May, 2001, Volume 8 Nr. 9, Issue 93
KENT STATE, LITTLETON, et al
As April transitions to May, the anniversaries of Columbine High School, Kent State, Jackson State, et al, engender pause, a reconsideration of violence that has become the corporate trademark of a neo-liberal society intent on globalizng death for profit. Even nuclear waste is "recycled" into weapons as depleted uranium (DU), in the never ending rush to corporate hegemony over everyone and everything. Paul Roasberry, a parent of a Columbine High School student, expresses the connection between violence as a government policy and violence as a consequence thereof. [Eds.]
LIVING in LITTLETON:
I may be the only parent of a Columbine High School student who isn't howling for more gun control laws. I may also be the only Columbine parent who hasn't attended church to thank "god" that my daughter is still alive. And with respect to the police, the events this past spring have convinced me more than ever that the cops, being inept and useless parasites at their very best, are not only incapable of preventing crimes of this nature, but only contribute thereafter to the anguish and suffering of victims.
I work out of my home. It was at about 11:30 in the morning on April 20th that my phone rang. Almost immediately a nonstop, breathless gush of words was telling me that there had just been a shooting at the high school. As my daughter, Sarah, pleaded with me to come pick her up, my mind grappled with the images it was forming. I had no comprehension of the scope of what was happening. Had someone been shot? Killed, maybe? I could hear confused, agitated voices in the background. Wailing. Sobbing. The sounds of fear. I quickly gathered that she was across the street from the school, in a private home with a number of other students and teachers.
Sarah herself was too distraught to give me intelligible directions, so she handed off the phone to a teenage boy who, close to tears himself, attempted to describe their location for me. Sarah came back on the line and I asked her if she'd phoned her mother yet. She hadn't. Although Jeanne and I are divorced, and Sarah lives full time with her mother a few miles away, my home is closer to the school. I told Sarah I'd try to be there in fifteen minutes. I made her promise not to leave the house for any reason. After placing a quick phone message to her mom, I started off, trying to remain calm as I negotiated stoplights and intersections. Fiddling with the radio dial, I tried to pick up some early news.
Three blocks from the school, I encountered the first roadblock. I then spent an hour and a half trying to find some way into the neighborhood where my daughter was waiting for me. I debated, at one point, running across a greenbelt in order to reach her, but given the staggering numbers of emergency vehicles that were converging on this place, and the armies of armed, uniformed goons that seemed to be swarming about everywhere I looked, I decided it would be a good way to get shot. Still, I'd promised my kid I'd come get her out of there, and a promise is a promise. At intersection after intersection I leaped out of my car to argue with the cops behind the barricades. All to no avail.
It was nearly four o'clock before Sarah's mother finally located her at an elementary school where we'd heard the students were assembling to reunite with their families. Back at home by then, I watched the insane images on the television as a wounded, half-paralyzed boy tried to dive out the second-story library window, smearing the walls and window sills with his blood.
Sarah's statement went like this:
Harris and Klebold, the little killers, were dead within 20 minutes of entering the school. For another three and a half hours, so-called SWAT teams cowered behind emergency vehicles in the school parking lot while a man with far more courage, a teacher named Dave Sanders, lay bleeding in the arms of his students inside the building. When the SWAT teams finally found them, they tore the students away, refusing to allow them to continue applying pressure to Sanders' massive shoulder wound. He soon died.
I'm trying to imagine whether these same "SWAT" teams would have been so reluctant to use stun grenades or tear gas if it were MY house they were trying to enter. No, certainly not. The grenades would have flown through the window, and as I lay there on the floor dazed, my eardrums oozing blood, I could have watched the tracer bullets slam into the wall. Paralyzed, I would have watched the first little flames erupt just before the exploding tear gas canisters sealed my eyes forever. Maybe, as the inferno gathered about me, I might have heard a voice outside barking, "Dammit, wrong address! Pull back!"
Still, it is cases like this one, like Columbine, I am told, that make all the claptrap of laws and cops and courts necessary. "What if someone with a gun comes after your daughter? How is your anarchist society gonna stop that? Huh? Huh? HUH?" We've all heard this kind of argument a zillion times. "Yeah, it would be real-ly nice if we could do away with laws, but practically speaking..." Or: "Without the police,how would you stop people from KILLING each other?" and so on.
