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An Introduction to Indigenous vs. Non-Indigenous Perspectives
On a cold December morning in 2012, Adam Lanza blasted his way through a locked elementary school and into infamy, shattering a window and the lives of twenty-six families. In many ways Lanza's crime was very similar to that of Jeffrey Weise, a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians of Northern Minnesota. Here, I examine how American society reacts to the horrors of mass shootings. I describe insights, ideas, and findings that link rampage shootings and communal responses in the United States and on American Indian reservations, setting the stage for the future study of both the mindset of the shooters and how communities heal in the aftermath.
What happened in Newtown, Connecticut, is so disturbing that a campaign to convince the world it was a hoax garnered mass interest. Self-styled conspiracy theorists, "truthers," claimed essentially that President Barack Obama staged the school shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School as a prelude to disarming the U.S. citizenry. They posted videos that immediately went viral on YouTube and were viewed by many millions of viewers.
The truthers captured the imagination of the public, in part, because the reality itself was so disturbing. Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza dressed himself in all black, put on a pair of fingerless gloves, and drove to an elementary school. At 9:30 a.m., Lanza, armed with three powerful guns, including a military-style assault rifle and enough bullets to kill hundreds of people, shot his way through the front door and window, bursting into the school. In just ten minutes he killed twenty first graders and six teachers and administrators. His first victim, his mother Nancy Lanza, lay dead in her bed at the family home. Lanza's last shot was to himself, twenty-eight dead in all.
In counting victims, Nancy Lanza was usually excluded. U.S. President Barack Obama set the early example. When the president spoke in Newtown at the memorial service, he said, "We gather here in memory of twenty beautiful children and six remarkable adults," deliberately not counting Nancy Lanza.
President Obama may have been the first to discount Nancy Lanza as a victim, but he was not the last. It is as if the murder did not occur. The University of Connecticut honored the shooting victims with a ceremony before a men's basketball game, with twenty-six students standing at center court holding lighted candles. Officials and victims' family members gathered at the Newtown Town Hall to mark a moment of silence on December 21, 2012. To honor the memory of the victims of the rampage, the bells of the nearby Trinity Episcopal Church were rung twenty-six times, not twenty-seven. In Newtown, the number of victims was always twenty-six.
Nancy Lanza was quietly cremated in Haverhill, Massachusetts. A funeral was held about six months after her death about 180 miles from Newtown in Kingston, New Hampshire. Her sister said Nancy Lanza's family waited to hold the funeral "out of respect for the families of the other victims."
There is a fair amount of evidence that Nancy Lanza was not counted by many as a victim because she was blamed as contributing to the murders or failing to prevent them. The weapons used by Adam Lanza, without exception, were legally purchased over the years by Nancy Lanza. Seven years before the massacre, Adam Lanza was diagnosed with Asperger's disorder and was described as having significant social impairments.
A number of the parents of slain Sandy Hook children very clearly held Nancy Lanza responsible. Nicole Hockley, the mother of six-year-old victim, Dylan Hockley, was one of them. "It's clear that he had mental illness and intervention was not made," she told the New York Daily News. "And there was not responsible gun ownership, either." "There was obviously a breakdown in terms of the parenting and the structure in that house," said Bill Sherlach, husband of Sandy Hook Elementary School's slain psychologist Mary Sherlach.
Public opinion in the United States seems to treat Nancy Lanza, "a gun enthusiast who had taught Adam to shoot," as "an accessory to the crime, rather than its victim." Emily Miller, an editor at the Washington Times, summed up that sentiment, "We can't blame lax gun-control laws, access to mental health treatment, prescription drugs or video games for Lanza's terrible killing spree. We can point to a mother who should have been more aware of how sick her son had become and forced treatment."
Alissa and Robbie Parker, parents of six-year-old Emilie Parker, a first grader killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, disagree with the notion that Nancy Lanza was not counted as a victim because she was blamed for the tragedy. According to the Parkers, Nancy Lanza belongs in a separate category of victims than the others. "The reason we (the group of Sandy Hook families) do not address her specifically," said the Parkers, "is that we consider her death a domestic dispute, whereas the number of victims in the mass shooting are those at the school, where the mass shooting took place. Basically, she belongs in the total number of victims by the hands of Adam Lanza, but the number '26 victims' accounts for those that had nothing to do with the Lanza family who lost their lives."
The enormity of the horror of the mass killing of innocent victims causes victims to search for fault, instead of seeking solace. As a result, the parents and family members of the killers often face blame, or extreme hatred for either causing the violence or failing to prevent it. They are even treated as pariahs themselves.
