A root cause to troubling violence

In explaining Monday's tragedy, we cannot ignore the economic reality in Red Lake, Minn.

I first heard about Monday’s Red Lake, Minn., shooting not from local radio or television news, but from the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Web site – their top story at the time.

The shots fired in one of the most remote parts of our state were heard – and will continue to echo – worldwide as another cold-blooded act of school violence.

Red Lake will undoubtedly continue to be sieged by the media trying to pin down every little detail of the massacre. Hopefully, they will also give us a closer look into the severe economic conditions on the Red Lake Reservation.

This attention is long overdue – especially with all of the recent talk over competing with American Indians tribes for casino money. More importantly, deep thought must be put into how this kind of violence can happen.

The inevitable outcry of “How could this happen?” is more approachable in Red Lake than it was at Columbine High School in Colorado. Unlike the shooting in suburban Colorado, the shooting in Red Lake was in one of the most poverty-stricken parts of the country – our own back yard! The brutal numbers coming from the reservation speak for themselves and sound like a third world situation:

The reservation has around a 50 percent unemployment rate, four in five students are under the government’s poverty level to receive free and reduced-priced lunches and Red Lake High School had the state’s third-worst test scores in 10th-grade reading last year.

Monday night, in an assigned reading for class, I finished reading Hannah Arendt’s “On Violence.” This coincidence with the shooting was something I haven’t taken lightly – I don’t think Arendt’s relevance in this context would let me.

She argues, “Violence appears where power is in jeopardy.” She also points out that the “glorification of violence is caused by severe frustration of the faculty of action in the modern world.”

In other words, when you take away my ability to act or make me feel hopeless to change my poor condition, violence appears to be one of my only means to change my situation.

From a 240-mile distance, it seems the situation in Red Lake could definitely cause people to feel helpless in the face of the harsh poverty. Of course, the adolescent shooter wasn’t thinking in socioeconomic terms when he decided on his violent course. He was, however, likely feeling helplessness and anger that resulted, at very least in part, from his circumstances.

It seems we see more and of these violent acts all over the world – terrorist strikes, bloody school takeovers and attacks on our soldiers in Iraq. But as we scream “Why?” we need to at least acknowledge the conditions under which these people are living. As international corporations continue consolidating money and power unchecked, the ever-increasing gap between the richest and poorest – in our own state and around the world – continues to make people feel helpless.

Like this tragedy in Red Lake, the reality is that often times it takes violence to get our attention. We see people calling for help before the violence. If not, it seems things will just get worse. Arendt warns, “The practice of violence, like all action, changes the world, but the most probable change is to a more violent world.”

Dan Miller is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]