ONTD Political

Sandy Hook controversy: Is it wrong to sympathize with a killer?

8:38 pm - 01/03/2013
Sandy Hook controversy: Is it wrong to sympathize with a killer?

A high school student is suspended for writing a poem in which she says she "understands" why Newtown gunman Adam Lanza committed murder.

"I understand the killings in Connecticut. I know why he pulled the trigger," Courtni Webb, a 17-year-old high school student, wrote in her notebook. Those words, which were part of a poem she composed outside of her class assignments, raised a red flag for her teacher and principal and consequently got her suspended from San Francisco's Life Learning Academy for violating the school's zero-tolerance policy for violence. While Webb defends her controversial poem by saying she was simply exploring ideas of helplessness and darkness that she believes are the cause of tragedies like Sandy Hook, "schools like Life learning Academy aren't taking any chances," says Erin Sherbert at SF Weekly. But does suspending a student for empathizing with a killer as a purported literary exercise go too far?

Webb, for one, is careful to distinguish between the "threatening language" her school believes she used and the actual content of her poem. "I didn't say I agree with it, I simply said I understand it," Webb told NBC. "I feel like I've really been made to almost look like a monster by my school and I don't appreciate that at all." Her mother echoed her sentiments, telling NBC that her daughter "didn't threaten anybody."

Still, after the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook, the school has every right to feel on-edge. The real problem, says Madeleine Davies at Jezebel, is how Life Learning Academy chose to discipline Courtni:

School officials have once again taken the hard line (suspension and possible expulsion) as opposed to taking the time to talk to Webb about her relatively harmless poem — a poem that's probably been written in similar variations by teenagers across the country — or consider that artistic expression is a way to exorcize dark thoughts and is not necessarily indicative of a person's real life actions."

A closer look at the poem, which contains other lines such as "If I can't be loved no one can," and "Society never wants to take the blame," shows that if the poem Webb shared with the media is indeed the same one for which she was punished, "it seems more likely that she was suspended for daring to show empathy and understanding in a complex issue that American society would like to make a matter of black and white, of good and evil," says Davies.

Regardless of whether you agree with the school's logic, this dilemma demonstrates that "an ongoing discussion of how to prevent another Sandy Hook doesn't begin and end with the president or Congress or state governments," says Jordan Sargent at Gawker. "It trickles all the way down to attitudes endemic to our society."

Video at NBC
Daily News
SF Weekly

OP: What is it with schools suspending students for such dumb reasons now? And they may yet expel her. I just don't get it.

The links are in the body of the of post, but I've listed them separately at the end as well. Do yourself a favor and skip the comments at the Gawker. Hopefully the video embedded correctly. *fingers crossed*
evilnel 4th-Jan-2013 07:15 pm (UTC)
Being able to understand those you disagree with is, in my opinion, a sign of maturity. You may hate what they did and never be able to do the same yourself, but showing compassion to somebody who was clearly disturbed and probably in pain is not a bad thing. It's easy to give mercy to those who treat us well--it's entirely different to give mercy to those who hurt you or others. I'm sure this kid didn't want to invalidate the evil he did through her compassion, but to take a look at a problem which is far more complex than gun policy and school security. The school was right to ask questions about what she meant and maybe even get a counselor involved, but suspending and possibly expelling without really listening seems kind of extreme.

Edited to rephrase slightly.

