While taking a Judicial Process course at university, Kennedy v. Louisiana was one of the cases I was assigned. This was the case where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled child rapists could not be executed. Child rape is never a fun topic to study, but it is especially stomach churning when studying it in a legal setting. All of the horrible, bloody, gruesome details are laid out (details which I will spare others), no euphemisms are used, and the defendant’s case is expertly fought by a talented attorney to the point where his actions almost sound rational. In short, this case was a shocking difficult read and nothing will be able to make me forget it. There are certain events or images which simply cannot be un-seen, and unfortunately, these unforgettable things seem to be the same things we want to forget the most. But what makes an event so shocking that no matter how badly one wishes they had not seen it, they know they will never be able to erase that image from their mind?
In the instance of the brutal child rape case study, it would be reasonable to believe the violent and depraved nature of the crime would forever seer the details of it into the average person’s brain. Yet reactions to other violent incidents, such as armed robberies or drive by shootings, suggest people are not necessarily shocked by violence. So how is it that violent event A can be so much more shocking than violent event B? My theory is that it all depends on how common that specific type of violence is. If a minor is brutally sexually assaulted by their stepfather like in Kennedy v. Louisiana, people are appalled; however, if a minor is shot by a fellow classmate most people are not overly surprised. Sure the school will hold a candlelight vigil and offer grief counseling to the students, but after a few weeks most people will get on with their lives and not really think about the incident again. This is primarily because school shootings are so common, they are no longer shocking.
This normalization of gun violence in U.S. schools hit me after the Troutdale, OR high school shooting on June 10th, 2014. Just five days before, there was a shooting on the Seattle Pacific University campus. I was slightly surprised to hear there had been a fatal shooting on a Seattle university campus since I too am a university student in the Seattle area. However, when I read there had been another school shooting less than a week later my response was, “oh, there was another school shooting.” And if I am being completely honest, not only was I unsurprised, I was not even sad. I felt absolutely nothing. I know I cannot be the only one who is this accustom to gun violence, so what does it mean for the safety of students in the U.S. when the public is so remarkably un-phased by their deaths? Do we care so little about the up and coming generation, about fellow human beings, that not a single tear is shed when we read about their attack? Does the normalization of violence and tragedy lead to public apathy about violence and tragedy? With gun violence being so commonplace, our shock and concern dwindles. Yet with more and more school shootings, more and more youth are being put at risk. New safety measures are needed now more than ever, but we seem to care less than we ever have. What will it take for the U.S. to start caring about the safety of students enough to enact protective laws and restrictions? What will it take for the U.S. to be shocked and disgusted by the killing young people on their campuses?