Unhealthy Obsessions: Charleston Mourns as we Pay Attention

gun violence, mass violence, obsessions

The New York Times, along with thousands of other media outlets, has been aflame with articles addressing the Charleston shooting that claimed nine lives.

Before I say anything at all, let me take a moment to note that the lives of these nine people, along with their family and friends, have been irreparably damaged. Fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers—all lost to a violent crime. People are in deep mourning. If in no other way we empathize with those touched by the Charleston shooting, we must remember that human lives have been destroyed, damaged, and altered forever. If our own father, mother, daughter, son, sister, or brother were killed, we would want people to care. We would want people to understand the hurt is unimaginable. We should keep all this in mind as we consider Charleston.

The specific article I wish to address was published in the New York Times today by Frances Robles, and you are welcome to read it here.

It is unclear to me, even after several reads, what specifically this article is attempting to accomplish. However, one thing that stands out to me after reading it over several times is that any one person, no matter background, current values, and daily environment, can become consumed by obsessions that are quick to reach an unhealthy level.

The article spends quite a bit of time (perhaps too much time, even) detailing how the alleged Charleston killer displayed his interest in white supremacy, the Confederate flag, race-based movies, and other hate-specific interests. Of course, this may all be pertinent, but the detail that continued to strike me as important is one not mentioned until the third paragraph of Robles’ article:

“A website discovered Saturday appears to offer the first serious look at [the alleged killer’s] thinking, including how the case of Trayvon Martin, the black Florida teenager shot to death in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, triggered his racist rage.”

The article continues on to tell us about the alleged killer’s photoshoots, which featured racist settings and memorabilia. Earlier in the piece, Robles has already described the alleged killer’s affinity for the number 88, Hitler, and all things Confederate.

However, I cannot help but wonder if this affinity for these racist leanings, objects, etc. is not merely the aftermath of an unhealthy obsession that grew into a tangible hate. This obsession, of course, would be the Zimmerman case that Robles continues to refer to. Robles offers the following quote from the alleged killer’s website:

“I have no choice,” it reads. “I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight…We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

The word that stuns me most in this quote from the alleged killer’s website is the word “alone.” It does not seem, just from this one sentence, that he was raised in a manner that encouraged hatred of minorities. It does not seem he hangs out with some hateful group of friends on the weekends. In fact, he notes himself that there is not even an active organization he could join to express his hate in targeted ways. The word is “alone,” and I believe the alleged killer “alone” is responsible for the birth of hate within himself. It doesn’t even appear he had much encouragement.

Robles offers a source, a friend of the alleged killer, who mentions he believes this hatred towards minorities is a relatively new development. In fact, the friend, who is a mixed person himself, doesn’t have a reason to believe this hatred existed within the alleged killer during the time they were friends. The hatred had to begin somewhere. As Robles writes, most of his friends believe “his sense of racial grievance began with the Trayvon Martin case.”

This is why I offer the idea that our obsessions, no matter how seemingly harmless at first, have the potential to grow into something vastly unhealthy, creating ripples that touch shores we may never have imagined. Now, this is not to say that every obsession will grow into a hate of minority groups, or even grow into something morally despicable at all, but I do think it is worth paying attention. Much of what we consume we begin to filter back out into society, and something harmless consumed enough times is often distorted.

We need only look at the alleged killer’s own words to add evidence to the idea that an unhealthy obsession with the Zimmerman case may have birthed his hatred. Robles offers the following from the alleged website:

“The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up. I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was. It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right…I have never been the same since that day.”

Current friends of the alleged killer support his obsession with the Zimmerman case.

As Robles posits from her various sources, the alleged killer birthed his hate, fed his hate, and finished his hate in a terrifying blaze all on his own. Even if he had been interested in joining a hate group, the media does not seem to be able to support that he was linked to one. It is likely he was not at all linked to anyone else who shared his hateful views.

We are all pretty far removed from this type of hatred or inclination for violence. Even those raised in racist families have the potential to grow into something different, something better. It is important to tread carefully on obsessions though, when they do crop up. Though this can be applied in the smallest, most peaceful sense, it is more importantly applied at this type of level. It might be important to take notice when someone has far too much interest in a violent murder, an unsolved case, or a shaky verdict. Even something we never intended can grow if we are not on guard.

Though the media’s publicity of this case is far from over, it is important to remain emotional. Yes, emotional. The terrifying potential that this shooting could become so over-reported that people are no longer affected must be resisted.

We must remain human and we must remember real people are touched by this violence.

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