Monday, July 28, 2008

School tragedy in Oxnard CA and a gay teen

This is an unpleasant story to acknowledge, and I’ll leave the details to the link. But we must stop and pay attention to it.

On Feb. 12, 2008 eighth grader Lawrence King, who had been outing himself for several years, was shot in a computer lab in the E. O. Green Junior School in Oxnard, CA by Brandon McInerney, 14. Shortly thereafter McInerney was arrested and faces 50+ years in prison if convicted as an adult. It is possible for prosecutors to add hate crimes to the charges.

The details are in a Newsweek “Cover Story by Ramin Satoodeh, July 28, 2008, p. 41, “Young, Gay and Murdered,” link here. The byline for the story is “Kids are coming out younger, but are schools ready to handle the complex issues of identity and sexuality? For Larry King, the question had tragic implications.”

There had been some memos passed around by school administrators, to the effect that state law required the school to accept Lawrence’s freedom of expression to an extent, and telling teachers they would have to walk a delicate line in teaching students tolerance. In this neighborhood, it was not easy. King appears to have been old for the eight grade (the normal age is 13-14) and the news story discusses some developmental problems.

When I “substitute taught” in northern Virginia in the high schools, there were a few students who were openly gay. Arlington County schools allowed PFLAG or groups similar to “gay straight alliance.” I did not personally observe any problems with this issue at all. In one history class during a newspaper exercise at a Fairfax county school, a student actually asked about the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that was reported that morning. I discussed it as “objectively” as possible.

There is a sinister and disturbing lesson in the King tragedy, which follows a pattern of other such incidents, not all GLBT-related by any means. Here, another young man felt pressured by the “moral” laws of his own upbringing, which required him to function and perform within certain inviolate boundaries as a male. He could not tolerate the idea that others did not have to stay or would not stay within those bounds. To express his own indignation, he was willing to go to prison for life to make a “final statement.” This is the sort of mentality that ran underneath the young “men” who perpetrated 9/11. At a psychological level, it sounds to me like the same thing that is going on in the West Bank and in the tribal areas of Pakistan, as well as Columbine, or even the very recent tragedy in Knoxville. This was an act of terror. At least that's how I see it.

This situation may differ from that of Matthew Shepard (Foundation) whose perpetrators (with a horrific incident in Wyoming in October 1998) did not expect apprehension, but who now serve consecutive or “without parole” life terms In many other such incidents (like Va. Tech), the perpetrators commit suicide or expect to be apprehended and to “sacrifice” themselves. Furthermore, with all the theories about the “teen brain”, 14 may sound too young to comprehend the consequences of such an act. Personally, I don’t believe it. I do wonder why a minor was allowed to get a handgun and bring it into a school campus. Why didn’t the parents have it locked up? Or how did he get it. I say this while fully in support of Second Amendment rights – for adults – and in moral support of “Pink Pistols.”

I note this story shortly after receiving an email from Equality Advocates Pennsylvania on the recent event where the state supreme Court struck down “the amendments to the state's hate crimes law that added sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, gender, and mental and physical disability in 2002. The law was overturned based on the procedural way the legislation was passed by the legislature, not the content of the law.” The link for that story is here. As I noted recently in this blog, for reasons of principle, I have not been a fan of hate crimes laws. The sentence for a crime should be based on the crime itself, not the identity or affiliation of the victim.

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