On July 27 in Knoxville, Tenn., many people gathered at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church to watch a children's performance of the musical "Annie." The joy was shattered by the hatred of one man, who came into the church hiding a rifle inside a guitar case. When the barrage of bullets ended, two adults were killed and seven others were wounded. The assailant was James D. Adkisson, an unemployed driver. A search of his home uncovered a handgun and several books by right-wing radio and TV commentators Hannity, Savage and O'Reilly.
According to one of the investigators, Adkisson targeted the church for its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed "because they were ruining the country." In a letter left in his SUV, he wrote that he didn't like liberals, homosexuals, the Democratic Party and the liberal media, all of which he blamed for his failure to obtain employment.
Curiously we do not label Adkisson a "militant," nor do we compare him to a suicide bomber. Adkisson killed others because of his own prejudices and expected his actions to result in his death, commonly known as "suicide by cop."
Four days after the Tennessee murders, the summer enjoyment of nine youngsters who went swimming in the Menominee River bordering Wisconsin and Michigan ended when Scott J. Johnson, dressed in camouflage, emerged from the woods shooting a military-style semiautomatic rifle. At the end of the rampage, a high school senior and two of her friends were dead, another was injured. After his capture, Johnson, a former National Guard member, confessed that he had been hiding weapons in the area and that, for several years, he had been thinking of killing people with them.
Both Johnson and Adkisson believed they had been treated unfairly by society. Johnson, who at the time of the murders was sought by the police as the suspect in a rape, stated to authorities that "he felt like every time he was about to obtain something, it was taken away."
Like the people in Tennessee and Wisconsin, the hundreds who attended the West Indian Parade in Hartford Saturday were there to enjoy themselves. Sadly, by the end of the day, Ezekiel Roberts was gunned down; 7-year-old Tyrek Marquez's life would be altered forever, and several other innocent bystanders including a 17-month old girl became victims of a shooting for which the police blame gangs.
The possibility of facing violence has become an integral part of our daily lives. Yet, each time there is a crime such as those committed in Tennessee, Wisconsin and Connecticut, we react as if it was the first time this has happened. It is time we confront the fact that we live in a very violent country; the violence made common by the ease with which we have access to weapons.
A society in crisis, we must redouble our efforts. We can no longer afford band-aid solutions to crime sprees, or to remain impassive in cases of domestic violence and child abuse. We have to take a serious look at how we are contributing to the emotional and social isolation of people who are mentally ill, unable to find jobs, and how, instead of educating our youth, we are locking them up in jails where they become hardened criminals with few prospects for their future.
We have become very adept at creating hateful, frustrated and uneducated people who have little to contribute to their own lives or to that of our society at large.
Compared with our massive expenditure of manpower and money on the war on "terror," we are very neglectful in taking a hard look at the destruction created by our own religious and ideological militants, our gun-toting killers, and at the aspects of our society that foster and encourage them.
Knoxville, Niagara, Hartford. We shouldn't worry that foreign terrorists will be the ones to destroy us. We are doing a pretty good job at it ourselves.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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