What can possibly be done to prevent an anomaly like the shootings at my daughter's high school? Ultimately, the answer has to be Nothing. It is unrealistic -- in fact, impossible -- to eliminate violence and crime altogether. All we can do is minimize the risks. The Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta said:
"We do not believe in the infallibility, nor even in the general goodness of the masses; on the contrary. But we believe even less in the infallibility and goodness of those who seize power and legislate, who consolidate and perpetuate the ideas and interests which prevail at any given moment. In every respect, the injustice and transitory violence of the people is preferable to the leaden-rule, the legalized State violence of the judiciary and police."
For decades we have been assured that more laws, more cops, and bigger budgets for "law enforcement" will secure our safety. There was a full-time sheriff's deputy assigned to Columbine High School. (Contrast this with a period as recent as the mid-1960s, when I went to high school. Then, it was unheard of for cops to be permanently stationed in public schools anywhere in this state.) The neighborhood served by this school is upper middle class, predominantly white, and affluent. Dylan Klebold's parents, for instance, live in a fabulous home nestled against the red rock formations of the foothills. The family of three (while Dylan was alive) owned eight cars, five of which were BMWs. Hardly an inner city slum. Not what you'd call a high crime area.
About a year ago, the Jefferson County Sheriff's department had been warned by the parents of a boy whom Eric Harris had threatened that Harris was a violent person, bent on inflicting harm. But AFTER the Columbine shootings, Sheriff John Stone, in a typical gesture of cops covering their own asses, tried to cast a sinister veil of suspicion instead on the boy whom Harris had threatened. This is the usual cop ploy in this jurisdiction: blame the victim. That's easier. A few years ago, after neighborhood children had thrown rocks at my daughter and me after I'd picked her up from the bus stop, I was issued a summons for "harassment". My crime? Trying to phone the children's parents to complain about their conduct.
Let me shift to a scene from the parking lot at Columbine High the morning immediately after the shootings. Cops are restraining a man who has shown up with his wife to retrieve the body of their son from the building, which was still sealed off by the police. He's tried to push past the police lines to gain entry. Hey, ASSH0LE! ...Don't you know? Laws are laws! The police, incapable of preventing this horror, are all too willing now to take over the scene and bully anyone who ignores their "rules". Klebold and Harris are already dead, for chrissake.
Two months have distanced me somewhat from the events of that long week, but I still feel an overpowering rage. Not so much against Harris or Kiebold, although those two boys are single-handedly responsible for their own acts.
No, probably very little could have been done to stop them. A teacher carrying his own gun in a back pocket, maybe. Or maybe the two boys having grown up in a different kind of culture, where violence is discouraged. I've thought often about this.
There may be something to the commonplace complaint that this society is preoccupied, even obsessed with violence. The manifestations are everywhere: in plotless movies with two hours of nonstop "special effects", in video games, in the hopelessness and anomie of contemporary rock music. Beyond this, and even more importantly, I believe, is the fact that public policies are no longer dictated by adherence to any real system of values, or to any ideology, but by ratings in the polls, or by "outcomes". Fifty years ago Americans were engaged in a war against fascism and nazism, and the government could at least make use of moral distinctions between two opposing systems of government in its propaganda. Today, wars are no longer even declared: they just happen by executive fiat. The distinctions between right and wrong have been torn down relentlessly over the intervening decades. We have seen war criminals like Lt. Calley destroying whole villages; we have seen police running amok in case after case, smashing the faces of "suspects" into glass windows, or ramming broomsticks up their asses. Where do children learn about violence? Why, they learn it from that most violent of all social institutions, their own government.
But don't take my word for it. Instead, simply consider this: just days before the shootings, Eric Harris bragged to a classmate that he wanted to go to Kosovo, "so he could kill a lot of people." The Marines had just turned him down.
(You remember Kosovo. In the weeks before Columbine, Wild Bill Clinton was dropping bombs on passenger trains filled with noncombatants, on bands of fleeing refugees, and on apartment buildings -- killing scores of innocent beings. We saw him shrug. We saw him offer up his stock apology. "Hey, accidents happen." And so the value placed on human life had already been cheapened by April 20th -- Hey, accidents happen, sorry. And even immediately after Columbine, Clinton persisted in bombing civilians and non-combatants, hitting hospitals and foreign embassies among other "misidentified" targets. This carnage was cynically written off as "collateral damage". These were not people who died, you see, they were objects. Collateral.)
