The Campaign Spot

Self-Censor, for Fear of Triggering Those Whose Motivations Cannot Be Understood?

There’s nothing funny in today’s Morning Jolt. It’s just that kind of a day.

I don’t want to live in a country where we all have to self-censor for fear that our particular choice of words might be what triggers a madman to go on a shooting spree. Because the key word in that sentence is “madman.” Madness. We on the sane side of the equation can barely understand it.

One more point: we’re starting to hear more reports of people who sensed this man was deeply troubled and potentially dangerous, suggesting another egregious, unforgivable pattern in modern American life. After the Columbine massacre, endless amounts of media coverage declared that sometimes a troubled teen is much more than a troubled teen; sometimes they’re ticking time bombs. In the years after the unparalleled Colorado shooting, students, teachers, and parents were encouraged and constantly reminded that if they saw signs of potentially threatening behavior, to inform the authorities immediately. Fast forward almost a decade, and a particularly troubled Virginia Tech student generated more than his share of red flags: writing in a school assignment that he wanted to “repeat Columbine,” professors describing his behavior as “menacing”, removal from class, at least three stalking incidents, repeated reports to the student affairs office, the dean’s office, and the campus police.

Time and again, students and teachers did what they had been instructed to do — report troubling behavior — and yet the shooter was never seriously impeded from this ultimate murderous act. I suspect it was a combination of bureaucratic inertia, fears of action triggering a lawsuit, and flat-out underestimation and dismissal of the danger the shooter presented.

Do we ever break this cycle?


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