Monday, December 19, 2011
Broken Snow Globe
In the days leading up to the Christmas holiday, the very time of the year when we're told to be of good cheer and spread peace on earth, the snow globe our little community supposedly exists in broke. On Thursday afternoon, there was a shooting at the local courthouse. The shooting comes as a stark contrast to how our community projects itself to the world. Nestled between deep forest and the shores of the Lake Superior, our community is marketed shamelessly as "the nearest slice of heaven", the idyllic community where you can escape the stress, bustle, and madness of your everyday existence.
But for the last few days, our small community has been an epicenter of madness. Within moments of the shooting, the area news crews were in transient to town. Just three hours after the shooting, googling "Cook County courthouse shooting" resulted in 156 news stories. For a county with just over 5000 year-round residents, 156 of anything is a lot.
In a nutshell, here's what happened: On Monday last week, the local courthouse began a jury trial of a man accused of criminal sexual conduct against three teenage girls. The county attorney was prosecuting. The charges were first made back in 2006 and 2007, but because the accused first entered into an Alford plea which he then retracted, the trial finally happened some 4-5 years after the fact. On Thursday, shortly after 4 p.m., the jury found him guilty.
This is when the questions begin. Did the accused have the gun when the verdict was read? Did he go out to his vehicle when he was getting his supposed "breath of air" after the verdict was read and retrieve the weapon then? We don't know.
We do know that shortly after the verdict was read, the accused (and now suspect) shoot both a subpoenaed witness and the county attorney. In the ensuing struggle to restrain the man, a few others were bruised and injured. The man was eventually placed in custody. Everyone is expected to make a full recovery.
Although it appears the event was saved from the true tragedy of death, this is still a traumatic event that will have far reaching effects. No doubt, this will effect victims of the original case, the accused/shooter, the shooting victims, and anyone in anyway involved with the aftermath of shooting. Beyond those immediately affected will be the family and friends of those involved. Ripples of this event will be felt through the entire community. I suspect many courthouse employees will struggle to return to work tomorrow, the first day the courthouse will be open since the shooting.
In this small community, everyone's paths crisscross and tangle. As evidence of just how close knit our community is, my uncle was called for jury duty for this trial but was not sat because of upcoming medical procedures he needs to attend to.
Now that the details of what exactly happened have been hammered out, I believe the community will long be stuck on these questions: How could this happen here? What can we do to prevent this from happening again?
Violence springs from many places: oppression, depression, desperation, madness, just to name a few. A dialogue focused only on pointing fingers will get us nowhere if we're to make progress with understanding this crime. Should there have been metal detectors in the courthouse? Probably. Could the case have been handled in a way that reduced the bad feelings that sprang forth? Maybe. Probably not.
We can't change the violence that happened. But we owe it to everyone in the community to enter into a dialogue about our community's attitude towards violence. We can no longer cover our ears and act as though bad things don't occur here. Violence does occur here.
This snow globe's not going to be glued back together anytime soon. For now, we must stride boldly out of the broken bubble to work towards changing the courthouse's safety precautions, better educating our community about the realities of violence, and taking care of all those hurt and affected by last week's event.