A young man named James Holmes allegedly shot and killed 12 and injured 58 people in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, Friday morning, July 20, 2012. He also set explosive booby traps in his apartment that was designed to kill any first responders. At his hearing in court on Monday, this young man with bright red and orange hair appeared dazed, detached, staring down most of the time, his eyes sometimes bugging out wide, sometimes nearly closed. The district attorney said investigators were still poring over an enormous amount of evidence. But one of the most important evidences that they will not find or report was right in front of them—James was alone and without connections to any group of friends or supportive community. How else could he have planned all this without anyone noticing?
Two days before the shooting, Wednesday, I took my Summer Training Institute class to Homeboy Industries for a tour. At 9 am, the lobby and the stairway to the second floor offices were full of young men and women, most of whom had tattoos on their shaved heads, necks, and arms. Even though my group stood out with our middle-class clean-cut attires, everyone welcomed us with smiles and warm greetings. I realized I had no fear even though I was standing in a room full of ex-gang members and most of them were ex-convicts. Who knew how many firearms were held in their hands and how many senseless deaths their eyes had witnessed. Someone announced the activities of the day, which included anger management, computer lab, addiction support group, parenting skills, etc. It was someone’s birthday; so we sang “happy birthday.” Someone yelled from the stairway, “I got a job!” Someone else asked, “In what?” “Security,” he replied with pride. Everybody applauded. Someone gave a talk that sounded a lot like a sermon about the “underdog.” Someone prayed and off they went to do the work of the day.
Our tour guide, Richard, told us that he just got out of federal prison 16 months ago. He knew Fr. Greg Boyles, the founder of Homeboy Industries, some 14 years before when he was a teenager. He told us that he was in and out of prisons for those 14 years and finally decided to set foot in Homeboy Industries to get his tattoos removed. That began his connection to this warm, loving, supportive and disciplined community. Through his recovery program, Fr. Greg noticed that Richard was very articulate when he talked with visitors. He invited him to learn to do public speaking to become a motivational speaker. I was amazed at the transformation that Richard must have gone through in such a short time all because he is now connected with a community with persistent people like Fr. Greg who will not let him go over a period of 14 years.
It is ironic that James Holmes selected to carry out this horrifying act at a Batman movie, which is about a lone technologically enhanced hero who fights equally isolated villains who commit horrible crimes. Obviously this individualistic approach to stopping crime is not working. There are talks that James actually identifies with the villains who kept getting away for most of the movie until the very end.
So what will stop this kind of senseless killing? Education is not the answer because James is a very well educated man. Beefing up security is not the answer; we can’t run our theaters like our airports. “See something, say something” does not work either. Holding up lonely fictional crime fighters like Batman certainly is not the answer. James’ red hair and Richard’s tattoos are self-inflicted marks of isolation and separation. The difference between James and Richard is that Richard finally found a community of people who want to know him and be his friends. So, the answer to stopping these senseless killings is to provide loving, challenging, steady, disciplined communities that position themselves on the margin of society to catch and hang on to those on the way to dropping out.
Invite members of your community to gather and explore the importance of supportive communities:
Reflection Questions for Proper 12 (Year B)
2 Kings 4:42-44
Eric H. F. Law
For competent leadership in a diverse changing world
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