It's not exactly the news I wanted to hear days before my cross-country move to Denver. Allegedly, a man with tangerine-colored hair opens fire at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, killing twelve people and injuring 58. It's a heartbreaking tragedy by all accounts. Turns out that Aurora theater, now the site of one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history, is a mere 5.5 miles from my new home. Scary - especially for me as a new mom.
Fast forward four days later, and I'm standing in the passenger pick-up area of the Denver International Airport - baby son on my hip - waiting for my husband to bring the car around.
A clean-cut white guy in a polo shirt passes by. I smile at him. He avoids eye contact and slightly picks up his pace. My mind wanders a bit, but I resist the thoughts racing through my mind. Seconds later, another white guy saunters by. This one has long disheveled blond hair, and he's sporting a crumpled T-shirt and flip-flops. He too, won't look my way as he walks by. My mind wanders a little more. Yet again, I resist. Then from a distance I glimpse a stocky white dude with dyed scarlet hair stepping into a car to my right. My stomach briefly knots up. This time I exercise no restraint whatsoever.
What if one of those guys is a little off-kilter and planning some type of shooting rampage? What if that first dude avoided my eyes because he's got a semi-automatic weapon stashed in his duffel bag? OK, so what if that second guy looked away because he's rushing home to finalize the details of his planned assault? And that red-headed man, could he be a copycat killer? Perhaps he was catching a ride to another theater to wreak havoc on, say, Spiderman movie fans.
Yup, I'm officially racially profiling. And that's bad. "Really bad," I think to myself, slapping my own wrist as I write this. No surprise though, considering that the state of Colorado's image seems inextricably tied to the horrific Columbine High School massacre some 13 years ago.
It's widely known that the man charged with the mass killing is James Eagan Holmes, a 24-year-old white man who seemed to have a promising future ahead. In fact, before he allegedly terrorized women, children and other innocent moviegoers with tear gas and assault rifles, he reportedly was in the midst of dropping out of a neuroscience Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado Denver.
My anxiety was exacerbated barely two weeks later when suspected white supremacist Wade Michael Page, armed with a 9mm semiautomatic handgun, killed six people and wounded another four people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. The FBI said that it was investigating the shooting as a possible act of domestic terrorism. That anxiety escalated on Aug. 13 when 35-year-old Thomas Alton Caffall III reportedly opened fire near Texas A&M University killing three, including a county law enforcement official attempting to serve him an eviction notice. Just when I thought the worse was over, last week a white dude (well, he's reportedly half Japanese) dressed in a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase, opened fire with a .45 caliber handgun outside the Empire State Building. New York City investigators say Jeffrey Johnson, a 58-year-old accessories designer, killed his former boss on a crowded midtown Manhattan street and sent hundreds of people scrambling for cover from bullets and shrapnel. One salacious news account claimed Johnson fired once into [victim Steve] "Ercolino's head before standing over his bleeding body to blast the helpless victim four more times."
OK, so I'm not really walking the streets of Denver terrified of white men. Those thoughts were mostly the "what if" mental meanderings of a journalist. However, in the aftermath of all these rampages executed by white men in recent weeks, I can't help but wonder: Are some nonprofit organization staffers hard at work now developing outreach programs to identify and mentor "at-risk white males" (at risk for pernicious rampages, of course)? Will any stars be lending their celebrity to anti-gang public service announcements? After all, weren't Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold accused of having ties to The Trenchcoat Mafia, a group of gamers who hung out together and wore black trenchcoats? Will rock and alternative music recording artists be coming together (like old-school rappers did in the '80s with Self-Destruction) to record a benefit song aimed at discouraging white youth from waging white-on-white crime? Maybe Eminem could rap the hook. Something like...
Murder. Murder. Murder. Murder. Murder. Mayhem/
Schools. Movies. Temples. Dayum/
These bloody rampages really gotta stop/
Guys gone wild, gunning down folks like the cops/
Aurora, temple shooting and Columbine too/
No more massacres, white brothers. Please tell me you're through!/
Ok, so I won't be quitting my day job to write rap songs, but you get the idea.
If this sounds ridiculous, good. It was supposed to. In all seriousness, I hope these latest incidents make us all stop and think long and hard about the flip side; how people of color are often perceived, labeled and profiled when they commit heinous crimes. I hope we all reflect on how often we all, African Americans included, tend to assume the worst about black youth when we encounter them in society. This is a time to regroup and reject the double standards for which most of us, all too often, fall prey.
It is also my hope that the Holmes case inspires us all to take a closer look at the race-obsessed media coverage that has become commonplace. Holmes' race was reported by many media outlets, well before his name and other critical details about the incident were announced. Unfortunate, if you ask me. Race should only be included when a story appears to have a racial element. So far this one has none, so that detail appears to be totally irrelevant.
Sure, when tragedies of all kinds occur we all privately wonder about the race of both the assailant and the victims. My question though, is: why feed that beast? We need to remind ourselves that race does not matter, nor should it. Media outlets should set a standard and lead by example, not buy into our collective biases and superficiality by playing up race.
I highly doubt that moving forward, high school and university faculty members or counselors will now be charged with becoming "campus marshals" trolling for smart guys who just might snap. Cops probably won't be pulling over cars driven by white guys with oddly colored haired any more than they did before the movie massacre.
Most likely Holmes, much like his contemporaries Klebold, Harris and now Page, Caffall and Johnson, won't be deemed reprehensible representatives of the entire white race. He likely will be treated as an individual, possibly one with a mental illness, who did a really bad thing. The fact that he happens to be a young white man will be inconsequential. That's the way it should be. I only humbly ask that the same honor be bestowed upon all Americans who have behaved badly. It's only fair.