The Pastor’s Pen: June 9, 2019

Workplace killings in the United States have become an all too common phenomena. Too often, persons who are aggrieved by some mistreatment take up their feelings of hopelessness by violently striking out at those with whom they have had a working experience. Obviously, it is senseless and inexplicable, how taking out one’s rage on colleagues seems justified, even when those targeted have had little if anything to do with the grievance.

The recent shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia seems to defy the dominant wisdom that the rage that escalates into violent actions is an attempt to get even for some perceived wrong. At the time of this writing, there was no evidence that the shooter in Virginia Beach had been dismissed, reprimanded, or even had experienced some sort of prejudice. All the reports suggest that the man who perpetrated the killing did so with seemingly no provocation at all. This leads to the startling and frightening realization that there are some people who have mental difficulties that far too long have gone undiagnosed. Mental illness in our society remains a taboo and is often subject to a “no discussion rule” within families and communities. It has been reported that the killer in Virginia Beach had exhibited some troubling behavior that coworkers and family had just dismissed as odd. However, in a society with the proliferation of guns and their easy availability, odd behavior should never be taken lightly. This does not mean that we ought to become hyper vigilant or paranoid when people seem a touch out of step with societal norms, neither does it mean that when behaviors are observed that are troubling, those behaviors should be reported without fear of being dismissed as overly sensitive or paranoid.

African-Americans have too often been targets for our cultural uniquenesses that the majority culture sees as threatening. Yet, certain behavioral oddities are warnings about anyone regardless of race class or gender. Although it may seem a cliché, history has shown that certain psychological behaviors such as being a loaner with very little social interaction, is too often an indicator of sudden and violent acts. There is a world of difference between wearing a baseball cap backwards or donning a unique hair cut or color and an avoidance of society, coupled with an unwillingness to participate in normal and polite conversation.

Having said this, we are quite aware that people come with all sorts of divergent personalities. Everyone is not gregarious and outgoing, but lack of social interaction coupled with angry defensiveness is behavior that must not be shrugged off. This is a difficult topic; we make no pretense of possessing any secret knowledge of the mysteries of the human psyche. We do, however, need to be unafraid to sound the alarm when people in our communities exhibit certain antisocial behavior. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” — a sentiment often attributed to Thomas Jefferson although the actual author is unknown — remains a timely and relevant counsel in our increasingly violent society. When you see someone acting strangely, be sure to report it before the behavior escalates into something much more tragic.