It’s late and I am browsing my email, when I stumbled upon this article from a LE website. I think this gentlemen hits the nail on the head associated with a variety of issues associated with the shooting at Virginia Tech:
There is a lull for a week or two in the hand-wringing over the Virginia Tech incident . This provides a time for the friends and families to grieve and bury their dead, and for those looking to make the best of a bad situation to find lawyers and draw up papers to serve on anyone with pockets deep enough to make the effort worthwhile. Some of the lawsuits will focus on Monday-morning quarterbacking the actions of the VT Police and other agencies that responded, but others will try and find someone to blame for what Cho Seung-Hui became in the days and years before April 16. Their stated mission will be to ensure that no one is ever again driven to do such a thing–oh, and make someone pay them money.
This purported sense of outrage is at the foundation of what some people called the Nanny Society, where we invoke the power of the state to protect people from themselves, and to forbid behaviors that are harmful to society. Extending the premise a bit, we can also see mandating behavior that encourages a nurturing environment. I’ve had several conversations over the past week where Seung-Hui’s behavior was cited and the question “why didn’t anyone do anything?” came up. Something probably could have been done, but most of us wouldn’t want to live in a society that required it.
I thought the phrase “nanny society” was a relatively recent one, but a Wikipedia entry indicates that the earliest use of the term was back in 1965, where it was actually characterized as the “nanny state.” Opposition to the nanny society is fairly universal, although it is usually selective in scope. Cops are very familiar with people who object to nanny state laws that would seem at first examination to need no defense or explanation. Take, for instance, the requirement to have small children ride in child safety seats. The closest thing that kids in my generation saw to a child safety seat was a plastic contraption that slung over the back of the front passenger seat, facing forward. The kid would ride there, seated much the way that infants ride in shopping carts, with or without a toy steering wheel and horn to play with during the trip. If the driver locked up the brakes, the seat and kid were launched into the windshield. Parents of more common means, such as mine, either carried their kids in their arms or bundled up on the seat beside them, unrestrained. Seat belts were rare. If my head had gone ballistic a few times, it would have explained a lot about my behavior in later life, but that didn’t happen.
Show me a cop that thinks that child safety seats are an unnecessary nuisance, and I’ll show you a cop that hasn’t yet responded to a fatal TC with unrestrained kids involved. That sort of thing gets your attention even if you don’t have kids of your own, and it’s hard to understand why everyone isn’t on the same page with this. But cops also encounter people who get very agitated when they’re facing enforcement action on a car seat violation.
* “I can’t afford one.”
* “It’s in my other car.”
* “He won’t stay in it.”
* “I was just going to the store.”
* “You have no right to tell me how to take care of my kid.”
Switch to an area that’s a little less life-threatening, and the resentment increases. One of my pet peeves is having to deal with secondhand smoke. When I was a young zealot cop, I was coming from court and in a coat and tie, when I got onto an elevator. A man got on with me, and was smoking a cigar. I pointed to a sign in the elevator that quoted the state law forbidding smoking on elevators. He chuckled, and said, “Who’s gonna stop me?” I pulled back my coat so that he could see the badge clipped to my belt. I expected him to either look embarrassed, as in “You caught me,” or fearful, like, “What are you going to do to me?” Instead, I got the hairy eyeball of resentment and silent rage. I also realized at that moment my faux pas in calling him on a violation that I wasn’t prepared to enforce. If I had been forced to take him into custody and call a patrol unit to assist me on a charge of elevator smoking, throwing myself off the roof would have looked like a good alternative.
Cho Seung-Hui’s behavior before the massacre was antisocial, and it was clear he felt alienated. Granted, he probably brought most of this on himself by virtue of his actions and demeanor, but I would also wager that he was teased and bullied for much of his life, because that’s what people–especially young people– do to oddballs. He was briefly institutionalized, but a judge found that there was insufficient cause to hold him for treatment. That decision might seem like the worst kind of bad judgment now, but the judge has to balance the rights of the individual over the potential threat to public safety. I doubt if Seung-Hui mentioned anything about his plans to use Norris Hall as a shooting gallery. This also speaks to the sad state of mental health care in the country, and for the long-term effects of bullying, but I’ll leave those for other columns.
We could put into place a mechanism where people who were acting angry, alienated, or erratic would be held for a thorough psychological workup and screening, but, tell me, would you want to live in a world like that? I think most of us would wind up institutionalized, sooner or later. On another level, although it would be nice to clear streets and buildings quickly in a Virginia Tech-type situation, would you want to require unquestioned and immediate obedience to any order given by a police officer, without any explanation?
It’s almost always a bad idea to make major legislative changes based on an unusual, isolated incident. The wholesale changes in air travel security made after the 9/11 attacks have been costly, annoy everyone who travels by air, and haven’t been shown to be especially effective. One can argue that there have been no aircraft hijackings since then, but any would-be hijacker that tried that today would be torn to shreds by the other passengers.
Just as some activists have been using the Virginia Tech incident as a platform for more stringent gun control, someone else will try to make it a case for required reporting of erratic behavior of students, or felony-level penalties for bullying. I would suggest that we simply apply some common sense, but it’s more difficult than ever to identify what those senses in common are.
I thought his discussion was well balanced and did not take a particular side, but rather exposed a lack of common sense in some of the fallout of this incident. Agree?