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Information Overload

July 30, 2015

I have a message for the media:  Enough already!  STOP!  Change your focus… please!

I am speaking about media coverage of random acts of violence and terror.  Those terrible events such as the recent shootings in Chattanooga, the Boston Marathon Bombing, the Oklahoma City Bombing, and more…  unfortunately too many to mention here.

There have been two theater shootings in recent years: the first in Colorado and the second in Louisiana.  The Louisiana theater shooting occurred during the trial of James Holmes, the shooter responsible for  the Colorado theater massacre.  His trial has been covered extensively by the media, and featured prominently in the news.

Coincidence or copycat?

The message I’d like to get across is this:  broadcast the events for they are newsworthy.  I need to know what happened, where, and who was affected.   Report the stats about the suspect.  Key information only.  Please do not focus your report on the criminal for days and weeks on end.  Instead, report these events like you report the weather.  What did people do to protect themselves?  How did they ride out the storm?  How are they rebuilding?  And most importantly, how can I help?

You may think that I am sticking my head in the sand…  I’m not.  I am not an ostrich.  Neither am I a judge, responsible for deciding the perpetrator’s fate.   I don’t need to know the minutia of their lives.  That is privileged information that only those directly involved in the case: police, investigators, medical professionals, prosecutors, judges and juries, need to know.  It needs to be entered into medical and legal textbooks, maybe historical tomes.

For me, and most others in the general public, it is information overload.

Personally,  I do not want to know the name of the offender, hear about their childhood, family history, health history, etc.   I don’t care if their families are members of the NRA, republican, democrat, or independent.    I don’t want to know if they’re an upstanding family, well thought of in their community, or if they’re highly dysfunctional.  I don’t need to know their race or religious beliefs and practices.  It’s none of my business.

We are ALL children of God.  Good and evil can be found in every segment of society, regardless of skin color or religious beliefs.  Unfortunately, we hear about the bad things people do far more often than their good deeds.  Judging an entire race or segment of society by the actions of a few doesn’t make sense.  History tells us that Adolph Hitler was German, so was Albert Einstein.

It’s not that I don’t care about someone who fell through the cracks, whose issues weren’t caught in time to prevent a tragedy.  I do care.  My heart goes out to those people and their families and I keep them in my prayers.  I don’t need to know their names in order to pray for them… God is omnipotent.  He knows them, even if they do not know Him.

I believe that the near constant focus of the media on the suspects of horrific acts only serves to glorify the evil-doers.  Take Bonnie and Clyde for instance… no surnames are needed.   Everyone knows who they were and what they did.  Their story has been glorified and romanticized.  Movies have been made about them.

Public safety is paramount.  We need to know if perpetrators are at large;  where they might be, that they are dangerous and desperate people with little left to lose, what we can do to protect ourselves.  We do not need to hear an interview with their second-grade teacher or a former friend or spouse.

Once they are apprehended, we do not need to know where they are locked up.  We do not need a blow-by-blow account of their arraignment, probable cause, court date, and lawyer’s names.  We do not need to know who testified for or against them.  We do not need to see their picture on television for days on end.

Keep it simple.  Tell us who they are, what they did, and what the verdict was.  That’s all we need to know.   Endless reporting of details ad nauseam keeps the focus on the criminal, not the unfortunate people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Instead, respectfully and without invasion of privacy, tell us about the victims and their community.  Don’t hound them unmercifully, but ask their permission (once) to air a brief history and tell me how they and their families are doing.  Tell me how the community is dealing with the tragedy.  Let us know what they are doing to rebuild and move on.  How are they honoring their loved ones?  Most importantly, let me know how I can help.

I worked as a mental health nurse for nineteen years in the Minnesota state run mental health system.  During those nineteen years, I worked with patients who suffered from depression, suicidal ideation, homicidal thoughts, terroristic intention, pyromania, bipolar disorder, ADHD, PTSD, sociopathic personality disorder, anti-social personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, chemical dependency, and developmental disablility.

I saw the consequences of violence from both sides.

Some of my patients expressed a desire to commit ‘copycat’ crimes, replicating the actions of someone they saw repeatedly on the news as closely as they could.   Others idolized those perpetrators:  Timothy McVeigh, Jeffrey Dahmer, and others. Bonnie and Clyde.

Still others put voice to intent… stating that they felt invisible, unnoticed, unloved, outcast and unknown.  Once gone, they felt they would not be missed.

What they said next chilled my blood;  if they couldn’t gain recognition for who they were in this life, they wanted to do something to make people stand up and take notice…  something like carrying out a plan to execute innocent people.  It didn’t matter to them if they were killed in the process;  their goal would have been accomplished in the act.  They would be famous;  their names would never be forgotten.  Ever.  Like Bonnie and Clyde.

Now most state hospitals are closed and school counseling positions are being cut as cost saving measures.  The Church is no longer the center of our communities.  More people are falling through the cracks, going undiagnosed, unseen, and overlooked.  They are victims, as well.  Their families have to live with the consequences of their actions, and those families pay a price as well.  Their name is forever besmerched.  Some of them relocate in an effort to make a fresh start.  They may be haunted,  lie awake at night and ask themselves where they went wrong, what clue they missed?  I probably would.

This is a multi-faceted issue.  Each case is unique and there is no one solution.  Gun control is not the answer because first, guns are not the universal weapon of choice, and second, the likelihood of criminals following the rules and submitting to background checks is most likely quite low.  Prohibition of alcohol did not stop people from drinking, so why would outlawing guns stop shootings?  Stripping law abiding citizens of the right to own a gun is not the answer.

I’d like to see us begin by changing the focus of the media from the criminal to the innocent victims, providing better mental health care to everyone;  put counselors back in schools and give them manageable case loads.

Let’s invest in our children and give them the best start possible…  they are the future.  Put physical education, art, and music back into the curriculum and bring back the Pledge of Allegiance.

Allow and encourage prayer in public, especially in our schools.  God has always been in our schools, let’s recognize that fact once again.

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