Friday, October 21, 2011

Who's Behind The Trigger?

Photo by Jim Kuhn, "Crime Scene, Do Not Cross" tape at The United States Supreme Court during the January 27, 2007, march on Washington D.C.

“And it all comes true.
Yes it all comes true.
Like a wheel inside a wheel, it turns on you.
And you ask, what have I done?
What can I do?
What you believe about yourself,
it all comes true.”
— John Mellencamp and George Michael Green

Last night, Doug and I were having a “48 Hours” fest, watching several of the reality crime shows back-to-back. We do this three or four times a year — I have no idea why. Maybe, for me, because it reminds me of the days I was a crime reporter — anyone who’s done that work can tell you, it’s the same all over. Big city, small town, detectives and criminals operate about exactly the same. It feels like going back to an old territory I know, and I can almost feel that small reporter’s notebook in my hand, as I watch. Anyway, Doug and I both lamented that the proportion of poor, black men who find themselves on this show seems too high, and then we nodded sadly. That’s probably pretty consistent with real life. Doug considered that white people’s murders might be less likely to be solved in 48 hours. The burden of proof changes when you’ve got money for an attorney.

And then out of my mouth it came: “What you believe about yourself, it all comes true.”  

“I’m never entirely sure what you mean, when you say that,” Doug said.

On the episode we were watching, the age-old crime reveal:  a double murder had begun as a “simple” armed robbery. Really, it was no lie, I think it rarely is — when the robbers jumped out of their hiding place, nobody was supposed to be shot. But pow pow pow pow — their guns went off and in an instant, their plans morphed into something else entirely.

“What those men believe about themselves,” I said. “That’s what pulled the triggers. They had one vision in their heads, of how the robbery would go down. Nobody was supposed to get killed, anyway — they saw themselves as armed robbers, not murderers. But unconsciously, they’d written a different story for themselves. Like a wheel inside a wheel …”

I did not get the impression my explanation was all that helpful. If we'd continued, Doug probably would have asked if I was trying to make a statement about “personal responsibility.” Was I saying they had a responsibility, to think of themselves differently? To get a handle on their unconscious selves? That they had some control over the circumstances of poverty and black skin? To which I would have said, Oh noooo. What people believe about themselves has everything to do with what the rest of the world believes about them. I am a huge proponent of personal responsibility, but people have to have better tools than guns, poverty, poor educations and bad expectations, to take it.

But you know, we were watching television, it’s not really time for chit-chat. On we went, to the next episode. Drug deal gone bad. Poor, black man is taken into custody. Detectives are questioning him, getting a little family history, which they hope to use to soften him up, get him to talk. “What about your father?” they asked.

“My father already done been killed.”

Like father, like son, kill and be killed. The story never ends. Maybe until we all create a new belief system about who we are.


  1. "Better tools..." Now THAT was a REAL and profound statement if I ever heard one.

    These days, a democrat is an ex-republican lamenting, "I never thought it could happen to ME..."

  2. And next, 99 percent of us need to lament the 1 percent pulling the puppet strings on "Republican" and "Democrat" alike. Speaking of armed robbery ... (For example, if you control health care for anyone who's dying, you ARE armed.)

  3. When engaging in most activities, we follow scripts and 'ad lib' as we go. Not ever having robbed somebody, I can only guess that the robber must see their behavior as justifiable.

    Maybe this or that person didn't deserve having more than me. Or, this or the other person has so much, they can spare some extra for me. Perhaps, just one quick score and I'll never do it again; I just want to start a new life.

    Without exception, the foregoing is self-justifying, the devil be damned. Somewhere, the robber has to have scripted that they will not 'go down' before their 'legitimate' target goes down. It may not have been consciously thought but has to be part of the scripting.

    Such was my upbringing that the few times I ever asked a girl for a date, my internal script was simply that this (I) was HOPELESS, and rejection was imminent. It always turned out that way.

    As an adult, that fear carried over. I have to believe that if my wife hadn't pursued me, I may yet be seeking the unattainable. That she did find in me that certain "je nous sais quoi," helped me rewrite the script.

    "...What you believe about yourself,
    it all comes true.”

    When raised to believe you have no worth, unless an alternative exception proves otherwise, there is no reason not to believe it. This occurs at the family level and, in some instances, at the societal level (with familial reinforcement).

    Societal media tends to reinforce and BE reinforced by the very stories, and public responses to the stories, they publish. Sensationalism begets the sensational.

    There is no easy task in making the distinction between people who are either innately criminalistic or engaged in bad self-scripting.

    This is even more true when the "crime" has no truly identifiable victim. E.g., Georgia (and other states) had laws against various forms of sexual activity between consenting adults in their own homes. As with witches, a pissed off neighbor needed only point and accuse.

    The question of where to begin, and how to begin, to help individuals, and (deceptive) categories of people, to reframe who they are, is an affront. Why a disproportionate number of minorities are incarcerated is given lip service, but not thoroughly studied.

    Similarly, the negative economic effect of Legislative-enhanced, Supreme Court-enabled, unbridled-wealth-run-amok deserves to be closely scrutinized and balanced.

    The true re-building of character and assigning of worth must be reclaimed by the wronged and publically asserted by the offending class of character thieves. How our society has devolved to this, remains unpardonably unasked.

  4. Thank you for that, 1000 Yard Stare! I was afraid I hadn't explained well enough. And "Legislative-enhanced, Supreme Court-enabled, unbridled-wealth-run-amok" -- I may memorize that as a mantra!