Witholding Judgment After a Weekend of Shootings

By Julianne Hing Apr 06, 2009

After hearing about the Binghamton shooting on Friday, I knew I did not want to turn on the TV all weekend. I didn’t want to sink into a blood-soaked stupor of non-stop updates about the story. And once I found out the shooter was a man of Asian descent, I actually did slump over in my chair. "Not again," I thought. I’ve written about Asian and Asian American men and well-publicized acts of violence before. Jiverly Wong entered the American Civic Association, an immigrant services center in upstate New York, on Friday morning and killed thirteen students. He was freshly laid off, ridiculed for his poor English, with a known affinity for guns and a criminal record. He wore a bulletproof vest and carried enough ammunition to last him through a gun battle with police, but turned his gun on himself at the end. We know this. But I need to insist, even as I struggle to type the words, on remembering his humanity. I cannot understand the psychology that leads a person to try to solve their problems by barricading a building and turning a gun on others. But I feel very deeply like I can understand the isolation and desperation that comes when you run out of options to support yourself, when you’re pushed to the margins for your inability to communicate in the way society expects. It was cowardly, but his were also the actions of someone not in their right mind. To blindly villainize Wong is to neglect the larger questions we need to be addressing to prevent these sorts of incidents in the future. Foremost in my mind is the impact that this recession has had on people of color, and the backwards stimulus Congress has inserted into the country. We need mental health services that are accessible for non-English speakers. (And while we’re at it let’s make basic mental health services available for English speakers, too!) The rash of shooting sprees this weekend signals a mandate for strict gun control laws now. I’m erring on the side of caution, on the side of judicious empathy, because I feel humbled after that last blog post I wrote, when I blithely questioned Asian and Asian American men. I exchanged emails at the time with Oliver Wang, a sociology professor at CSULB and a blogger at Poplicks. He had this to say about other violent crimes committed by Asian and Asian American men, and the temptation to pathologize:

The challenge that faces us in talking about these horrific acts is to neither dismiss race nor assume it’s the overarching pathology. We live in a culture where "nuance" tends to get short-shrift; people want easy, airtight explanations for why things happen and as a consequence, something as complex as race (or gender, class, sexual orientation, etc.) tend to be overly minimized or maximized. So, with Cho Seung-Hui – or Vince Li – it seems irresponsible to casually assume that their race had anything to do with their psychology. But at the same time, it’s not an irrelevant question, anymore than considering how their gender or class may play a role in how they think or act.

And so I wonder how much the tragedy at Binghamton on Friday had to do with race. Am I trying too hard to rationalize? Commenters, have at it below. How are you making sense of this?