Thursday, April 19, 2007

Responses to the Virginia Tech Massacre: IAC Statement & Nikki Giovanni Speech

A Statement from the International Action Center

Why Virginia Tech shootings happened

Yet another rampage has occurred at a school, this time leaving 33 people dead at Virginia Tech—the worst such incident ever at a U.S. college campus.

The news media seem stunned and surprised, yet their coverage sounds so similar to the stories about Columbine eight years ago. They dwell on the personality of the young man the police say did the shooting, before killing himself. They talk about him being a “loner,” depressed, perhaps angry at women.

But aren’t there lonely and depressed people all over the world? Many countries have high suicide rates. Why is it that here some become mass murderers?

The U.S. is the world leader in seemingly random acts of violence by individuals. Why?

President George W. Bush rushed to Virginia to speak at a large convocation the day after the killings and tried to set the tone for what could be said about them. “It’s impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering,” he said.

Don’t ask why, don’t try to understand. It makes no sense. “Have faith” instead, was Bush’s message.

But there ARE reasons these things happen here, and they are pretty clear to the rest of the world. It’s just in the United States that no one is supposed to talk about the reasons.

What distinguishes this country from the rest of the world? It is neither the most affluent nor the poorest. It is neither the most secular nor the most religious. It is not the most culturally homogeneous nor is it the most diverse.

But in one area, it stands virtually alone. It has the biggest arsenal of high-tech weaponry in the world, way surpassing every other country. It has military bases spread all over; most countries have no troops outside their borders.

It is conducting two hot wars at the moment, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has sent hundreds of thousands of troops abroad over the last few years. Every day, the public here is supposed to identify with soldiers who burst into homes in Baghdad, round up the people and take them away for “interrogation”; which everyone knows now can mean torture and indefinite detainment.

It also sends heavily armed “special ops” on secret missions to countless other countries, like the ones who just facilitated the invasion and bombing of Somalia, or the ones who have been trying to stir up opposition in Iran. This is documented in the news media.

The immense brutality of these colonial wars, as well as earlier ones, is praised from the White House on down as the best, the ONLY way to achieve what the political leaders and their influential, rich backers decide is necessary to protect their world empire. Do lots of people get killed? “Stuff happens,” said former war secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “Collateral damage,” says the Pentagon.

At home, the U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Over 2 million people are locked up in the prison system each year, most of them people of color. When commercial armed security guards are also taken into consideration, the U.S. has millions of employees who use guns and other coercive paraphernalia in their jobs.

In the final analysis, the military and the police exist to perpetuate and protect this present unjust system of capitalist inequality, where a few can claim personal ownership over a vast economy built by the sweat and blood of hundreds of millions of workers.

And the more divided, the more polarized the society becomes, the higher the level of coercion and violence. Assault weapons are now everywhere in this society, as are Tasers, handcuffs, clubs and tear gas. They most often start out in the hands of the police, the military and other agents of the state, and can then turn up anywhere.

Violence is a big money maker in the mass culture. Television, films, pulp novels, Internet sites, video games—all dwell on “sociopaths” while glorifying the state’s use of violence, often supplemented by a lone vigilante. By the time children reach their teens, they have already seen thousands of murders and killings on television. And these days even more suspense is added in countless programs that involve stalking and terror against women—and increasingly children.

As the Duke rape case and so many “escort service” ads show, women of color are particularly subject to exploitation and have little recourse to any justice. And as the murders along the border show, immigrants of color are fair game for racist killers.

The social soil of capitalism can alienate and enrage an unstable and miserable person who should be getting help but can’t find it. If, as reports are saying, the young man accused of these killings was on anti-depressant medication, it is all the more evidence that, at a time when hospitals are closing and health care is unavailable for tens of millions, treating mental health problems requires more from society than just prescribing dubious chemicals.

Many liberal commentators are taking this occasion to renew the demand for tougher gun laws. Yes, assault weapons are horrible, but so are bunker buster bombs, helicopters that fire thousands of rounds a minute, and the ultimate—nuclear weapons. Disarming the people is not the answer, especially when the government is armed to the teeth and uses brutality and coercion daily.

