That means you. Every person, of every vocation and religious affiliation, on every side of every polarizing issue needs to condemn and reject violence in any form, for any reason; loudly, publicly and today.
Why Do People Kill?
It is not a rhetorical question.
I started investigating this terrible mystery many years ago. It is not, as you might think, unanswerable.
There is a definite answer. And you won’t like it.
If you care to study the subject, and I hope you have a strong constitution if you do, you will arrive at the same foregone conclusion I did. The answer will be staring you in the face. There is no shortage of facts and information, either. Brace yourself.
This is the information age. Here, we have an overwhelming deluge of meticulously collected, rigorously analyzed and key-word searchable data about who commits mass murders, serial murders and other acts of terrorism and why.
Killers love to talk about their crimes.
Those who are taken alive are treated to the myriad attentions of federal law enforcement agencies. They are subjected to a barrage of psychologists, psychoanalysts and behaviorists wielding a battery of tests. Experts spend thousands of hours listening to, recording, analyzing, cross-referencing and comparing every detail of unspeakable crimes, lovingly described by the perpetrators themselves.
And that is to say nothing of the journalists, true crime writers, and plain, old-fashioned rubberneckers who write to famous killers in prison. They write asking for interviews, they write asking for details, they write looking for love.
The NightStalker, who raped and murdered as many as 90 women in California before he was finally caught had his own letterhead in prison, he was so popular.
Doctors perform tests on incarcerated mass murderers. Scientists study their brains and bodies after they die. Personal histories are examined in detail, families are interviewed, medical records and school records pondered over.
We know everything about them.
We also know our observations are changing what is being observed.
And not in a good way.
You look into the abyss; the abyss looks into you.
It was at this point, I knew had to give up my academic investigation into why people kill. And a whole lot more. Three reasons:
- The people who commit these crimes revel in the attention. It helps them relive the experience over and over again.
- The people who commit these crimes are inspired by, and enjoy very much, explicit media violence in its many forms. That includes fiction, and the non-fictional accounts given by other murderers.
I had to give up my investigation into violence because my investigation was driving more violence.
I had to give up violent media as well, and for the same reason.
My studies had revealed a terrible truth, far worse than the esoteric ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ answer I’d been expecting. Worse than the nightmares.
Answer: People Kill Because of Me
Spree killers want an audience: I give it them.
Only by virtue of my curiosity, my macabre demand for every gory detail, does the killer have his captive audience.
I won’t find out more than I need to know about the most recent killings in New Zealand. But that’s only because I know too much about the 85 people killed in an attack on a youth camp in 2011. That perpetrator wrote an absurdly long manifesto, dozens of survivors have given harrowing first-hand accounts of that terrible day.
Because of me, that mass killer got a bigger stage and brighter spotlight; both to relive his crimes and victimize anew. Bearing witness to these terrible stories, carrying the detailed knowledge (see, nightmares), is an assault on the mind, on society.
Because of me, he got to amplify his message, spreading his illness farther afield, emboldening and inspiring others who have indeed followed.
Now, let me be perfectly clear:
Killers kill because they are killers.
People like the man who killed 49 people at two mosques in New Zealand recently would have killed someone else if people of the Muslim faith hadn’t drawn his murderous fixation.
I’m not saying Islamaphobia isn’t dangerous, it is. So is anti-Semitism. We should condemn hatred and intolerance in any form and fight to stamp it out. But that will take time.
I’m also not claiming guns aren’t a problem; they are. Stricter gun-control laws are a great idea, though 3D printing technology may soon make such laws even more unenforceable than they are now. Gun control takes time, too.
You can stop paying for stylized and glorified violence right now.
In the pre-internet days someone like the New Zealand perpetrator might have stopping at killing his mother and father. Or a woman who rejected him.
This is something that reasonable people who aren’t killers get wrong about people who kill, especially about the perpetrators of hate crimes:
Hate doesn’t drive them to kill. The urge to kill drives them to hate.
They will always find someone. They will find some reason.
If the Norway mass murderer hadn’t selected youths attending a conservative camp out, he would have chosen someone else; his cheating wife, his boss who fired him, his co-workers who gossip about him, prostitutes who are destroying the fabric of society. Bankers who are stealing his money. Young punks who are stealing from his yard. Immigrants invading his country.
You get the picture.
How do we know? Say the killer manages to eliminate his hated target, does he then become normal and stop killing? Of course not. He would just find someone else, because killing is the point, not hate.
Someone who can be perceived as “other” is always the best candidate. To Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, his victims weren’t even human. He really and truly didn’t think anyone would notice or care if he murdered women working in the sex trade.
What my attention does is turn a killer into a more ambitious killer.
Killing to make a public statement is just a more open-ended, all-purpose excuse for mayhem.
Mayhem is what killers really thrive upon; not just the act of murder itself, but the aftermath, the upheaval, the fear it inflicts on the families of the victims, in communities and society.
Observe how many serial killers taunt police and confess repeatedly to newspapers, how many revel in news coverage of their crimes. Kidnappers and killers of children are notorious for calling the families of their victims, sometimes toying with them for years and even decades.
Now some enterprising killer has forged a new path for others, killing 49 people and wounding an entire generation who will remember where they were when the first gun massacre was live-streamed on facebook.
And he did what he did the way he did it because we put people who bomb the finish line of the Boston Marathon on the cover of the Rolling Stone.
Killers are inspired by violent media: I create a market for it.
When I read “Helter Skelter” or watch the new Netflix series glorifying the crimes of Ted Bundy, I create a world in which a first-hand account of a terrifying mass murder, or a serial killer’s personal diary, or better, body-cam video footage of an actual gun rampage in real time, is very valuable.
It isn’t just true crime. Where do you think the progenitor of your favorite piece of media-glorified violence got their inspiration?
I have heard a prolific serial killer refer in an interview to a specific, and specifically disturbing, scene of violence from a book that I myself had read. This wasn’t some obscure bit of yellowing slasher fiction, it wasn’t true crime; I read it in a bestselling James Patterson book called “Kiss the Girls” which was so popular, it was made into a movie starring Morgan Freeman.
The specifically disturbing scene was omitted from the film version.
I could still enjoy the odd Thomas Harris novel if I could still pretend some would-be mass murdering serial killer isn’t using it to embolden himself.
But he is; so I can't.
You don’t like racism? You don’t buy racist media. At least, you shouldn’t. You don’t like bigotry, you don’t consume products promoting bigotry.
If violence in our society bothers you, and it should, we must stop creating such a demand for violence. We must stop creating a market for murder and mayhem. We must stop obliquely encouraging killers among us to aspire to higher and higher body counts and levels of depravity.
We Must Say No to Violence
All of us.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)