District 3 Blog
One week later
Now one week from the fatal shooting in our own backyard, many of us are finding solace and closure in our neighbors, friends, and in our strong community.
Naturally, we want to reach for reasons which help us put distance between ourselves and something so shocking and sad but I challenge us to be the strong community we are and dig deep in our analysis of what happened a week ago tonight. We may not like what it says about our community or our society, but in a democracy must keep questioning and keep analyzing in order to move forward. I warn you that this blog post will be uncomfortable-it was uncomfortable to write it for sure-but we need to ask ourselves tough questions in the face of tragedy.
I invite you to join me in recapping what we know from the perpetrator and the those close to the case:
- Caroline and the perp had a workplace friendship. The perp (I am deliberately not using his name, as he doesn't deserve our attention), wanted a romantic relationship with Caroline and pestered her about it in their workplace, Metro Market
- Caroline rejected his advances and reported his unprofessional behavior to store management. Perpetrator was subsequently suspended from the store and understood his suspension to be akin to termination.
- Perpetrator had previously suffered depression including an alleged suicide attempt. He had also been housing insecure, which is to say he had experienced an episode of homelessness at one point in the past.
- After essentially losing his job and looking at the potential for impending homelessness, perpetrator believed his life was over. He purchased a handgun the same day he learned of his employment status. There is no longer a mandatory 48 hour waiting period for a gun purchase in the state of Wisconsin.
- The next day he approached Caroline in employee parking lot as her shift ended and shot her once in the stomach and once in the head, killing her.
As I have listened to neighbors and store employees process out these details, one thing I continue to hear is, "apparently there were mental health issues," and "he had that suicide attempt, he wasn't right in the head."
I hear and understand what neighbors are saying here because of course we want to label the perpetrator's actions as "crazy." In doing so, we can put this incident in a box and put it away. Maybe that makes us feel safer. Maybe that's easier. If that is what you need to do right now, of course we don't judge that.
But, when you're ready, I challenge each of us to examine what we're saying when we say that the perpetrator's previous suicide attempt was at the root of the murder. Are we saying that our neighbors with mental health struggles are more dangerous to us, more likely to be murderers, than our well-adjusted neighbors? I hope not, for that's untrue. Mental health issues are an aspect of an individual. Virtually all people who commit mass shootings in America are white, does that mean that, based solely on our skin color, caucasians are more likely to be murderers? Of course not.
You may be thinking, "ok maybe mental health wasn't the whole story but wasn't it a factor?"
It may have been. It is probably fair to say that with proper help and care the perpetrator would have felt less desperate upon losing his job. But perhaps not. It is worth noting that he, and millions of other individuals who suffer from mental health issues in the U.S., did not have the access to care that he needed. But to simply chalk this up to mental health misses the larger factors.
Violence against women is an epidemic in every city in America, yes even here. Somehow our nation's sons feel entitled to our nation's daughters. This results in tragedy after tragedy and it will continue to do so until we confront the issue.
As we know in this case, the perpetrator wanted to pursue a romance with Caroline. He felt justified not only in pursuing her outside of work, but in the workplace as well. We don't know how pervasive his behavior was but it was pervasive enough that Caroline reported it. After being suspended/terminated for his behavior, the perpetrator felt so angry at Caroline for her action that he wanted to kill her. He wasn't angry at himself, nor have police interviews showed that he accepted any responsibility for his dismissal. Instead, he felt angry about being reported.
This shows he felt justified in making repeated romantic advances on a female colleague, so justified that he thought it was ok to do in the workplace. It is entirely disrespectful of another person to refuse 'no' for an answer, and further disrespectful/inappropriate to think it is ok to make someone uncomfortable in the workplace. The only explanation is that the perpetrator didn't really think of Caroline as a person in the same way that he was. Sadly, this made it much easier for him to take her life, after which he was quoted as saying "it was easy to kill [Caroline]" because "she ruined my life."
As though this terrible instance were not enough, each week we see news of women killed, or raped, or both, by men who feel entitled to their attention, bodies, and lives. Far too many men of all ages and social and economic backgrounds think that women aren't, when you get right down to it, people. And it has nothing to do with mental health. I challenge all of us to think hard about Caroline and why she is no longer here and to take a look at the societal norms we each perpetuate. Each of us has a responsibility to ensure that we are doing all we can to create the standard that women's bodies are their own, and that their lives are important.
Another factor we simply cannot ignore in this fatal shooting was how easy it was for the perpetrator to get a gun. Wisconsin repealed its 48 hour waiting period on handgun sales last year. The perpetrator learned of his termination and was able to buy a handgun that same day and murder someone the next day.
What does it say about us that in Madison, it's easier to get a gun than an apartment?
I have heard from a few of our neighbors that there ought to be a list of individuals with mental health issues and that those people should not be allowed guns. While this appears logical on its face, it's important to keep a few things in mind. Firstly, the perpetrator in this case did not kill Caroline because he had had a previous suicide attempt, he killed her because he felt entitled to her and her life. Secondly, Americans with mental health issues are still Americans. If owning a gun is an inalienable right for Americans, having a personal health issue does not make someone less of an American such that society can take away that right. Thirdly, if someone is suffering from mental health issues and wants to reach out for help, but knows that if he does he'll be branded and have his rights denied, it is unlikely he will reach out for that help. While we want a logical and easy fix to this issue, we need to stay conscious of the potential ramifications of our ideas. Simply making a "no gun sales" list of everyone who has needed help at one point in their lives will not actually keep our communities any safer.
Finally, members of our community are asking an important question about police involvement in this case. Before I get into that question, I want to be clear that every single one of us applauds the quick, effective, tireless, and intelligent work of our police department in handling this tragedy and in capturing the perpetrator. While we are tremendously thankful and feel safer in our community knowing that our east district police officers are working hard for us, we can and should still ask questions about how the police do their jobs. Someone asked me last week, "why is [perpetrator] still alive when he was armed and fired on police, while Tony Robinson didn't have a weapon and is dead?"
Some of us may instinctively want to point out all the various way in which this case was much different than the one a year ago. It makes us more comfortable to do that and ignore where our neighbors might be at. But let's pause a moment and recognize that we have neighbors who are asking this question, neighbors who don't feel the same level of security and comfort from police presence that I do. It is worth truly recognizing this reality rather than quickly brushing it off with details about how the situations are different.
The perpetrator is still alive today because of a dynamic fast-moving situation and frankly, dumb luck. He fired on one of our police officers and the officer returned fire. Our officers do not fire their pistols unless they intend to bring deadly force, so the officer did intend to hit and stop the perpetrator. He was not hit, but he just as easily could have been. That's an important fact. As the police department completes their investigation and more facts are released, we can and should examine the facts. In the meantime, I am relieved that nobody, officer, bystander, or perpetrator was shot during the perpetrator's capture.
Well neighbors, we all have a lot to think about. We've walked through some really uncomfortable facts together throughout this post and I thank you for sticking with me. I'm not okay with what happened in our neighborhood, and I'm not okay with what it says about our city. I know you aren't either. Let's stay engaged, keep thinking critically, and find ways to address and change things in our community and our society. We are a strong community-strong enough to recognize our weaknesses. And to change them.
Amanda M-M Hall
Alder, District 3
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