Since Friday when the horrific news of the Newtown, CT mass murder/shooting broke, the nation has been transfixed. It’s hard to go on line, turn on the TV, pass a news stand- do anything outside of taking a shower, without hearing or reading more about the tragedy. I’m not suggesting that it’s too much. This is an enormous event that has touched people all over the world. The murder of 20 very young children and 6 of their educators, is indeed newsworthy. It has led to endless debate about gun control, mental health care and violence in our society, on Facebook, in the news and in daily conversations. It’s an event that is on everyone’s mind regardless of where you stand on any of these issues.
On Friday afternoon, as I went out to pick up a Hanukkah gift that my own son had really been wanting, I listened to an analysis on NPR. This person (I don’t recall who) maintained that if news agencies refused to print or say the names of perpetrators of these mass killings, it would be far less alluring to potential killers. Unstable people who might be hoping to get noticed by killing a large group of unknown people, may view it totally differently if they knew that their names would not be discussed and analyzed until they’re engrained in our collective memories. While I don’t personally believe that most of these killings involve a desire for social celebrity or fame, I do agree that this may play in the minds of a disturbed young person (most of these events have been committed by young men) who are considering violence. We are a culture that feeds on celebrity and fame; it certainly must occur to these young men that in addition to hurting the people they aim to slaughter, they may end up famous as well.
Sadly, most of us can recall the names of several mass killers. The events are played and replayed, while the name of the killer is repeated in each reporting. We often know these names as much as the events themselves. However, we don’t remember any of the victims, aside from the details of their deaths. We remember that they were children in a school, people in a movie theater, residents attending a political event, etc; we do not know their names. We learn the names of killers; we don’t know the names of victims— and there’s something terribly wrong with that.
As details of the massacre on Friday have been reported, several news agencies have begun reports by saying that they will not use the name of the killer. They then proceed to say that very name, once, they assure us, in the name of “reporting,” in the name of “history.” In one breath they say they will not use the name, to avoid sensationalizing the them, but then they immediately say the name. After days of hearing and reading about the event, that name is stuck in my brain. I woke with that name in my head today and yesterday.
Tonight my 15 year old nephew and the members of his Wilton, CT hockey team did something remarkable to change that. Their junior varsity and varsity high school team will play a game against the Newtown Nighthawks (yes, the same Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown) this Wednesday night. To honor the children that were killed, each of the players on my nephew’s team has adopted the name of one of the murdered children, and will display it on their hockey sticks. Each of those kids has learned the name of one murdered child. They are carrying that name with them; they are honoring the killed, not the killer.
This simple gesture has touched me deeply. It renews my faith in goodness and right. My wonderful nephew, who I adore, and his friends are doing something that we all should do. They are taking a moment to really think about each of the 27 people who were murdered, beyond being a statistic or detail. In putting Noah Pozner’s name on his hockey stick, my nephew has chosen to really think about that little boy and the fact that he will never play hockey, never ride his bike into town alone, never grow up. Each of those 20 children will never do all of the things that we hope for our own children. Each of the caring adults who sought to protect those children and were killed, will not go home to their families. They will not live out their lives in the ways they might have dreamed or imagined. But, they will be remembered by a group of high school aged boys in Wilton.
If news agencies truly stopped focusing on the names of killers, and repeated the names of those killed, it might in fact have an impact on future killings. Again, I don’t believe it would stop all killers. These are individuals who are deeply troubled, and it is very difficult to predict what will impact them. I think that for some of them, the lack of fame and acknowledgement—the idea that they will be erased from history—may be a deterrent. If it is not a deterrent, then isn’t it a far better, nobler, idea that we would remember those that are killed, than those who cause so much pain and suffering?
Remember these names; think about them. Carry them in your heart. Don’t use the name of the killer. Don’t speak his name, speak their names.
(image courtesy of smpalestine.com)
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