When the news broke that the local school board was inviting Clinton to come meet with surviving students, I fired off a letter to the school board head calling Mr. Clinton a hypocrite and an opportunist, and suggesting that he wasn't a fit model for students who had already been victimized by gratuitous violence.
Oh, how the little pipsqueak officials in this state and in this county fairly glowed in the warm sunshine of a presidential visit I Students were bussed (it was mandatory, and some did not go voluntarily) to Dakota Ridge High school nearby to hear the great man rail and rant against "senseless violence." According to Sarah, many of the students wanted to boycott Mr. Clinton's appearance; they felt he was taking advantage of the situation for personal gain.
A day after the Columbine shootings (the very words, "Columbine shootings", seem to have passed into the lexicon now along with phrases like "Dallas School Book Depository" and "The Kent State Massacre") I tried to rendezvous with my ex-wife and daughter at a church where so-called "grief counsellors" were to be available to help the students and parents cope with the shock of what they were experiencing. It seemed like a good idea to me, at the time; I was experiencing some pretty stiff depression and naturally I was worried about Sarah and how all this might affect her. So, in the middle of a raging wet spring snowstorm, I headed off to meet them.
The church parking lot was blocked off by sheriff's department cars. I was turned away and told I'd have to park elsewhere. I drove a couple of blocks to an Albertson's store parking lot and walked back toward the church. The snow had partially melted and was clumped up on the street in big muddy patches of freezing slush. Passing vehicles sprayed the foul stuff all over my right side, so that when I neared the cop car, I was soaked. I went berserk, calling them every name I could think of as they started to come toward me with faces wearing menacing scowls. I was hustled away by a couple of "grief counsellors".
I waited nearly an hour for my ex-wife and daughter to arrive, but they never did get there. (They had been turned away just as I had.) While I was there a woman insisted on rubbing my back and my temples, all the while mumbling in some make-believe "tongue" -- "akala byruda mykali ampudo..." -- and asking me repeatedly if I "felt anything". I guess I was supposed to feel "the Rapture", but all I did feel was an extreme hatred for cops, and told her so. This was only the first of many subsequent encounters I had with people who were using Columbine as a vehicle for promoting their bizarre religious notions, under the guise of "grief counselling."
But other scheduled "grief counselling" sessions had been postponed owing to the fact that the church had been hastily requisitioned for Janet Reno to give a "speech" on the events at my daughter's school. I don't believe Ms. Reno got drenched with freezing slush that day.
It's always the same sad story. Some horrible event, worthy of screaming headlines all over the world, goads otherwise well-intentioned people into demanding more cops, more laws, more controls. The killers at Columbine killed themselves, so there was no opportunity to demand, in the words of George Bush, "a stronger death penalty," whatever that is. Folks just had to content themselves with hollering for more gun control, and within days of the killings a bill in the Colorado legislature which would have legalized the carrying of concealed weapons died an ignominious death. The National Rifle Association, which was scheduled to hold its annual meeting in Denver the very next week, had to shorten its convention to one day in duration, and it was liberally picketed, as though Klebold and Harris had done their work with the NRA's special blessing. The father of Dan Mauser, one of the victims, planted himself in Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell's office to demand more gun control.
A few sane voices penetrated the gloom, noting that simple access to guns was not the problem. Michael Shoels, father of slain Columbine student Isaiah Shoels, confronted Bill Clinton during the president's visit with a letter, which he read aloud,pointing out that the bombing of Kosovo and the shootings at Columbine were manifestations of the same sickness. The newspaper reported that Clinton looked "uncomfortable" while Mr. Shoels was reading his letter. One of the students who was shot and injured refused to meet with Clinton altogether, as did the family of one of the dead students.
That the government was powerless to prevent the shootings is never discussed. Nor is the fact that the police in Jefferson County were powerless to stop it, even with explicit, detailed forewarning from people who knew of Eric Harris's boasts that he was going to kill a lot of people. Instead, it is now the government's "responsibility" to prevent "further tragedies of this nature" by outlawing guns, "violent" movies, heavy metal rock music, and by making life even more difficult for peaceable people. When something like Columbine happens again, no one will stop to say: "Hey, those laws you passed after the killings in Littleton were supposed to prevent this. Well, they didn't." Instead, passions will spawn a new rash of frenzied law-making, and the process will repeat itself, over and over again.
