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Joanna Zelman Headshot

The Trouble With Anger

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Getty File
Getty File

When Eve Marie Carson was murdered five years ago today, first I was scared. Then I was angry. I got mad at the grass on the quad for continuing to grow so damn green even after our friend, the inspirational leader of our school, had been killed. I was mad at that student who dared to laugh in the dining hall a mere two days later, his happiness a grating cackle mocking those of us in mourning. I was mad when everyone posted a virtual blue ribbon image as their Facebook photo, as if that could ever be enough, and then I was even madder when everyone started replacing the virtual blue ribbon with their latest drunken party photo, because as the virtual blue ribbons disappeared, I was terrified that the memory of her would, too.

Herein lies a problem -- my fear had turned to anger. Not a particularly unique situation, and also not a productive one.

Two young men committed a heinous crime against our friend, and in the weeks, months and years that followed, some members of the onlooking world, watching from behind the safe and warm glow of their television sets, got mad. Much of their fear -- fear that a similar crime could happen to their family, their community -- translated into anger towards the two young men. To an extent, rightly so, but if the emotions stop at anger, what has been accomplished?

We often lock up criminals, throw away the key, and wipe our hands clean of the whole situation. We box every news report up nice and neat and put it on a shelf far away, keeping a fair distance. Like the sun, we can't stare at it for too long. We feel a false sense of relief when criminals are imprisoned; we accept the illusion that all is well in the world again because two men are behind bars.

In California, a report last year found prisons receive more funding than higher education. According to Michigan's House Fiscal Agency, corrections accounted for 21.5 percent of the state's general fund budget, compared to 13.3 percent for higher education/community colleges. These are not unique cases.

NAACP's Steven Hawkins wrote in 2010, "This tradeoff between education and incarceration is particularly acute at the community level. In many urban neighborhoods where millions of dollars are spent to lock up residents, the education infrastructure is crippled."

Education, like issues from preventive medicine to climate change action, struggle for support in part because we are a society that focuses on cleaning up a mess instead of preventing the spill to begin with. We are a society that funds punishment instead of prevention -- education, social programs, the arts and work opportunities.

We are a society that, according to Slate, has seen over 2,474 people die from gun violence since Newtown. We are a society that recently witnessed thousands angrily rally against New York's gun control law, thousands chanting "We will not comply," outraged over tightening the definition of assault weapons and limiting magazine clips to seven rounds.

Humans often turn fear into anger.

In the spring of 2008 on the UNC campus, a remarkable shift occurred: Many people chose to translate emotions into action, instead of resting comfortably on anger. UNC professor Jock Lauterer launched a community newspaper in the two mens' hometown to empower students in the local region and give residents a voice. The Eve Carson Memorial Fund continues to provide merit scholarships to aspiring student leaders.

On a more personal level, a group of us seniors nearing graduation chose after weeks of anger to embrace every single day we had left on campus. We played muddy soccer in the rain, biked through the hills to sit atop haystacks eating ice cream, tossed a Frisbee between the towering trees at midnight. We tried to live each day to its fullest, mulling over what direction we could set our lives in to do the most good. We fought sticking our experience into a tidy shut box, and instead explored ways to make the world a better place.

We spent our final days on the UNC campus soaking in every ounce of what Eve loved about it:

"I love UNC. I love the quad in the spring and the arboretum in the fall. I love the Pit on a sunny day and Graham Memorial Lounge on a rainy one. I love Roy all the time. But what makes UNC truly special is not our beautiful campus, our distinguished reputation or even our basketball team. It's us -- the student body -- who make UNC what it is." -Eve Marie Carson