‘What is wrong with us?” It’s a question we’d better start asking.
It reads like a work of twisted fiction rather than a factual account: “Bored” teens decide to kill somebody for the fun of it. Three boys, aged 15, 16 and 17, influenced by “gangsta” rappers, targeted for death a man who just happened to be jogging by.
Christopher Lane, a 22-year-old from Melbourne, Australia, attending East Central University in Ada, Okla., on a baseball scholarship, was visiting his girlfriend and her family in Duncan, Okla., when he went jogging. Tragically, it would be his last.
As Lane passed the house where the three boys were, they decided they would kill him “for the fun of it.” They piled into a car and, with the 17-year-old at the wheel, quickly overtook Lane. As they passed, the 16-year-old shot him in the back.
A neighbor who saw Lane stagger across the road, fall to his knees and collapse, called 911. Another reported seeing a black automobile speed from the scene. Within minutes police had stopped the car and apprehended the three. According Duncan Police Chief Danny Ford, the 17-year-old reported they were on their way to another house to kill somebody else. Ford continued, “The boy who has talked to us said: ‘We were bored and didn’t have anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody.’ ”
The whole incident is so mind-numbingly senseless that “tragic” doesn’t even begin to describe it — especially for Lane’s family and friends.
While it is tempting to point accusing fingers at the three teens, it is time we took a closer look not just at them, but at ourselves as a culture and society. It is clear that, at least with some of our citizens, human life is so insignificant that to snuff it out doesn’t merit a second thought. It is worth asking, “How do three teenagers in rural Oklahoma arrive at such a conclusion, and how widespread has this attitude become?”
This attitude is not universally held among that age-group, of course, but if we are not alarmed by a seeping insensitivity to the value of life we may have become insensitive ourselves! Perhaps it is time to seriously evaluate the power of visual images in video games, online, in the movies and on television. For years television producers have claimed they cannot affect the values of viewers, they can only reflect the values of society. Yet, they continue to assure advertisers that viewers are persuaded to change their practices by what they see on TV. And, to the tune of billions of dollars, advertisers agree!
When a terrorist threatens our way of life, we will sacrifice our sacred rights of privacy to protect ourselves. But when we are threatened by what we allow on television, movie and computer screens, a howl of protest erupts from those who claim their rights to say or show anything they please are being infringed upon. What is more foreign to traditional American values — intelligently designed censorship or teenagers killing innocent victims for the fun of it? What is more threatening to our way of life?
But we are not only influenced by what we see, but by what we hear. Although I cannot claim to know this by personal experience in listening, my research indicates that the whole “gangsta rap” genre of music incites teens to act. The gangsta music industry disagrees, except when it doesn’t.
For example, in April 1992, Ronald Howard was pulled over by Texas state trooper Bill Davidson whom Howard killed with a nine millimeter Glock pistol. At the time, a rap song talking about killing cops with nine millimeter Glock pistols was playing in the car. The Davidson family believed that under these circumstances, it would be difficult to think that the music in the car did not have any influence on the situation.
The Davidson family sought damages from the record producers and the rapper, but their attorneys argued they were protected under the First Amendment. The court agreed.
That Howard killed Davidson was indisputable, so he was found guilty. But when it came time for Howard to be sentenced, his attorney argued that the music was responsible. “If you get a kid already at risk, with a matrix of problems … the music can be a triggering device.”
So, everybody agrees that the music can push them over the edge, but the music industry says it isn’t to blame because they were living too close to the edge.
Which brings up another question we need to be honest about: “Why are so many of our youth living so close to the edge that they can be pushed over by the incredibly idiotic suggestions in a song or on a screen?”
Lyrics and images may plant seeds of violence, but what enables those seeds to germinate and grow? Besides allowing the lyrics and images, how else do we send messages that human life is not highly valued? Is it time to ask a serious, but for some a difficult question, about the symbolic power of abortions? I’m all about choices, but I am also all about values. And it is hard to make a case for valuing human life when, in our society more than a million abortions are performed each year.
We all agree that women should have the right to choose. But should they have a right to choose to end someone else’s life? For the sake of argument, however, let’s say that an unborn baby is not really a human life (any mother who wants her unborn child will disagree, but that’s beside our point). But the point is that every unborn baby will become a human life if it is allowed to be born. The inevitable consequence is that a woman who chooses to end her pregnancy makes a choice affecting a human life. I know there can be, and often are, extenuating circumstances that go into choices we make. Let it be said that for any woman or man who feels guilt over some choice we’ve made, the grace of forgiveness is offered.
Where in the world do those teenagers get the idea that human life is inconsequential?
And I haven’t even gotten to the travesty of 15, 16 and 17 year olds having access to guns!! That’s an editorial in itself!
Jim White ([email protected]) is executive editor of the Religious Herald.