There are so many intelligent and articulate people covering the hard-hitting
issues in our country these days, that I felt it was my duty to cover the
rather inconsequential bullshit that tends to make up the vast majority of
our lives. Actually, I'll just be griping a lot which, if you weren't aware,
doubles as a synonym for complaining, and as a descriptor for
a sharp pain in the bowels.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sometimes Serious

Without a doubt, I like to spend a good quantity of my time joking around. When you do this, there is always the problem of not only establishing a line for yourself, but being able to determine the line that others have. It doesn't so much matter if it's their own line or one created by what popular culture deems an appropriate line, the line is still there. Reader discretion is advised. But just as it is easy to take things too seriously, it is also easy to not take things seriously enough. Probably no one ever comes out perfectly, but with a little tact, riding the middle ground is generally possible.

When I read about a shooting at Menlo Park Mall, then, I decided to take a step back from my mock serious manner and be a tad more serious for a change. I've lived in Edison, New Jersey, on and off, for the better part of twenty-four years and while it is voted one of the twenty-five safest cities, what does that really mean anyway? Periodically shit goes down here, just as it would anywhere else. My house has been robbed, a lady around the corner from me was raped in broad daylight, people have had their asses kicked, here and there is a homicide victim or transgressor, be they within the township boundaries or not. I even recall a time I was riding my bike as an eight year-old and for no reason a youth of probably age fifteen or so walked up and smacked me hard across the face. Amidst that, the closest I've felt to unsafe was probably in the eerie silence of the AM while doing lengthy runs back in the day. If you were to think of every possible scenario in which something might happen to you, you'd spend your days locked in a room, paralyzed by fear, and you're not necessarily any safer there. A fire can start, you could have a heart attack, an aneurysm, or any number of things. All of those possibilities sound rather remote, and that's because they are. In general, people feel safer in a car than on a plane because they are in control, even though statistics show far greater incidents of death and injury in automobile accidents than those attributed to aviation.

The most important part of the story on the Menlo shooting, that I could see, was the comment section. So many people commented that they would no longer be going to the mall, or would be barring their children from hanging out there. Why? Does the fact that you now feel that the mall is unsafe make it any less safe? Wouldn't that be like no longer driving on any road where there had been an accident? Perhaps there is a difference, but not as much as one might think. And I can guarantee you'd have a hell of a time articulating that difference. Is there really a greater chance something might happen to you at the mall now because that happened to be where an unfortunate young woman was working when a troubled young man decided to act on his emotions? And the media doesn't help. What they choose to show or report heavily dictates public opinion and action to an unhealthy degree. Just because you saw it on the news or read it in the paper does not make it true, and it certainly doesn't make it any more important…it can often simply be what the media perceives to be important and thus focuses on in the hopes of ratings. I'm erring on the side of an extremist and conspiratorial bend here, but I am a firm believer in measured confidence. I'm not saying trust no one, I'm just saying don't trust everyone. The margarine and butter substitutes once reported to be much healthier than butter are these days, before reformulation, known to be chock full of public enemy number one: trans fat. The truth is out there, but the research isn't always.

And now because I was serious and slightly crazy there for a bit, I have to go ahead and attack other comment leavers to that article. I think my personal favorite was a user under the handle "centralnj27." I believe the premise was location followed by IQ. Centralnj27 reports to have been at the Fox and Hound when the incident took place, but rather than speak for him I have copied and pasted his first comment:

I was at the Fox and Hound(for those of you who don't know it's a bar connected to the mall at the Macy's end) at the time the shooting occured and for most of the night. Around 9ish word trickled around that there had been a shooting in the mall but no one really knew it was definite or what the details were until later in the night. Rumors were going around that the mall was put on lockdown.(not sure if this is true) I'm very very disappointed that at the time of the shooting there was no security or police that came around the area to be stationed for protection. People were saying it was an isolated incident but as soon as it happened, who knew that? There easily could have been a 2nd gunman somewhere wandering around and with a packed bar watching the rutgers game, it would have been open season if someone came over there. You would think the mall security would have some kind of crisis management system but apparently I guess that does not include the Fox and Hound. On most nights during the week, you'll see 2 Edison cop cars parked next to eachother on the sidewalk by the Fox talking to eachother for about 30-60 minutes at a time, but yet why wasn't anyone hanging around there last night?

The patron complains that no police or security arrived to be stationed for protection. He purports to have had worries of a second gunman, which "would have been open season" if he/she chose the bar as their next target. What if the second gunman had been in the Apple Store? There are a lot of possibilities of where this next shooter could be, along with the possibility that there was no other shooter, coupled with a limited number of police and security. Should the rest of the mall, specifically the scene of the incident have been ignored in favor of protecting the Fox and Hound? I am no lover of law enforcement, but it's someone's (in fact multiple peoples) job, and with that job comes discretion and the need to act under pressure. Seeing as how this guy shot one woman and then committed suicide, I think the police made an intelligent assessment in assuming it was an isolated incident and dealing with the immediate problem. I think a lot of the problem is people relying on creating better security rather than trying to create happier people. Centralnj27 also notes that, on an average night, there are normally two cop cars patrolling in front of the Fox, yet not on this night. Could it be they chose to move to the scene of an attempted homicide and suicide? No, that would be crazy.

Other comments would allude to the possibility of another Virginia Tech, the type of postulating that I find to be ridiculous. Was part of the reason Virginia Tech happened because they didn't have a system in place to deal with an angry and depressed gunman on the move? Sure. But was part of the reason that nature and society forms such individuals that feel the need to commit such acts? I would say yes to this as well. Historically, there have always been, and probably always will be, individuals that we might characterize as crazy, that do things we simply can't relate to, but let's not live our lives in the shadow of fear that elects presidents and raises defense budgets.

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