Alissa and Robbie Parker do not think parents of rampagers like Adam Lanza should be treated as pariahs or vilified by society. Alissa Parker said:
We would like parents to be able to courageously see the struggles their children have and stop at nothing to get them the proper help and treatment without the fear of stigma or backlash from their peers or community. It is important to look at her [Nancy Lanza's] role as Adam's mother and provider to better understand the struggles and obstacles she faced in trying to help Adam as best as she felt she could. Looking at this situation can hopefully help us all learn from those mistakes (not just Nancy's but the "system" as a whole) and progress forward. We feel like placing blame, pointing fingers etc. is an easy way to project our own fears and insecurities onto someone else and not place the responsibility on ourselves.
In the case of Adam Lanza, his body was claimed by his father, Peter Lanza. What happened after that has been kept a secret by his father, who says nobody will ever figure out what was done with his son's body. There are no reports of a funeral.
The adversarial structure of the American legal system, though, has little room for the healing process necessary after rampage shootings. With the possibility of civil litigation or criminal convictions looming, the legal system encourages the silence of anyone who might have answers. The system protects rights rather than solves problems. The American system of jurisprudence, a form of the Anglo-European system, is a "retributive" system, punishing offenders. It relies upon hierarchies and power, using rank and the coercive power that goes with it to address conflicts.
Many indigenous cultures throughout the world, on the other hand, have long histories of incorporating community healing into their dispute resolution processes. The model employed in select indigenous cultures contrasts the retributive, vertical system. The indigenous model employed in select indigenous communities is referred to as a "horizontal" justice model. This model allows full victim and community participation, treats all participants as equals, and has an end goal of restoring harmony to the community.
For example, dispute resolution among the Maori, the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, illustrates the horizontal model. Before colonization, the Maori convened a runanga o nga tura, a council that included elders, representatives of the offenders' family, and representatives of the victims' family. A widely cited example of a modern adaptation practiced by an indigenous culture in North America is that of the Navajo Nation, an indigenous tribe in the southwest of the United States. Today the Navajo Nation's judicial branch runs a program called the Peacemaking Program.
What lessons can we learn from examining select indigenous cultures in North America and their history of emphasis on community participation and healing? Can the indigenous traditions studied provide a formula for approaching the aftermath of modern-day mass shootings when they occur outside of native communities? Where restorative style responses exist in indigenous tradition, how can indigenous traditions of offenders and their families speaking face to face with victims and their families be adapted for modern non-indigenous peoples? What cultural and social barriers exist that make adaptation of the indigenous practices cited less likely?CHAPTER 2
School Shootings in Non-Indigenous Communities
Hardly a week seems to pass in the United States without shocking news of a gunman appearing at a school or workplace and opening fire at innocent victims. The term that seems to capture this epidemic is "rampage." A rampage is defined by the fact that it involves an attack on multiple parties, selected almost at random. Sometimes starting out with the idea to kill one or more victims, the killers typically fire off a barrage that kills and maims many. These attacks usually target whole institutions such as schools or workplaces rather than individuals. In most instances the killer does not know their victims or have any relationship with them.
A rampage is a mass murder. Sometimes the term is used interchangeably with the terms "serial murder," "spree murder," or more recently, "rampage murder," as are the phrases "mass murder" or "mass killing." Mass murder is a single episodic act of violence occurring at one time and in one place. The number of victims required to classify a shooting as a mass murder varies. Indeed, some authorities have set the number at three victims, while others have defined it as four victims. For purposes of this book, for the most part, I exclude political killings, acts of warfare or terrorism, and killings committed by more than two perpetrators. Sometimes, however, as in the 2016 Orlando nightclub massacre, it's virtually impossible to rule out political or terrorist motivations. The term "shooting" is used where appropriate, as guns are the primary weapon in most of these incidents. When the incident occurred at a school, a common but not universal theme, the term is applied. A list of mass shootings (all categories) in the United States over the last thirty-six years (1982–2018) is included in appendix 2.
In most instances, killers do not know their victims. The less of a relationship the killer has with his victims, the more likely the victims are free of any ill-will toward the killer. Recent cases such as Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas, Nevada; Jared Loughner in Tucson, Arizona; James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado; Dylann Roof in Charleston, South Carolina; and Omar Mateen in Orlando, Florida, are all cases of shooters who had no relationship with their victims. For the country as a whole, these shootings forced the kind of searching self-examination that comes from a total shock.
Rampages pose more questions than answers. Americans struggle to determine what causes tragic rampages and why they seem to occur with such great frequency. Are we no longer able to keep ourselves and our children safe in our communities? Are schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, and churches no longer inviolable? Is there now more mental illness than used to exist and is it going untreated? Are powerful weapons so commonplace that we are no longer surprised when they are used to mow down innocent people? Were there warning signs exhibited by the killers that were ignored?
So often with rampage killing, society itself is the target. The school, the factory, the church itself is where the rage is focused. Pain and hurt is felt across the greater community. It is felt nationally or even internationally.
Having defined the terms I will use, I now turn to a discussion of the adversarial structure of the American legal system, a system that leaves little room for the healing process necessary after rampage murders. Before assessing the aftermath, I will review exactly what transpired in three recent and well-known school rampages in the United States.
