They let the water in the clogged locker room shower get about two inches deep before they stripped me of my Catholic School-issued sweat suit. The three football players, seniors at the time, then proceeded to slide me across the floor, like a plump pink hockey puck, until my tighty-whiteys were ripped and soaked through. In the following days I was forced to push pennies across the parking lot with my nose, had "fag" written on my forehead in lipstick and was pelted by half-empty soda cans in front of the entire student body. And that was just my first week.
High school can be a brutal and humiliating experience, and it’s certainly one I would never ever want to relive. But never during those miserable years did I consider irrevocable violence. It was just high school. It was miserable, but I knew it would end. In the horrible experiences my friends and I endured there was never a sense of pervading hopelessness. Be it graduation, dropping out or even just going home at the end of the day, it was always apparent that the opportunity to leave was there. High school was a shitty place, not a shitty life.
Like Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, Jeff Weise couldn’t realize this. He was estranged and mocked to the point that he saw no escape from his situation other than violence. His plight ended with tragic results. For the media, finding reasoning behind his actions is simple – internet violence, heavy metal or the oeuvre of Gus Van Sant – there is no shortage of scapegoats. It’s easy for them to concentrate on Weise as an innocent young man, led astray by the evil and brutal entertainment media. His influences are part of a pattern, the same symptoms found in other school shootings. Jeff Weise fits a mold, however disastrous. And like any good stereotype we can accept it without too much scrutiny.
But what of his classmates? I find myself shocked by the accusations that nearly 20 students are being investigated in the wake of the shootings at the Red Lake Chippewa reservation. Police have seized three school computers and arrested one student already. They believe that more than a dozen students were aware of Weise’s plans. In light of this, I think it’s time that rather than looking for motivations and excuses for the actions of Jeff Weise, authorities should be looking for the patterns that are responsible the lack of action among his peers.
How is it that this 16-year-old could actively and publicly express, in the form of internet cartoons and web postings, the desire to kill others and himself for so long without intervention? How are the moral leaders of our country going to pin mass apathy on the makers of Grand Theft Auto?
They can’t. It’s not the fault of Marilyn Manson or "Bride of Chucky" that a dozen or more high school students chose not to act. With a student like Jeff Weise, one whose threats of violence were longstanding and almost comical, it’s easy to see how students could have been lulled into thinking he wouldn’t follow through. His alienated threats must have seemed commonplace to them. Is it that these kids lead a life so miserable it doesn’t surprise them that their classmate would want to kill them? And if so, why isn’t that more worrisome then the actual violence?
I know it’s unrealistic to think that despite their own struggles in the realm of compulsory education teenagers would be able to have some empathy for their troubled peers. There is something inherently wrong with a system that produces this kind of situation. Granted, high schools throughout the country are underfunded, understaffed and barely keeping up, but there is no justifiable reason for putting students in a position where they can laugh off or ignore threats of violence. Test scores seem like a minor inconvenience compared to dying. If school systems are struggling so hard to maintain their standards that they overlook risky behavior, then perhaps there needs to be a sincere reevaluation in the way things are done.
Dylan Tanner can be reached at [email protected]