"Your children are not safe anywhere, at any time." So wrote the mid-Atlantic sniper in the note he left investigators at the Richmond-area Ponderosa.
Screw the children. My first thought is that the note's a little off. I am not safe anywhere, any time.
Is that salient fact any less true than the message the sniper left on paper for investigators to discover? The real message, the one he seems to be giving by killing ten adults in addition to wounding one kid, is that he's willing to pull the trigger on just about anyone.
You would think that would be enough to whip the region into a panic -- and it has -- but it never really went into overdrive until "the children" were called on stage.
Consider the October 7 shooting of the 13-year-old at Maryland's Benjamin Tasker Middle School, the only child among the sniper's growing list of victims. That shooting changed the whole dynamic.
"All of our victims have been innocent, have been defenseless," a tearful Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose told one interviewer. "But now we're stepping over the line."
On Fox News, a former defense attorney was asked if he could defend the sniper, assuming the killer's ever brought to trial. He had defended all sorts of swine in his time, but the counselor didn't think long before answering. Considering the sniper had just shot a child, he said, he just didn't think his conscience would allow it.
Am I missing something? Sure, the sniper winged a kid on his way into school. But by that point he had also killed six innocent adults, who had been engaging in similarly mundane tasks like pumping gas or sitting on a bench. By some perverse logic in our culture, children's lives are deemed to be more worthy of consideration than adults'.
This notion has plenty of manifestations, not the least of which is Whitney Houston's preposterous warbling on her insipid "The Greatest Love of All": "I believe that children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way."
Then there's Marian Wright Edelman's Children's Defense Fund, which has exploited children for nearly 20 years in an attempt to drive a left-wing political agenda.
And let's not forget the worst offender of all -- UNICEF, which promises eerie-sounding things like "A Global Movement for Children." Earlier this year UNICEF sponsored a special United Nations Session on Children. Representatives of the world's great dictatorships spewed Whitney-esque pabulum. (Robert Mugabe: "Children are every nation's tomorrow and the nature and quality of that future is dependent on how they are nurtured by their families, the schools they attend and by society in general.")
More than this, they used it as another platform to excoriate the United States and Western culture. In the name of "the children."
Of course, we have no one to blame but ourselves. There is something in American culture today that buys into the notion put forth by Teburoro Tito of Kiribati (no, that is not a joke), who told the assembled heads of state, "Children represent the best, the purest and the loveliest part of humanity in every family, village, and society."
And the sniper is using this in his mind games with police and with the greater Washington, D.C. area. Schools are being shuttered, homecomings and football games are being canceled -- all to protect the children.
His note had the desired effect. "Until today, I did not feel as scared as I am now," one mother told the New York Times. "This is telling me that the children are now really at risk."
This is telling you that? You couldn't have figured that out before?
Perhaps the note could be interpreted to mean that his next targets will be children. Or it might just be to say that all of us -- children as well as adults -- are vulnerable.
Still, while it's understandable that parents are worried about their own children, it's slightly odd that in general we place children on a sort of pedestal. Children are merely future adults, after all. There is nothing special or intrinsic to children entitling them to any extra consideration in the eyes of the law, or even in the eyes of popular opinion.
Are the adults who have perished at the hands of the serial sniper any less deserving of our sympathy, or any less worthy of our grief? Were their murders any more sensible than the attempted slaughter of the 13-year-old student? That's the implication in Chief Moose's remarks. Killing a half dozen people is pretty bad, but shooting a child? Hey, now that's beyond the pale.
But exactly why is not clear.
All sorts of mysteries have arisen during the sniper spree. In time most probably will be solved, and we can go back to our normal existences. But this mysterious hypersensitivity to "the children," often at the expense of trivializing others' lives, probably won't. That's hardly a legacy we should leave our children.
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