I’m sure everyone has seen the news — tragic events, which appear to have caused widespread shock. A 52 year old taxi driver has run amok, killing 12 people and wounding many more in a horrific rampage in Cumbria, a county which has already suffered the widespread floods of last year, and more recently a widely publicised tragic road accident where a school bus collided with a car, and two children and the driver of the car died.
I watched the media coverage as I’m sure many did, like on BBC News 24 and Sky News. I felt a sense of relief, yet sadness, when the poor chaps body was found — my sympathy for his death should however in no sense be taken as in any way condoning his crimes. Yet I felt a little for him too, as well as the grief I think we all share for the innocent victims.
The media coverage was to a large extent, stupid. Firstly, the media should be praised for warning the folks of West Cumbria to get indoors and take cover. Then, they should be poked with a pointy stick for forcing their interviewers to ask people who had just witnessed the carnage “how do you feel?”. “How do you feel?” was one of the most commonly asked questions – er, how would YOU feel if you had just seen someone you know from your community lying wounded or dead on a pavement having been shot in the face with a shotgun, interviewer?
We heard from a number of stolid, sensible Cumbrian folk – the interviews I heard that morning were utterly devoid of the kind of wailing emotional hysteria beloved by news crews – those just bereaved or wounded fortunately being unavailable to be harassed — but while the rest of the nation relished in the vicarious pleasure of imagining themselves locked in a pub or golf course with a maniac with a shotgun lurking outside, the spectacle of the stream of witnesses seemed to rapidly descend towards voyeurism. “And how did you feel?” — well pretty pissed off and scared I would have thought, though Cumbrians appear to be made of stern stuff. I can imagine news editors all over London shouting at harassed North West correspondents “find someone in tears and choked up!” Yet they just said what happened.
Now the spree killing is over, the victims in hospital, the innocent and the gunman dead, and it’s time for inquiries. Oh yeah, Cumbria’s police force will of course conduct those well — the Chief Constable or whatever was remarkably calm and seemed a very sound bloke, as he tried to conduct the biggest man hunt in his forces history while reporters bothered him — and of course the press has already given us endless speculation about WHY Derrick Bird went out and shot people.
It’s actually very simple. He was angry.
We all get angry – and he just got very, very angry, frustrated, and saw no way out. After a life of quiet obscurity, yet it would seem a happy one, it all got to him. He snapped, let his temper get the better of him, and killed a lot of people who had done nothing to him (and some it seems he intentionally targeted). A sense of injustice, of anger at the world, built in to a rage. So he went out and showed the world exactly how he felt.
He was no diabolical monster – he was very human. He has brooded over things, become wound up and exasperated, and he exploded in murderous violence. Some will doubtless suggests that in a tight knit rural community where everyone knows each others business this is how people react – in a sense blaming the Cumbrians for having a sense of community most of us would have to watch Emmerdale or Eastenders to experience — but I see no reason to believe that. Perhaps the cities breed serial killers, alienated and anonymous – and a more cohesive community produces spree killers – dunno ask a criminologist — but it seems middle aged men in quiet communities do sometimes just lose it, and kill.
Gun control the answer? It’s hard to see how he could have done this without a gun, but let’s not forget the 28,000 other Cumbrians who own guns and don’t do it. I dislike guns as it happens, but he could just have easily have driven a car in to people, or just run around punching them. The results may have been slightly les horrific — but the simple fact is that this chap got angry, and made a decision that enough was enough and he was going to get his own back. He was culpable, not the guns.
Ultimately though, it was a crime of anger, from someone who felt bullied and desperate — and embraced evil.
So the inquiry we really need now is as to whether the media acted responsibly in the whole affair. The whole nation wanted news, and it was exciting in a sick kind of way — and perhaps the news coverage, the endless attempts even as the crimes continued to make sense of what was happening served a therapeutic, cathartic purpose. Those poor Cumbrians, asked “how do you feel?” were being asked that to reassure us all that there was a meaning to this, that somehow it all made sense, that here was a “good” reason why Bird acted the way he did. Yet in these crimes there is rarely a good reason – “I don’t like Mondays”. The Boomtown Rats song about that horrific school shooting got it right “they can see no reasons/’cos there are no reasons”…
Just anger, something we all share, and can give in too, with potentially horrific consequences. Ultimately one wonders if Bird finally felt regret as Michael Ryan the Hungerford shooter did, and like him before taking his own life “wished he had stayed in bed today.” If anger consumes you, take a lesson from the futility and tragedy, and talk to someone, call the Samaritans, or do just that – stay in bed – for everyone’s sake…