The best antidote to these tragedies is to build a movement for profound social change, a movement directed at solving the great problems depressing so much of humanity today, whether they be wars or global climate change or the loneliness of the dog-eat-dog society.

International Action Center- 55 West 17th St, 5C, New York, NY 10011

Transcript of Nikki Giovanni's Convocation address

Delivered April 17, 2007
Professor Nikki Giovanni speaks
at Convocation, April 17, 2007

We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech.

1 comment:

Pan-African News Wire said...

April 19, 2007

Officials Knew Troubled State of Killer in ’05

New York Times

BLACKSBURG, Va., April 18 — Campus authorities were aware 17 months ago of the troubled mental state of the student who shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Tech on Monday, an imbalance graphically on display in vengeful videos and a manifesto he mailed to NBC News in the time between the two sets of shootings.

“You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul and torched my conscience,” the gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, said in one video mailed shortly before the shooting at a classroom and his suicide. “Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people.”

NBC, which received the package on Wednesday and quickly turned it over to the authorities, broadcast video excerpts on “The NBC Nightly News.”

The hostility in the videos was foreshadowed in 2005, when Mr. Cho’s sullen and aggressive behavior culminated in an unsuccessful effort by the campus police to have him involuntarily committed to a mental institution in December.

For all the interventions by the police and faculty members, Mr. Cho was allowed to remain on campus and live with other students. There is no evidence that the police monitored him and no indication that the authorities or fellow students were aware of any incident that pushed him to his rampage.

Despite Mr. Cho’s time in the mental health system, when an English professor was disturbed by his writings last fall and contacted the associate dean of students, the dean told the professor that there was no record of any problems and that nothing could be done, said the instructor, Lisa Norris.

The quest to have him committed, documented in court papers, was made after a female student complained of unwelcome telephone calls and in-person communication from Mr. Cho on Nov. 27, 2005. The woman declined to press charges, and the campus police referred the case to the disciplinary system of the university, Chief Wendell Flinchum said.

Mr. Cho’s disciplinary record was not released because of privacy laws. The associate vice president for student affairs, Edward F. D. Spencer, said it would not be unusual if no disciplinary action had been taken in such a case. On Dec. 12, a second woman asked the police to put a stop to Mr. Cho’s instant messages to her. She, too, declined to press charges.

The police said Mr. Cho did not threaten the women, who described the efforts at contact as “annoying.” But later on the day of the second complaint, an unidentified acquaintance of Mr. Cho notified the police that he might be suicidal.

Mr. Cho went voluntarily to the Police Department, which referred him to a mental health agency off campus, Chief Flinchum said. A counselor recommended involuntary commitment, and a judge signed an order saying that he “presents an imminent danger to self or others” and sent him to Carilion St. Albans Psychiatric Hospital in Radford for an evaluation.

“Affect is flat and mood is depressed,” a doctor there wrote. “He denies suicidal ideations. He does not acknowledge symptoms of a thought disorder. His insight and judgment are sound.”

The doctor determined that Mr. Cho was mentally ill, but not an imminent danger, and the judge declined to commit him, instead ordering outpatient treatment.

Officials said they did not know whether Mr. Cho had received subsequent counseling.

In Virginia, the examining doctor or psychologist has to convince a local magistrate that the person “as a result of mental illness is in imminent danger of harming himself or others, or is substantially unable to care for himself,” said Richard J. Bonnie, director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia.

Mr. Bonnie said that it was not a simple matter to force people into treatment against their will and that lawyers, patients’ advocates and psychiatrists had debated the question for decades.

The hospitalization occurred after a trouble-filled semester for Mr. Cho. In October 2005, a professor of creative writing, the poet Nikki Giovanni, refused to let him stay in her class because his writing was “intimidating” and he frightened other students.