Edited at 2013-01-04 07:16 pm (UTC)
miriamele 4th-Jan-2013 07:28 pm (UTC)
This, so so so much. Counseling? Yes. Discussion about it? Absolutely. This action is far too excessive though.
lizzy_someone 5th-Jan-2013 02:52 am (UTC)
And even compassion aside, surely trying to understand the motivations behind a crime would help people craft public policies to prevent such crimes. If you know why someone did it, you have a better idea of what would stop them from doing it. People like to just stamp NUTCASE on a person and shove the whole issue aside with a conveniently too-easy answer.
evilnel 5th-Jan-2013 02:55 am (UTC)
natyanayaki 5th-Jan-2013 04:54 am (UTC)
fauxjoy 6th-Jan-2013 06:03 pm (UTC)
Exactly what I was going to say.
wrestlingdog 5th-Jan-2013 03:01 pm (UTC)
Well said!
seasontoseason 4th-Jan-2013 07:18 pm (UTC)
how Orwellian of the school. Thoughtcrime it is.
angelofdeath275 4th-Jan-2013 09:23 pm (UTC)
Stupid comparison this is.
seasontoseason 9th-Jan-2013 09:40 am (UTC)
its actually not a stupid comparison, but thanks for saying so. Thoughtcrime is a fictional concept intended to demonstrate the general idea that crime that exists only in thought should not be considered a crime at all. And this case is actually one step FURTHER removed from the reality of a crime, since the girl didn't even think of a crime at all, but merely had an "crime-sympathizing" emotion. That is a whole new level of thoughtcrime that even Orwell didn't think of.
angelofdeath275 4th-Jan-2013 10:44 pm (UTC)
ugh, lj posted this twice

Edited at 2013-01-04 10:45 pm (UTC)
ayashi Re: I do not get the idea of supension4th-Jan-2013 08:00 pm (UTC)
Yeah I have never really understood out of school suspension for many of the same reasons.
redstar826 Re: I do not get the idea of supension4th-Jan-2013 08:53 pm (UTC)
same here. It seems like such a lazy, irresponsible punishment. When I was in high school, the punishment for getting caught skipping a class was a 1-day suspension. Which I always thought was hilarious. They 'punish' you for trying to get out of one class by giving you an entire day off? Really?
lurkerwisp Re: I do not get the idea of supension4th-Jan-2013 09:38 pm (UTC)
Not all schools systems handle discipline the same way.

Out of school suspension in my area for a public school student means days spent attending a different school, made up only of students that have been suspended or expelled from other public schools.

Similarly, not all schools have a psychologist on staff. That's not something that frequently happens in places with tight budgets.
schexyschteve 4th-Jan-2013 10:36 pm (UTC)
I always said the same thing. The kids who are more likely to get suspended don't want to be in school anyway. It's like a vacation for them. I remember we used to have in-school suspensions, but due to budget cuts, they got rid of that.
lizzy_someone Re: I do not get the idea of supension5th-Jan-2013 02:54 am (UTC)
All of this.
roseofjuly Re: I do not get the idea of suspension5th-Jan-2013 08:20 pm (UTC)
Well, a lot of schools nowadays are less concerned with actually helping these students and more concerned with making sure that if anything happens, it's not on school grounds so as not to attract negative attention to the school. Although in this case, it's just stupid.

But yeah, I had the same wonder about suspension when I was in high school myself. It seems that the kids who did something bad enough to warrant suspension were usually pretty stoked about the idea of being out of school for a day or three, and often wore it as a badge of honor. Kids who came back from suspension had an air of teenage mystique around them.
sabaism Re: I do not get the idea of supension6th-Jan-2013 12:35 am (UTC)
I don't know necessarily if in school suspension is any better though. If the school has resources to provide ISS and intervene in whatever issues the student has to see if they can prevent it from happening again, then it's great. But if it's just another dumping ground for "troubled" students (like it was at my middle school), then it really doesn't solve any problems.

ISS at my middle school was basically just a classroom where you sat in silence for the entire day while an adult "supervised." If you continued to cause trouble, days were added to your sentence, rather than any kind of intervention. I know several students who spent the majority if not all of a school year in there. They were given missed work, but if you're not in class learning the material and the adult doesn't care if you do the work, how are you supposed to learn? Or even figure out why the students were causing trouble in the first place?
miss_lurker Re: I do not get the idea of supension6th-Jan-2013 12:45 am (UTC)
I feel like this puts too much responsibility on the school. They are there to teach basic education skills, not deal with violent children.
tilmon 4th-Jan-2013 09:43 pm (UTC)
I don't understand why this girl is being punished at all. If we don't make an effort to understand why people kill, to attempt to comprehend their thoughts, how are we supposed to prevent violence? Or are only certain people, with certain official credentials allowed to imagine?

