by Cari Oleskewicz

A dangerous individual dubbed ďThe SniperĒ is shooting people and killing them, and Americans are shocked.


Not Ďwhy is this happening,í but why are we shocked?

Every now and then, outrage over a deadly event like this is displayed in overkill. Everyone goes crazy, temporarily, thanks to fear and hysteria and bewilderment. Usually, it takes something like a school shooting, a missing child, an explosion, or a serial killer. We sigh collectively and murmur that we canít believe something like this could happen in that neighborhood, in that community, here.

Why are we surprised, again?

Violence is as American as baseball and apple pie. It hurts to admit it. Itís painful to even consider it. And yet it is so glaringly true.

We live in a culture which sells violence. Itís marketed to children from a very young age, and it makes money. Every adolescent wants PlayStation and Nintendo and fantasy computer games like Everquest. The object of the most fashionable games is to kill people. Rap stars know itís all about the benjamins, and they make a lot of those bejamins by rapping about who gets killed and how. The biggest Hollywood movies involve bombs and terrorists and shoot-outs, and Tony Soprano is practically a national hero. Popular athletes are routinely arrested for domestic violence, drugs, assault, and occasionally even murder. Violence, you see, is cool.

Violence is not only rich and popular, it is powerful. Dick Cheney likes it, and so does Donald Rumsfeld. The National Rifle Association is in the White House, the Justice Department, the Congress and the Governorís Mansions across the country. Guns are available to pretty much anyone, and restricting the purchase of ďcop-killer bulletsĒ is evidently as un-American as opposing the derailment of civil liberties. Also considered un-American is ballistic fingerprinting, which might have helped to catch the sniper by now.

Police brutality is not only tolerated, it is recommended in places like New York City and Los Angeles. Executions are celebrated in states such as Texas and Florida, even if the person going to be executed is mentally retarded or had a lawyer who slept through the entire trial.

Then there are the wars we wage, which are as telling as the wars we donít wage. We drop bombs like theyíre toys in any country of our choosing. We do this in the name of democracy, only to instruct the Palestinians that theyíre not allowed to have Mr. Arafat as their leader. We threaten the Iraqi army not to defend itself when we attack. We donít think international treaties should apply to us, and we brazenly tell the United Nations that weíre more powerful than they are. We, the only nation to ever actually use a nuclear bomb on people, have amassed enough nuclear weaponry to destroy the world over and over again, and threaten to attack any nation that attempts to do the same.

We live, breathe, eat, sleep and marinate in violence, and then weíre surprised when a guy with a gun starts plucking people off, one by one, as if he is, in fact, God.

The biggest outrage, Iím afraid, is the outrage itself.

Do we deserve it? Certainly not. Innocent people have died and it is a deep tragedy which just gets more atrocious with each passing news report. Iím not justifying one maniacís killing campaign and Iím not incriminating law-abiding gun owners, or condemning recreational users of Playstation II. In fact, I listen to Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog from time to time. And I know there are places on this earth far more violent than our own. People in Zimbabwe and Uganda, Chechnya and Palestinian refuge camps, live in daily fear of violence they cannot prevent. And their violence is without the benefit of computer games or the NRA. I know this.

But thatís what makes our own brand of violence even more horrifying. We manufacture it ourselves. We have the means to live in a peaceful society, and we choose not to. We choose to buy the violence and keep it in power. Thatís where the outrage should rest. In what we allow.

Can we change?

We can be more careful about the types of movies we spend money to see. We can think in terms of safety before we elect our representatives. We can protest war. We can hold our police and leaders accountable. We can stop tolerating wife beaters and child abusers.

We can balance the right to bear arms with the right to not get shot.

These changes may not keep a gunman from killing people. But at least our outrage would be genuine. Our shock would be justified. Our bewilderment would be sincere, and random murder would prove unquestionably senseless. Rather than breed the violence, we would try to eliminate it.

Or, we can muddle along, complaining about not feeling safe in our own neighborhoods. We can fear the sniper and those like him, and we can live in ignorant wonderment of how this can happen.

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