Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sheriff John Hanlin: Wrong Word, Right Action

By Chris Yangas

Finally, someone gets it right... kind of.

At a press conference hours after the 2015 Oregon shooting, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin refused to identify the name of the gunman who harmed 18 people, killing nine of them, at the now-notorious massacre at Umpqua Community College.

In doing so, Hanlin understood that American society heralds mass murderers in the same way that it heralds horror villains Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees.

"I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act," Hanlin said.

While I don't like Hamlin's word choice, I give him mad props for making the decision to do something that not only received inevitable criticism, but also that challenged the media's culture of reverence toward society's popular real-life villains.

However, unlike Hanlin, I will give credit to the gunman for his terrible deed: I just won't give him respect.

There is a difference.

Credit v. Respect: What We Allow Through Our Hypocrisy

The difference is that the sheriff should give the shooter credit if a reporter asked him whether he thought the shooter accomplished a significant act in hurting so many people; not to endorse more lethal behavior but to acknowledge the situation veraciously. (Because if I'm the Oregon shooter and I leave this world with 18 casualties, I'd say I did a "good job" unless I had a much higher number in mind.)

The sheriff might not acknowledge the shooter's effectiveness, and the fact that he wouldn't does reflect a problem in our society -- maybe not with him, but certainly with Americans in general.

It's a flaw of humanity, one of hypocritical submission to shock value, that some humans are in denial that Adolph Hitler's successful, innovative, heinous acts of bigoted, ethnocentric violence were proof that he was a brilliant human being. Yet Hitler's damage was so widespread that his damage will be fearfully noted throughout history, never to be forgotten.

Similarly, the Oregon gunman, who murdered with proficiency, will go down in history as notorious, feared and impactful -- which is doing him a service. The difference there is that we do have more control over his legacy than we do Hitler's, because 18 people doesn't compare to millions, yet still, we won't prevent his legacy from cementing into the line of other notable mass-shooters.

But where the hypocrisy come in is that Americans pretend that we don't respect these people for what they do; meanwhile, horror fans keep watching "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" movies, which are, actually, based on real-life serial killer Ed Gein, who mass-murdered people back in the '50s.

We rationalize our interest in this by saying aloud, "I would never do that," while using the subject of the killing as fodder for water-cooler discussion. Then we treat mass shootings the same way, pretending to be abhorred by them to avoid guilt, while media of all forms desensitize our outlooks regarding violence until, of course, one day, violence finds us.

The result is the public only reacting to mass shootings with absolutely no tangible response to them, even when the crimes our broadcasted to us from a television screen. What we journalists report -- no matter how graphic, no matter how despicable -- is going to change the status quo until Americans acknowledge the fact that they we do give -- not only credit, but respect, also -- to the shooters. That they are nothing more than Leatherfaces to most of us until they are in our faces threatening violence.

Hanlin the Hero

But I 100-percent support Hanlin's decision to not release the shooter's name and think he's a great person because of it. Despite the shooter's name being leaked anyway, the sheriff held a forum that he could have used to influence a hundred more shootings had he done so simply by releasing the shooter's name: And doing that would be giving the shooter respect while, possibly, endangering the public further.

Instead, in order to disrespect grand evildoers, he knew that the media and the public need to stop treating them like superheroes and limit their discussion of them to the facts: therein giving the credit without the respect. Resultantly, Hanlin invited conversation that can result in the reform of how mass-murderers are covered; hopefully, that discussion will trickle to the very core of the decision-making process of media leaders; maybe, eventually, reforming the way Americans think when they play violent video games or watch horror films.

Ed Gein's legacy should have died with him, and so should the Oregon shooter's legacy. Hanlin knows this, and so the right action was to stay silent. Because the only person who truly gains from the exposure is the perpetrator.

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