Classmates reported that Mr. Cho was taking photographs of women under the desks. Lucinda H. Roy, chairwoman of the English department at the time, tried to intervene, but she, too, was disturbed by his response. Professor Roy said the reaction was “very arrogant” with an “underlying tone of anger.”

Much about what Mr. Cho did after leaving the hospital remains uncertain. Professor Roy said that she had no contact with him after that date and that she believed he had graduated.

Last August, Mr. Cho’s parents helped move him to a dormitory room he shared with Joe Aust, 19, for his senior year.

His writings grew increasingly unhinged. He submitted two plays to Prof. Edward C. Falco’s class that had so much profanity and violent imagery that the other students refused to read and analyze his work. Professor Falco said he was so concerned that he spoke with several faculty members who had taught Mr. Cho.

Ms. Norris, who taught Mr. Cho in a 10-student creative writing workshop last fall, was disturbed enough by his writings that she contacted the associate dean of students, Mary Ann Lewis. Ms. Norris said the faculty was instructed to report problem students to Ms. Lewis.

“You go to her to find out if there are any other complaints about a student,” Ms. Norris said, adding that Ms. Lewis had said she had no record of any problem with Mr. Cho despite his long and troubled history at the university.

“I do not know why she would not have that information,” she said. “I just know that she did not have it.”

Ms. Lewis, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, said Wednesday night that she would not comment on Ms. Norris’s statement.

Mr. Cho was allowed to remain in the seminar but was placed off to the side, where, Ms. Norris said, he did not speak. She did not share his writings with the class. As the weeks passed, she added, she noticed a slight change in his writing. Instead of focusing on children, as he had in the past, his last story was about adults.

And then he stopped going to class.

“If I had known anything else I could have done, by god, I would have done it,” Ms. Norris said.

Carolyn D. Rude, chairwoman of the English department, said faculty members were pro-active, even attending seminars on helping students in distress, a skill particularly applicable in an English department, where creative writing teachers had intimate glimpses into their students’ troubles and temperaments.

But, Professor Rude said, there was only so much that faculty members, administrators and even the campus police could do if no crime had been committed.

“There were reports, and urgent ones, more than once,” she said. “All we can do is notice and report. We don’t have the powers of the counselors or the justice system. But we do have the responsibility to let students do their coursework.”

Investigators have not determined Mr. Cho’s motive or whether he had a connection to any victims, said Col. W. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the state police.

The package mailed to NBC, a composite portrait of Mr. Cho as a pistol-wielding moralist who decried his audience’s hedonistic taste for vodka and cognac, did not immediately seem to offer concrete clues. It brimmed with recriminations and a sense of persecution, and referred to the killers at Columbine High School in Colorado as martyrs.

“You had a hundred billion chances and ways to avoid today, but you decided to spill my blood,” Mr. Cho said in a video. “You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option.”

The package included 29 photographs, 27 short videos and an 1,800-word diatribe in which Mr. Cho expresses a desire to get even, though it does not say with whom, according to the NBC News program. In two photos, he looks like a typical smiling college student. In 11, he aims one or two handguns at the camera, posing as if in an action movie.

Several postings on Internet film sites noticed a similarity between the poses and scenes from
“Oldboy,” a violent 2004 South Korean film.

As he prepared for the shooting, Mr. Cho filled out paperwork to buy handguns, rented a van and bought the cargo pants and vest that he wore. He appeared to have made the photos and videos by himself, a law enforcement official said.

“This kid, over a period of two and half to three weeks, there was a process where he was working himself up to this and he stayed for one night at a hotel in the general area, and that’s where he took the pictures of the gun," said the official, who insisted on anonymity. “And we’re assuming he made the video there.”

Mr. Cho mailed the package using Express Mail at 9:01 a.m., two hours after the first shootings, from the post office at 118 North Main Street, about a mile from his dorm room on campus, a spokesman for the Postal Service said.

Mr. Cho apparently returned to his room after the first shootings to assemble the package, which seemed to have been put together over six days, NBC News reported. The return address was “A. Ishmael,” similar to the cryptic phrase “Ismael Ax” that was found written on his arm.