virginia Tech won’t die in vain.