Revenge didn’t used to include guns

By Leonard Pitts Jr.

Some people are going to think I’m insensitive.

I refer to the news out of the suburbs of Tacoma, Wash., that three teenagers were arrested last week for allegedly plotting a Columbine-style massacre at their high school. It is unknown how serious the alleged plan was. Authorities say the students — an 18-year-old female and two males, ages 16 and 18 — had amassed no weapons and were a long way from carrying out the purported plot.

Nevertheless, the trio had allegedly filled notebooks with maps of Spanaway Lake High, along with attack plans and strategies to kill police officers who responded to the scene. The alleged plot was foiled by the father of one of the students. He became suspicious of some of his son’s writings and alerted authorities.

They say the students had two motives: They wanted to show that even in a time of heightened terror alerts, no place is safe from attack.

And they wanted revenge.

We are told the kids were angry over years of being picked on and teased. The father of one of them says his son is a small person who was bullied so regularly that he had to be escorted to the bus stop every morning.

Here’s the insensitive part: So what?

We have become sadly experienced with school massacres in recent years. We have seen many disaffected loners turn campuses into killing grounds. And then comes the inevitable explanation.

He was an outcast.

He was jilted by a girl.

The other kids bullied him.

And I repeat: So what?

The last time I said that, a reader told me I obviously had no idea what it feels like to be teased and bullied in school. That one made me laugh.

I still have old pairs of glasses with cracked lenses, the black plastic frames held together by tape because some schoolyard tyrant decided to work out his aggressions on my face. My wife, whom I’ve known since fifth grade, once had to run and get my folks after some boys jacked me up and tried to inject me with hypodermic needles they’d found in the trash behind a medical clinic.

So yeah, I know a little something about being bullied. And yeah, too, I know something about wanting to mash the face of some jerk who’d made my days miserable.

There is, however, a gulf of difference between wanting to do that and wanting to indiscriminately massacre a schoolyard full of people. It takes a special kind of arrogance, self-absorption and entitlement to believe that your humiliation and pain merit the lives of a dozen strangers.

Of course, entitlement, self-absorption and arrogance are the unavoidable byproduct of a culture that teaches that shame is a four letter word, boundaries are obsolete and self-gratification is life’s highest purpose.

I’m not blind. I know that bullies turn classrooms into torture chambers. I know that adolescence is a time when emotions run hot and one does not always have the perspective to understand that even the worst ordeal eventually passes away.
But I also know there is nothing new about any of that.

What’s changed, then, is not the situation, but the way many young people respond to it. The way they seem to take each torment as a personal affront, an insult not to be borne on pain of death.

So to say a child killed people because he was bullied or ostracized is to dignify the act with false rationality — and to shift the onus for the crime to its victims. I get impatient with hearing that because it explains everything and explains nothing, because it does not help me understand how a child can become so alienated from his own humanity and finally, because it does not address, much less answer, a question that ought to be painfully obvious.

Kids have been bullied and ostracized from the beginning of time. Why is it they are just now picking up guns?

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at: lpitts@herald.com