The Continuing Massacre

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14en_vio ... Violence


The Continuing Massacre

(the Chronicle called it "Save Our Sons" --
the Times called it "Men Who Batter, Boys Who Kill")

by David Vest

Vest, a Houstonian, works for Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse
as a member of The Pivot Project, a program for men who batter

This appeared on the front page of the editorial sections of both the Houston Chronicle
(Sun., 3/29/98) and Huntsville (Ala) Times (Sun., 4/5/98)

Again and again we have heard people from a small town in Arkansas -- or in Kentucky, or in Mississippi -- say how shocked they are that "something like this" could happen. We have all said it. We have all felt it. "If only we had known," the mayor of Jonesboro has said, "If anyone had had any reason to believe something like this was possible, they would have prevented it."

The sad truth is, we had every reason to believe that "something like this" could happen. It has already happened many times this year in America, and it's barely springtime. What's more, we have every reason to believe that it will happen again -- and yet again, in our community, in your community, in any community in America. And not just because of the "copy-cat" effect.

The victims of the assault were all female. Young girls. Women. And the boys who methodically gunned down those girls and those women were only acting out their own version of an all-too frequent story in America. The only difference is that they were a little bit younger than the men who go to Home Depots and Post Offices and worksites across the country to murder and harass their girlfriends or their ex-girlfriends or their wives. It was not children the copycats were copying. It was adults.

Where did those little boys in Arkansas get the beliefs that enabled them to think it was okay to shoot those little girls and women? They didn't get them from space aliens. They got them from radio, from television, from songs, from movies, from older boys and men, from every man who said something degrading to a woman, every man who molested a little girl, every commentator who has denounced women as "feminazis" if they dare to call for an end to the violence. They were acting out the same belief system that perpetuates and escalates violence against women and girls everywhere.

Isn't it time we sent a better message to our children, our boys, our men, ourselves?

In Arkansas, OUR SONS prepared for war, amassing their arsenal. They put on camouflage. Then, locked and loaded, they went out and chose their terrain and identified the enemy.

Girls. Women.

Ask yourself this: Who taught them to identify the enemy? Let alone who taught them to fire guns with such deadly accuracy, to put on camouflage and plan an assault. Had they pretended to kill women in target practice?

How did women (or girls) become the enemy? One of the boys was reportedly angry because somebody didn't want to be his girlfriend. That hardly seems grounds for assault, much less wholesale slaughter – but in fact women are killed routinely for no better reason in Texas (over 1,000 female victims of gender war in the nineties). According to the Dallas Morning News, a woman is battered every 9 seconds.

March has been Women's History Month. We honored the names and the achievements of many heroic women of the past. Women like Anne Hutchinson, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Helen Keller. And many others. But there was another name that surfaced this week – a name that will probably fade quickly out of public memory as our short attention span finds something new to focus on -- the name of Shannon Wright, the teacher in Arkansas who died trying to save those little girls. Shannon had attended that school herself as a child. She had gone to college and got her degree and come back to teach the rising generation. Surely she saw herself in those children being gunned down. And so she stepped in front of one of the girls and took the bullets meant for her.

America has never produced a greater hero.

If Shannon Wright could see herself in the children she died trying to save, do we dare have the moral courage to see ourselves in her? To follow her example and step between little girls and women (who are at risk every day in our community) and their abusers? To put our whole being on the line the way she did, in order to say, Stop the violence? To call men to accountability when they are violent and abusive and insist that they hold themselves responsible for their actions?

I work with men who batter. Three times a week in group sessions I look into the faces of men who have assaulted women they claim to love. Most of them have to break through many layers of denial. Some of them are genuine in their earnest desire to change their behavior. Some of them I truly admire for their gut-level honesty and willingness to confront themselves and be confronted and to change. Whenever one of them tells his story, I ask myself, Where were the other men in this man's life? Why was no one there to say "No" to violence? To say, "you should treat women with respect," and "no real man would ever hit a woman"?

I will never again walk into one of those group sessions without seeing the faces of those little boys from Arkansas. Without a silent prayer that Shannon Wright please be with me. And that her spirit may forever stand between the perpetrators of gender violence and their innocent victims.


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