a dark night rises

What would cause a man to walk into a crowded movie theater at midnight and begin shooting? Less than twelve hours ago in Aurora, Colorado, a man did just that, and so far nobody knows why. This morning I’m saddened with the news of this tragedy, 12 people killed and 38+ injured just because they went to see a movie. This is senseless and tough. May God grant comfort and peace to their families and friends.

Eyewitnesses continue to weigh in, one person saying the gunman was seen entering through one of the exit doors dressed for war, donning a helmet, bulletproof vest, gas mask and packing several firearms. He tossed teargas into the audience and then began shooting into the darkness for about 20 minutes. Initially some movie watchers report thinking it was part of the show, they were there to see The Dark Knight Rises, so maybe Batman himself would leap from the screen and save them. But this wasn’t a movie. It was all too real.

Whenever anybody does something so random and pointless we wait for answers hoping something makes sense to us. Was the gunman insane? Was he mentally unstable, a psychopath filled with hostility and misdirected rage? What made him do it? What led to this dark night in Colorado? This just in, CNN showed his photo reporting that the shooter was a 24 year old white male named James Holmes, labeled a “loner” who kept explosives and booby-traps in his apartment. Bits and pieces of his identity, a portrait of his social standing and mental health will surface over the days to come.

Flashback: I was living in Rio during the time of a similar incident, the 2007 VA Tech University massacre. That case sparked conversation with some friends there who asked “why people in the U.S. shoot people for no reason at all?” One asked if I was afraid to go to work each day since it seemed teachers and students got shot all the time in the U.S. They were referring to Columbine and other random school shootings that had happened in the U.S. My response, “well Rio has its share of violence, people are killed here every day” and her quick come back “Yea, but our violence has a point, people are poor and angry, there’s injustice and corruption in the system which leads some poor people to steal and kill in order to survive. People in the U.S. kill even when they have everything; kids go to school and start shooting their classmates and teachers for no reason.” Slightly problemic I thought, but overall her analysis was interesting and later made me think of a culture of cruelty.

*Henry A. Giroux argues beyond a culture of cruelty saying Americans often view these kinds of mass killings as disconnected from any larger systemic forces at work in society. He says America ignores and separates private injuries from public considerations. Giroux points to militarism, the rise of the security state, the war economy, the ever-expanding machinery of empire, and a pedagogy of hate, all of which converge and undergird a multitude of chilling and random acts of violence. So, while the Dark Knight shooter may in fact turn out to be a raging psychopath we also cannot discount the greater social, political and economic landscape when seemingly random acts like this one occur. Violence breeds violence.

I can imagine Jesus weeping over this. As in the day he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, and wept over it saying, “If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes.” Luke 19:41-

Peace begets peace.

*Giroux, H. Beyond America’s Culture of Cruelty. In Disposable Youth: Racialized Memories and the Culture of Cruelty. Routledge, 2012

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About Calenthia Dowdy

Calenthia Dowdy (PhD, American University) is a cultural anthropologist and youth ministry educator who focuses on urban youth and culture in the U.S. and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Alongside teaching, speaking and writing on youth, cities, race, gender, and faith, she serves as the director of faith initiatives at a comprehensive community health center that specializes in HIV/AIDS care