Real problems

One of my students was a witness to the police shooting that took place here at UC Berkeley on Tuesday. He came to see me during office hours, and we had a long discussion about the horrible event. He said the man who was shot and killed by police was a student he had taken a class with last semester, a rather quiet and sullen young man. The information he had heard was that the young man was a security guard, and the gun he pulled out of his backpack was the one he had been issued at work. It is unclear if the police over-reacted in terms of shooting him when he did not immediately drop his weapon. It could have been that the student simply was sitting down to do some lab work and wanted to have the gun where he could see it, instead of in his backpack; he should have known however that bringing guns onto campus is not allowed. So in that sense it seems more likely that the student might have thought Tuesday--when demonstrations were going on and most of the classes cancelled--would be a good day to carry out some sort of shooting. Students have been known to commit suicide during finals week, or go on shooting rampages. So it is hard to say what the truth is.

Although my student seemed pretty calm about the whole thing, he also seemed more aggressive and uptight than he had been before. I am sure witnessing an event like that makes a person feel out of control, and puts them very much on edge. He could smell the gun powder and heard the shots, saw the cops rushing around. The whole thing must have been disorienting and upsetting. Plus it turns out he knew the student who was killed, and although they were not friends, no one thinks about students loosing their lives. The kids here are just supposed to be starting their lives.

I heard a report from a community activist who works with gang members, and he said that for gang members, there is a whole range of terminology around shootings. They make distinctions between being at a shooting versus being shot at, for instance, like the way Eskimos are said to make distinctions about snow. But for most of us, we never do experience any sort of gun related violence in our lives, and cannot imagine just what that is like.

I think I will be careful about using gun related metaphors, like taking aim, pulling the trigger, taking a shot, finding the golden bullet. None of that seems so innocent any more.

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