The shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland prompted an exchange among our editors, which we are publishing here. To begin, three items:
The first is from the Hard Crackers mission statement carried in every issue:
American society is a time-bomb where the impending explosion is endlessly hinted at by horrifying “little” degradations of daily rape, murder, stupid violence of different varieties: urban gang violence, episodic mass killings, drug and alcohol-induced stupors and deaths, callous health care and classroom teaching, apparently crazy people talking on subway platforms, and so forth.
The second is a comment by Vincent Kelley of Orchestrated Pulse:
Everyone wants to make school shootings about guns, but no one wants to consider that they might also have something to do with schools.
The third is a comment by William Kaufman, an occasional contributor to CounterPunch.
What struck me about the aftermath of the latest school shooting is this: after slaughtering seventeen humans, the shooter headed to a Walmart, then went to Subway for a drink, and then to McDonald’s, where he sat until the police arrested him. These are the natural habitats of dead souls. This is the spiritual desert, the vast toxic plastic landscape of anomie and mass production of sameness, the tyranny of relentless commerce, that American youth grow up in–it’s their only sense of being, this endless national strip mall, this extermination camp for beauty, compassion, and wonder. The only mystery is that more of them don’t snap. American “civilization” needs to disappear–the sooner the better.
Comments from Hard Crackers editors:
John Garvey I want to suggest a section for our next print issue devoted to why schools make so many kids so miserable. In the meantime, I think it’s important to keep in mind that schools are rotten in different ways. An old broadcast on PBS’s “This American Life” on the schools in the Normandy district, where Michael Brown went to school, included a description of a newspaper report about a typical day in the life of a student. Here’s an excerpt: “We went into AP English, and it’s held in a science lab. The classroom across the hall, where it should be held, smells like mildew and the ventilation system doesn’t work. Stools were up on tables. There was one other student and the AP English teacher, who is not certified to teach AP English, who at that moment was not in the classroom and who would just come and go. Second period was jazz band. We went down to the jazz room, the jazz band room, and the instructor was not there. There was no substitute teacher. Third period physics class teacher, who is a permanent sub, hasn’t taught since January, hasn’t planned a lesson since then. Fourth period was pre-calculus taught by a retired teacher who does care and was teaching something. Then was choir, and then two periods of band. And so that was pretty much the rest of the day. So four periods of music, three academic classes, one where a teacher actually taught. It’s hard to imagine a bar lower than that. And that’s for an honor student. For his part, The superintendent, said he was shocked to read in the paper what was happening, or more accurately, what was not happening at the high school.”
Noel Ignatiev Every one of the mass shootings has occurred in schools in relatively affluent, white suburbs—Parkland, Newtown and Columbine being the most well known. One thing they have in common with the school described above is boredom: relentless, crushing boredom.
John The articles/interviews we include would address both the violence of mass shootings and the more “ordinary” everyday violence of shootings in places like Chicago. I read a news report that violence in Chicago went down during the teachers’ strike, but I haven’t been able to find it. It would be interesting to trace out the ways in which schools in different settings “produce” violence. Of interest in that regard is yesterday’s Washington Post article about how teachers tried to “help” Nikolas Cruz. Damned If I can find any evidence of help–other than trying to get rid of him.
Zhandarka Kurti The kids protesting in Florida look like young Democrats in the making (meh). But there are walkouts planned in many cities and it would be cool if they become more radical (not sure what this could look like). At least some states (like Texas) have said they would suspend students that walk out. Also, gun violence cuts across geographies/experiences (in suburban schools, and in urban cities) for young folks today and there is no left to frame violence differently unfortunately so its easy for it to become a narrow electoral issue of gun control.
Noel I just got an email from The Nation magazine calling upon its readers to support the student walkouts. Whatever the complications, I don’t want to be on the same side as The Nation. I agree with Zhana that the kids protesting look like young (or future) Democrats—but, as she says, in the absence of an alternative vision, what else would we expect? We’ve got our work cut out for us—if only we can figure out what it is.
Zhandarka I still think though things can go in different directions and we know that protests do something to people that participate in them. These kids are teens, they are walking out of school (even that as a tactic is kind of cool), politicians are slamming doors in their faces. Could be good.
James Murray I admit I’m prejudiced, hard for me to be sympathetic to any group, or in this case a ‘scene,’ that is (apparently) all white and middle-class.
Curtis Price It’s striking to me that all of these mass shootings have taken place in suburban schools. Inner-city schools have their own daily violence which is an extension of the neighborhood. So I’m not sure if getting the views of an alienated city school student is going to shed much light. In terms of suburban schools, you have the ‘goth’ phenomenon, with its ritualistic self-mutilation, which is something to my knowledge that doesn’t exist for the most part in center city schools. I don’t know if goth culture is still as popular in suburban schools as it once was, but it played some role in the Columbine shootings. I think in Cruz’s case, bullying was another contributing factor, so horizontal violence shouldn’t be ruled out. As an aside, there have been rumors of kids coming strapped in at least three Huntsville area city schools, judging from the postings on that list I wrote about. What does boredom in school mean these days? Is it the same as James Dean or some forty years old Alice Cooper song? What is the role of social media and smartphones, if any, in fueling a sense of boredom that is qualitatively different than previous forms?