How have we come to this point that poetry is murder, that art is crime, yet we rain hell on villages and gang-rapes by football players are covered up? I'll believe this so-called "Life Learning Academy" is sincere in its concerns about violence when they start conducting community awareness sessions on institutionalized violence.
kitanabychoice 4th-Jan-2013 10:15 pm (UTC)
This fills me with all kinds of disgust and exasperation.
celtic_thistle 4th-Jan-2013 10:23 pm (UTC)
This zero-tolerance bullshit in schools is just that--bullshit. I got suspended for something comparable (if "tamer") in seventh grade and it really fucked me up long-term, being treated like that for expressing an idea. It wasn't even a school assignment; she was working through her feelings in poem form. Who gives a shit? It's not like she was like "hell yeah, I'm going to do what he did! He was so right!" Christ. Everything is so black-and-white with the zero-tolerance crap.
angelofdeath275 4th-Jan-2013 11:02 pm (UTC)
Is her poem posted anywhere?
__nocturna 4th-Jan-2013 11:48 pm (UTC)
I don't know how anybody could "understand" why someone would murder a classroom of children, but ok.

Sounds like the school made a dumb decision. I'm glad I went to a school that was reasonable.
angelofdeath275 5th-Jan-2013 03:02 am (UTC)
Pretty much my thoughts
chaya 5th-Jan-2013 04:03 am (UTC)
You can understand the killer's reasoning without agreeing that it was good reasoning. If I say I understand why a man killed his wife I probably mean that I understand his stupid reasons for doing it, not that what he did was okay or that I'd do the same.
glass_houses 5th-Jan-2013 02:02 pm (UTC)
I got into a heated argument with a girl on my FB (mental issues, I met her in psych ward) after she had the nerve to say that Adam Lanza "made a mistake that some might consider tragedy." WHAT. She then told me I was closed-minded and told me to look up the definitions of empathy and compassion. WHAT. So I blocked that delusional girl.

Edited at 2013-01-05 02:03 pm (UTC)
zinnia_rose 5th-Jan-2013 12:24 am (UTC)
Maybe I'm a horrible person, but I find it disturbing that anyone could understand why someone slaughtered twenty first-graders. We can talk about society's failings until the cows come home, but it is just incomprehensible to take one's rage out on innocent children and their teachers.