A few days after the murderous rampage, an Illinois carpenter showed up in Denver with a pickup load of large crosses he'd built. Fifteen of them -- one for each of the murdered students and teacher, plus one each for the two killers. In a display of Christian spirit -- that is, an exhibition of the turn-the-other-cheek kind of high-minded forgiveness Christians are noted for -- Mr. Rohrbach, father of one of the slain students, tore down the crosses for Harris and Kiebold. It is somehow fitting that he did so. Members of the Christian faith have always seemed to me to be incapable of practicing what they preach, so to speak, and Mr. Rohrbach was no disappointment in this regard.
Were Harris and Klebold "victims of ostracism"? Some of their friends say yes. As for me, I'm not so sure. Both boys attended the senior prom days before going on their shooting spree, and this, to me, does not indicate a crippling lack of socialization brought on by hazing and cruelty from the "in-crowd".
I think it is more significant that Harris' father was an officer in the Air Force. Or that the younger Harris' plans to go to Kosovo "to kill a lot of people" for Bill Clinton were frustrated. Or that he may have been, in fact, a psychopath beyond anyone's help. As for Klebold, he lived with his mom and dad in a princely palace a mile or two south of here, with all those cars and his own private, detached living quarters. Who knows what was going on inside his head.
When I was in high school, I never went on a single date, never attended a prom or a football game, had very few friends, and lived in a private fantasy world most of the time. Jocks beat me up, physically, several times, for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. No, I know what ostracism is, and I don't think Harris and Klebold had tasted very much of it. Which is not to say that it doesn't happen to others, or that someone shouldn't put a stop to it if it does happen. But don't count on anything being done about it at Columbine High.
About a week after the shootings, I finally got up the nerve to drive over to Clement Park to view the mountain of flowers, gifts, notes and stuffed animals that were pouring in from all over the country. (For weeks, too, Sarah and all of her fellow students came home nearly every day from Chatfield High School, where they were finishing out the school year, with thick bundles of letters from schoolchildren all over the country.) The television footage didn't do justice to this spectacle. The nearest thing I can liken it to is a small town carnival. Tents and shelters were erected everywhere. Power cables were strewn across the trampled, muddy lawn, and someone had spread hay to try to keep the mud to a minimum. The gifts occupied literally acres of space, to a depth of one to three feet. Large mobile homes and buses were parked along all the nearby streets, with license plates from everywhere. Christian groups of all descriptions were actively working the crowds, passing out tracts and crucifixes. The news people had their trucks and vans and satellite dishes to the side of the park, and they had erected their own tents ten or twelve feet back from the snaking berm of wilting flowers, stuffed animals, and inscription-covered yardages of butcher paper. From these vantage points out of the wind, they filmed the silent queues of mourners who strolled by in an endless procession. Occasionally, a reporter stood outside his tent, with his back to the crowd, reciting his report. They were from Indianapolis and Memphis and Sacramento. Every "market" in the nation was trying to play up some "local angle".
And always more heaps of offerings: Artists had left sculptures and paintings. There were photographs and poster-sized sympathy cards. There were lilies and orchids and irises and gladioluses and every variety of mixed floral arrangement and wreath; there were crosses and enough magic-marker-scribbled "God Bless You's" to fill up a library. The whole event was surreal, unlike anything I've ever witnessed before. It had its own unwritten rules of etiquette and seemed to spring organically out of the sleep-starved milieu that people had drifted in for several days. Strangers would glance at one another, and their eyes would lock in a brief moment of mutual understanding (or was it incomprehension?), but no one spoke. It was neither sad not depressing nor funny nor ridiculous. I didn't know what to make of it.
A small boy, barely seven or eight years old, thrust a tiny aluminum cross into my hand. It was inscribed with the words "God Loves You".
If you are out there, "god", I'd like to ask you something. Are you aware that in Jefferson county, it is a crime to fail to report to the authorities any foreknowledge you may have of a crime that is about to be committed? Whether you are or not, you are subject to arrest. And since you are omnipotent, and could easily have prevented all these murders, why didn't you? What possible "special purpose" did you have for seeing to it that your devotees were snuffed?
We're waiting to hear from you. But I won't hold my breath.
This article appeared in the Summer 1999 issue of The Match! (Plaintext version was typed and posted to alt.anarchism by Crash Knorr. Webified by FSLibrarian.) To obtain a copy of this excellent magazine, send a donation (about $3, cash or stamps, no checks) to Fred Woodworth, PO Box 3012, Tucson, AZ 85702.