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A Teachable Moment: the Sandy Hook Massacre

A Teachable Moment: the Sandy Hook Massacre

By Steve Tran (12/15/12)

Editor’s Note: Steve Tran is an advocate for victims of sexual assault, domestic/dating violence and stalking

Times like these are very difficult to deal with. Even though most people are not perpetrators of an assault, an act of violence may put many people in fear of their lives. My thoughts go out to the victims of the Connecticut shooting. The Sandy Hook Massacre is another example of a domestic violence situation which led to workplace violence, or in this case, a mass shooting at an elementary school.

This is a genuinely teachable moment. The Sandy Hook Massacre is a time of crisis, or as Naomi Klein would say, a shock in our culture that creates a blank slate in people's minds, to talk about the way things are. We have to paint on the blank canvas and educate people during these times instead of being afraid to offend those who don't want this to be an occasion to talk about gun control. At the same time we have to remember not to narrow our thinking to only gun control. Like gang violence and domestic violence homicides, the cause for mass shootings involve a combination of the prevalence and easy access to guns, the culture of violence, ideas of retributive justice, prevailing ideas about patriarchal violence whether perpetrated by a man or woman or son, macho/cowboy/shoot-‘em-up media perpetuating unhealthy notions of masculinity, lack of public social services, male privilege, the global armament race, US hegemony and war-making. One factor could not be the only correlation to a mass shooting. We must consider all factors. 

Violence is everywhere in terms of race, class, sexuality and gender, but it is only acceptable in certain places and to certain people. Angela Davis said, “Violence is constituted in the very fabric of society. In no way an unexpected aberration in the order of things, violence is the knife that cuts and the threat that sews this racist imperial nation together; violence is the order of things…” However, due to the dominant paradigm, we are supposed to believe violence is not supposed to occur in good communities, particularly white communities and public places like elementary schools. Violence in other parts, such as poor communities and non-industrialized countries particularly among people of color, does not create the same reactionary means to ending violence. These types of violence carried out against marginalized communities and people is justified as being disparately aberrant acts of violence or legitimized as other people killing their own without understanding our own state’s role in supporting proxy wars overseas and police brutality in our own country. We should question why this Presidential administration cries for American children but does not cry for children of settler colonialism in Palestine, children of genocide like in the Congo and children who are victims of drone attacks in Pakistan.

As an advocate for victims of sexual assault and domestic/dating violence, it is difficult to listen to the experiences of women who suffer from domestic or dating violence. It is also difficult to deal with children’s experiences with domestic violence or dating violence by witnessing or being direct victims of different types of abuse which increase the risks of trauma and later occurrence of revictimization. Everyone agrees the children at Sandy Hook did not deserve to die but no one has asked what the mother has done to deserve to die. She may have rubbed him the wrong way, may have been a bad parent, may have spat at him (who knows?), but we need to remember that she also did not deserve to be killed.

What happened at Sandy Hook was rare where a son murders his mother and commits carnage against her students. But it's the same retributive pattern we see in domestic violence exercised by male privilege and entitlement. As advocates for domestic violence survivors understand, domestic violence is more common than people perceive. Most homicides are related to domestic violence in which a man murders a woman (patterns of intimate partner violence also occur in LGBT communities) who is an intimate partner. We also know sons abusing their mothers do happen, although it's rare. We know workplace violence happens where a former husband or boyfriend of a woman stalks her and shoots her coworkers, herself, and then commits suicide (as in the Wisconsin mass shooting by Randolph Haughton), even though it is rare; in this case, school-place violence at the workplace of the victim occurred which is rarer still. We know there is the pattern of psychological abuse through intimidation in which a batterer threatens to murder the victim's family as revenge; in this case, it is her beloved students who the son murders. It is because of these rarities that have highlighted the Sandy Hook Massacre as a front page news story. Despite the fact that violence against women has become a global epidemic, the issue of violence against women remains unquestioned by the mass media. When will we address this concern and combat violence against women and children, who suffer the most during incidences of violence? 

If we don't paint the canvas during this state of shock and talk about what is at stake, others will be influenced by Mike Huckabee who said the reason for the shootings was the lack of God in the classrooms, gun rights proponents who say teachers have the right to bear arms, mainstream media which blame the shootings on people who suffer from mental disorders, “free market” fundamentalists who say it is because of socialistic principles, liberals who seek gun control and domestic policy as an end onto itself, and misogynists who blame women. We are not political opportunists seeking gun reform; we are violence prevention educators seeking an end to violence against women and children who suffer violence disproportionately to men under the patriarchal structure that gives men the idea that they benefit greatly, when in fact, they benefit in the short term and only a very small number of men benefit greatly in terms of wealth gained by military, economic, sexual, gender, racial and domestic violence. Patriarchy gives all people the idea that this is the way things are. We need to take this as a moment of learning and come together to resist against the militarization of our young boys through the media, industry and culture, and we need to stop violence against women and children globally. 

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