In 2008, Brandon McInerney, 14, a student at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, after months of frustrating encounters, decided he would handle a problem the best way he believed he should. On Feb. 12, 2008, Brandon walked into class, sat behind Larry King, 15, an out gay teenager who had harassed Brandon, pulled the trigger and then walked out. In 2011, Brandon was sentenced for murder for 21 years in state prison. He currently resides in another prison out of state.
There is impenetrable notion that we must never look at a victim’s actions, those who were hurt or killed, to see what happened to get to this horrendous, even fatal place, aka victim blaming. But also, we must never consider what sort of pressure aggressive, even violent teens are under to better understand their actions and reactions. With that, there is a memorial for Larry, Brandon is forgotten by most and the story is over. It is a wonder, however, why we do not consider that Brandon saw that his vice principal and his teacher were encouraging Larry’s behavior and perhaps Brandon realized he couldn’t take that path of going to school officials to resolve the issue. Instead, we as a society labeled Brandon as a murderer and bigot and a person we would rather have rot away with all the other murderers and such rather than ever take any responsibility that Brandon’s actions were at least in part a result of other people’s actions and possibly a sense of feeling trapped.
It is easy enough and practically cliché to argue that violence and murder are indefensible but if we want apparent senseless violence to stop in the future maybe we need to consider much more than the crime itself. Why is there such little consideration for the disposition and long lives each party has had and then not respect any sort of boundaries? We are condemning violent people, especially young people, without any true weight given to what brought them there. But I digress. The last few weeks have been hard for kids in Ventura County and last year didn’t look a whole lot better.
On Monday, March 25, Foothill Technology High School in Ventura was first on lockdown and then evacuated upon investigation into a “very vague” bomb threat. No bomb was found. Students returned to class. On Friday, March 22, a 16-year-old was arrested on campus at Buena High School in Ventura for making threats of a school shooting and there was evidence to corroborate that threat, whatever that may entail. No mention of a gun found. On Feb. 9, a 16-year-old student stole concessions at a basketball game in Thousand Oaks and when a school employee chased him down to his car, the student ran over the employee, who was then rushed to the hospital in critical condition. In court, the student was charged with a felony assault, though his attorney, Ron Bahmieh, stated the student “had a ‘great deal of remorse’ for the victim, but a lot of what contributed to the incident was inexperience and panic.” The DA didn’t agree, calling his actions as “plowing down” the victim and were considering trying him as an adult. Last August, a young man who was in therapy discussing his imaginations of shooting up a school in Ventura was blasted on social media after his therapist relayed concerns to law enforcement, per the status quo, but an unknown person with the Santa Paula Police Department decided to make his private musings public, breaking confidence out of fear for safety than any consideration for the young man who was in therapy for his issues.
It is a sad plight to watch a world starting to combust in on itself because we as individuals and as a community refuse to accept any responsibility for the suffering of others, especially when we do the inflicting or ignore a problem. When the violence continues, we yell about the good intent of government and nonprofit programs and then throw more money at the same tired stuff but we refuse to see that we are doing it wrong even as things get worse. Maybe we should do the exact opposite to turn the ship around.
The solutions to gun violence at the Task Force of Mental Health and Safety meeting last week with the Ventura County Board of Supervisors addressing the Borderline tragedy: restrict gun access and offer better mental health treatment options. What novel ideas! Can’t they see the Second Amendment created paranoia and millions of people won’t be giving up their guns and therapy isn’t working?
And so I share this with you, we are hurting in serious ways because we don’t respect one another, we fail to communicate about the source of the lack of respect, we presume we always know best and then when it’s all bundled up we have to act calm and civilized at every turn. And our kids are screaming for help! Even Amy Alkon, Advice Goddess, this week writes about how the body physically responds to verbal attacks: An attack is an attack — which is to say, a verbal attack triggers the same bodily responses as a physical attack. Your adrenaline surges, your heart pumps like crazy and blood gets shunted away from your reasoning center and to your extremities.
We are hurting as a society because there is an obvious lack of enduring love and we also have very limited ways to express ourselves that doesn’t label us as crazy. But the jig is up. People are trying to survive and they are speaking their minds, they are freely expressing.
The freedom of expression to air our frustrations in ways that do not literally physically hurt an innocent person is important. Being accountable for the things we say that can and do provoke others to action is critical. There are only so many warning signals especially among teens who may be feeling trapped that can alert a person, Be nice because you don’t know who you are dealing with! If he or she isn’t smiling about your approach then back off. Instead of ignoring, ostracizing or criminalizing teens that vent violent thoughts, maybe we should start talking to them about why they feel that way with no judgement involved.
It’s a sad time when creative thinkers give up on life when the criticism is so unreasonable that they literally can’t go on. For others, many people forced to sit at a desk all day and keep their opinion to themselves enjoy things like batting cages, MMA, punk rock shows and even a rage room, now open in LA. We are mobile creatures and we were very violent along the way to this day and now not only can’t we go to a rage room without criticism, we are told to suppress violent thoughts and definitely not talk about them despite serious ongoing frustrations. We are supposed to just say and do nothing.
It’s completely unreasonable and impossible to expect no reaction all the time out of everyone. When we see someone get out of line as a response and then say hurtful things, hurt a person in a panic, etc., then it’s limited rights and mobility for a lifetime and the “victim” is never expected to be held accountable for anything he or she said or did. It’s truly an astonishing justice and political system that endorses zero accountability for provoking undesired behavior. I do, however, have faith that things can and will change because getting worse is getting worse no matter how you slice it.
I am fully cognizant that this editor’s note will offend some but it’s time to let the other side have a voice. Context is important. Division kills us.
To weigh in on the issue, email firstname.lastname@example.org.