Noel James is, of course, right about the social makeup of those most deeply upset by the school shootings; it can be seen in any photo of the walkouts and is reflected in the media coverage. That is no reason for us to withhold sympathy. Two points, however, the first so obvious it scarcely needs stating: they need to turn out in the same numbers and with the same energy the next time the cops shoot a black kid. The second: When I reflect on previous attempts to regulate the conduct of the American people through legislation, for example Prohibition and marijuana and drug laws, I have to ask, Who is more detached from reality, those who think they can stop school shootings by passing stricter gun-control laws, or those who think they can fix what is wrong with this country by shooting up a school?
Jarrod I agree with Noel that these folks “need to turn out in the same numbers and with the same energy the next time the cops shoot a black kid.” But people forget that despite its de facto use for bullshit drug arrests, the de jure justification for “stop and frisk” in New York City was confiscating handguns. The program’s transparent racial bias was justified using statistics about gun violence in communities of color. The prohibition of handguns in New York City enabled widespread and systematic harassment and incarceration of black and brown men, and obviously guns are still available for anyone who thinks they need one. (And maybe they do!)
Zhandarka Two things to add: 1) I would not underestimate how much resonance BLM had among American teenagers, including white suburban kids. I read some polls and a greater percent of white kids believe the American system is not equal. The murder of Trayvon Martin was huge–it politicized so many teenagers, some expressed solidarity others became racist wackos like Dylann Roof. 2) Gun control advocates in urban areas are a thing and play a huge role in how violence is framed etc—in NYC I can’t count the number of times I have heard organizations like New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, preachers/clergy, politicians and working class people call for getting guns off the streets. In fact one of the main argument against ending Stop and Frisk was that it led to an uptick in gun violence.
James I would like to add the thesis from Franco Berardi’s book Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide, which I think is probably true – the active shooter phenomenon is closely related to suicide (which is a true epidemic in the U.S.) and an unknown number of active shootings are stopped by the individuals pre-emptive suicide.
Jarrod I’ll toss in this 2002 piece by Robert Kurz attempting to understand school shootings as a symptom of crisis and a “continuation of competition by other means.” Probably a bit more abstract that we’d be in our piece but its a worthwhile effort and he makes some good points.
James Thinking about the terminology, schools are placed on ‘lockdown,’ which is the same term used in prison when shit hits the fan.
Curtis Kurtz’s piece is quite good, though dense, and he stumbles a bit when he gets more abstract and sweeping, but what he says (if I get it right), is closer to my gut sense, that Parkland et al are less about repressive schools and more about the larger culture. Behind all these school shootings, Charleston, Dallas, etc. stands that quintessential American figure, Lee Harvey Oswald, metastasized with more virulence into every pore of the social fabric. . .
Jarrod For me his most important point is connecting this to capitalist socialization on a global scale, reductive as it may be. The fact that a Columbine killer fantasizes about crashing a hijacked plane into the NYC skyline needs reckoning. This only risk is the possibility that this argument gets flipped over into basic liberalism: given the pervasive desire to commit suicidal massacres, the means to do so should be limited, etc.
Geert Dhondt About 2.5 million people die every year in the U.S., half of them of heart disease and cancer. About 37,000 are killed by cars. Drug-related deaths have grown eight-fold in the last fifteen years, reaching 64,000 in 2016. About 30,000 die of gunshots, of whom two-thirds are suicides. School shootings are tragic, but most gun deaths happen outside of school, with Black men as the major victims. Yesterday twenty-four people were killed by guns, none of them in school. Mayor de Blasio has encouraged students to participate in walkouts for gun control and has instituted random school screenings where students have to walk through metal detectors, but students have a greater chance of getting killed by a car, truck, or bus on their way to school than dying by guns. Too much ink gets spilled on these rare school shootings; we should focus on the violence of everyday life which kills many more.
Jarrod Some support for Geert’s perspective:
Lowell May The situation is part of a trend marked by the increasing failure of institutional band-aids to make a difference. Whether you identify this as a process of hollowing out, globalization, increasing expectations from below, the delegitimization of authority, or a failure of government, there is an increasing vacuum of intervention from above that positively impacts the masses. This opens the door for people to become unhinged. But the real issue is how people respond to disaster. As I have indicated before, I don’t see these situations as popular catastrophe but as an opportunity to develop mass grassroots democracy. I would focus on the most radical democratic trends in responses, oppose authoritarian and liberal alternatives. Let’s reframe this as an opportunity for students, teachers and parents to take control of their security and their educational potentialities.
Geert Addendum 3/6: Yesterday two kids were killed by a car in Brooklyn. No calls for car control from the Mayor.