Columbine High School, Jefferson County, Colorado
The 1999 rampage in Colorado is so well known, it is referred to with one word: "Columbine." Moreover, it is a word that evokes strong reaction. In contrast, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold used two words; they called it "Judgment Day." As a result of live television coverage, the world witnessed the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School shootings in real time. The images were shocking.
Columbine High School is located in Jefferson County, Colorado. Although it is typically reported as being in Littleton, Colorado, the school actually sits about a mile outside the city limits and is part of the Jefferson County public school system.
Without ever alerting their parents, teachers, friends, or the local police, for nearly two years high school students Eric Harris, eighteen, and Dylan Klebold, seventeen, plotted and schemed murderous mayhem. They barely hid their intentions; in their bedroom closets they assembled a vast arsenal of guns and bombs.
Harris and Klebold planned a military-style attack designed to "outdo" Timothy McVeigh, the man who killed 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in 1995. If their scheme had worked as planned, the two would have achieved their objective: many hundreds would have died. Their bombs were made with typical barbeque-grill propane tanks easily purchased by the general public at any supermarket in America, and other ingredients. Harris found the design for the bombs on a website, the Anarchist Cookbook. The propane tanks weighed twenty pounds each and were obtained by Harris and Klebold in their neighborhood. One design of bombs used an aerosol can as a detonator wired to a nostalgic alarm clock used as a timer, including the old-fashioned bell on top. The propane tanks were connected to gasoline cans, nails, and BBs, which were attached as shrapnel.
The nightmarish scheme had several phases. The first phase was to detonate two "decoy" bombs in a neighborhood park to draw police away from the high school. Klebold and Harris would then nonchalantly walk into the school lugging heavy duffel bags filled with the propane and gasoline bombs. The plan was for one set of bombs to be placed in the school outdoor commons, which would be filled with students. The other set of bombs was intended to explode in the school cafeteria at a time when it was filled with students eating lunch.
The boys planned to use the two sets of bombs to set the school in a fiery blaze and instill mass confusion and chaos. More strategically, the bombs were intended to send students and teachers fleeing for the exits and the parking lots. With macabre precision, Harris and Klebold planned to place themselves in two strategic locations in the parking lot — at two of the three main school exits, armed with powerful guns to literally mow down fellow high school students and adults as they came running out through the doors.
Harris and Klebold planned to gear up in infantry-style clothing, with web harnessing to allow them to attach ammunition and explosives to their bodies. They planned to use two guns apiece. Dylan Klebold used an Intratec TEC-DC9 semiautomatic handgun and a shotgun to do his shooting. Eric Harris used a Hi-Point 9mm carbine rifle and a shotgun. Each killer was carrying a backpack and duffel bag, and in addition they each carried in some eighty pounds of explosives, including pipe bombs and Molotov cocktail–style bombs. On the morning of April 20, 1999, Klebold and Harris left their homes, their parents having no idea what mayhem their children had conceived for that infamous day.
Fortunately for the students and teachers of Columbine High School, not one of the homemade bombs and detonators worked as planned. First, the decoy bombs in the park only partially detonated, producing a bang and a grass fire, not the ball of fire and smoke envisioned by the two conspirators. The boys entered the crowded school and placed the bomb-laden duffle bags in the commons and cafeteria as planned. They nonchalantly walked past hundreds of students, faculty, and staff while setting down the deadly bombs. Videotapes of the incident do not reveal that anyone noticed anything awry. Harris and Klebold went to their two cars in the parking lot and suited up as planned, strapping guns to their bodies.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "After the Bloodbath"
Copyright © 2020 James D. Diamond.
Excerpted by permission of Michigan State University Press.
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Table of Contents
Foreword, by Robbie and Alissa Parker,
CHAPTER 1. Counting Victims: An Introduction to Indigenous vs. Non-Indigenous Perspectives,
CHAPTER 2. Rampage Murders: School Shootings in Non-Indigenous Communities,
CHAPTER 3. When Mass Shootings Occur on American Indian Reservations: Studies in Contrast,
CHAPTER 4. The Typical Aftermath of Rampage Murder: The Outpouring of Anger at Parents and Family Members,
CHAPTER 5. Restorative Justice in Indigenous Cultures: Restoring Balance and Harmony,
CHAPTER 6. Forgiveness: Restoring Social Bonds,
CHAPTER 7. Restorative Justice and Therapeutic Jurisprudence Today: How Much Can Be Borrowed?,
CHAPTER 8. A Time to Heal: Recommendations for a Way Forward,
APPENDIX 1. Fatal Victims in Select Mass Shootings,
APPENDIX 2. Mass Shootings in the United States, 1982â&8364;"2018,
APPENDIX 3. American Indian Tribes with Some Level of Established Wellness Courts,