I don't have a problem with this student being suspended until they know whether or not she poses a risk to the school, either. If they've just suspended her and aren't investigating or giving her counseling, then yeah, that's kind of pointless.
fluorescenta 5th-Jan-2013 01:58 am (UTC)
chaya 5th-Jan-2013 04:06 am (UTC)
Understanding the killer's reasoning doesn't necessarily mean agreeing with it. I can understand why a toddler feeds a sandwich to a VCR - it fit and the tv looked hungry. That doesn't mean I think so too.
maladaptive 5th-Jan-2013 01:31 pm (UTC)
I think it's important to understand the reasoning why crimes happen, because that's the best way to address the causes to prevent future occurrences. As long as we throw up our hands and go "we could never understand, it's inexplicable! They were just evil!" we can't fix the problem. And there is a problem in this country of people taking out their rage on innocents.
__nocturna 5th-Jan-2013 02:25 pm (UTC)
I agree.
jslayeruk 5th-Jan-2013 12:30 am (UTC)
Well, obviously. You see, trying to explain something is the same as condoning it. Anyone who has the audacity to attempt to understand anything is immediately branded an "apologist". She's not the first and certainly won't be the last.
tabaqui 5th-Jan-2013 01:11 am (UTC)
Zero-tolerance for a poem. A poem in which a young woman was trying her best to make sense of what had happened. Wow. Ridiculous.
lizzy_someone 5th-Jan-2013 02:57 am (UTC)
idk if this is too cynical of me, and I know arguably-overkill suspensions happen to white kids too, but I couldn't help being suspicious of the school officials when I saw that the suspended student is black.
caterfree10 5th-Jan-2013 05:28 am (UTC)
No, I thought of that too as soon as I saw the still on the video.
baked_goldfish 5th-Jan-2013 12:33 pm (UTC)
It's not over-cynical - one of the reasons the state of MD gave for wanting to ease up on their zero-tolerance policies is because the policies seemed to target children of color and children with special needs much more than white children and children who were not in special needs programs.
archanglrobriel 5th-Jan-2013 03:27 pm (UTC)
Nailed it in one. That's what I was thinking too.
caterfree10 5th-Jan-2013 05:27 am (UTC)
This feels so damn awkward to me, but it kind of feels like how some fans understand villains in fiction (and DON'T excuse the actions of, I've met way too many fans who do DX). Hell, talk to me for any length of time and it'll probably come up how some of my favorite characters ARE villains and how I understand their actions. Would I ever condone their world destroying pursuits? Hell fuck no. But considering some of their absolutely shitty backgrounds, I sure as hell can't blame them for becoming villains.

I'll use my personal favorites for examples: Sephiroth and Genesis from the Final Fantasy VII compilation. Both are villains in the series and had clear reasons as to why they went down the "fuck this shit, everyone DIES" path. In Crisis Core: FFVII, Genesis ends up learning that, because he was experimented on as a baby as part of one of the two branches of the Jenova Project and, due to being a failed experiment, is now basically rotting away and there's nothing anyone can do about it. In response, he decides to wage a war against the Shinra company and take the world with him in his desperate search to cure himself. Do I condone Genesis' actions, including but not limited to involving the use of copies of himself to cause death and destruction along the way and attacking innocent people who had nothing to do with Shinra? Hell no, but I still can understand his reasoning for his rage even if I don't fully agree with it or what he does with it.

Sephiroth's story is far more well known; raised by a madman of a scientist, sent to a war when he's estimated to be in his teens (I don't think even the Ultimania timeline's clear on his age when the Wutai war starts :Va), getting close to only two people only to have them leave upon learning they're scientific experiments (one of whom is the aformentioned Genesis), and finally learning that the person he thought was his mother is actually a monsterlike creature and that he himself was created solely to be a living weapon, yeah I can definitely understand why Sephiroth said "fuck humanity" and started with burning a village to the ground and lead up to trying to destroy the Planet with a Meteor, even if I don't agree with his decisions in the least.

I guess what I'm trying to say in my weird roundabout way is, that while I certainly don't understand what made the Sandy Hook shooter kill all those innocent people, I can understand why someone else might seeing as I can understand other evil (in quotes?) people who did shitty things, even if it's through the lens of fiction.

yeah, I'm already prepared for a shitfest in my inbox because I know I probably said something wrong somewhere, I'm just gonna go hide in fanfiction now, kthxbai. *poofs*
archanglrobriel 5th-Jan-2013 03:26 pm (UTC)
What, what WHAt? Man the battle stations! Sound the free thought alarm! We can't have students showing any sort of understanding of complicated social issues or an appreciation for nuance, much less empathy and compassion for those we are demanding only be depicted as heads on spikes. Why, if we let this kind of thing go on, we might actually end up with a nation that believes in providing some kind of mental health care and societal support to disturbed individuals BEFORE they go shooting up elementary schools! It'll be socialism and caring is sharing messages, extensions of tolerance, compassion and hippie lovefests! What kind of society is THAT? ! Off with her head! Off with her head! We'll ride that young lady out of town on a rail!
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