The Aurora Tragedy Notes – 1
Aurora, Colorado – for those who don’t know it – is the suburb just east of Denver whose population growth is beginning to rival that of Denver itself. According to the 2010 census, the population stood at 325,000, a figure that is expected to more than double in growth to 685,000 by 2065. The third largest city in Colorado, after Denver and Colorado Springs, its ethnic-class make up is a reflection of the nation as a whole.
Sociologically it’s an interesting place. Its more southerly and south easterly areas are prosperous suburbs while its northern sections are highly diversified with Blacks and Chicanos – many of whom over past decades were driven from Denver itself by the Mile High City’s yuppified renovation – along with Africans from everywhere (Ethiopians, Ghanians, Kenyans, Nigerians), Russia and Ukrainian recent immigrants just to name a few. Many of the region’s Arabic and Persian speaking populations also reside here. Aurora is home to several mosques, Ethiopian and Russian Orthodox Churches as well as the more standard fare variety of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish religious institutions.
In these less prosperous areas which straddle the city’s main east-west thoroughfare – Colfax Ave – the crime rate is high, gang activity more intense, drive-by killings and police killings of minority youth frequent. Still the same neighborhood can boast some of the best ethnic restaurants in the metropolitan Denver area – or anywhere frankly – on East Colfax and along a broad strip south of Colfax on Havana.
It is not a part of the metro area I know well and it is only recently that I have started to frequent its many ethnic culinary delights, the latest being an Ethiopian restaurant just east of Colorado Blvd, `Abyssinia’, which was delicious. In recent years, I have gone more often. Nancy Fey, my wife, is a nurse at the Colorado State Veterans Home on the Anschutz Medical Campus. Daughter Abbie Prince, fresh from her masters degree in Disaster Psychology from the University of Denver, works as a therapist for the Aurora Mental Health Center, her regular clients usually disturbed and battered young women. Brother-in-law, David Fey has walked the length of Colfax -which stretches more than 20 miles from eastern Aurora to the edges of Golden, west of Denver – in a photography project that includes a lot of fascinating photos of the Aurora section of East Colfax.
It was here in Aurora that two days ago, on late Thursday evening of July 19, 2012 that James Holmes, a 24 year old neuroscience Phd candidate from California with a bachelors-in-science degree from the University of California-Riverside, now studying at the University of Colorado’s Denver Center, entered the Century Aurora Movie Theater Complex showing of the new Batman movie, `Dark Knight Rises’ through an emergency entrance. He proceeded to engage in what I would call `an act of war’, against those present, against U.S. society, perhaps against the world at large. He threw two smoke bombs into the audience and then with an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons and rifles, open fired. He stood there shooting systematically until his ammunition ran out. According to the local media, at last count, this morning (Saturday, July 21, 2012) , 14 people were dead another 71 wounded from the attack, a number of them seriously. It might take another day or two to have a clear list of the number of casualties and their names.
Holmes is building on a growing tradition of mass killing here in the USA: the 1995 Oklahoma City terrorist attack on the Afred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City; the Columbine Massacre in Jefferson County, Colorado in 1999; the 2001 New York City World Trade Center attack and the Virginia Tech killings in 2007. Although not on the scale of Oklahoma City or the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Aurora Massacre still stands out as one of the worst acts of terrorism by an individual (time will tell if he acted along or in concert with others) on U.S. soil ever. Nor is it over. Holmes’ apartment is apparently wired with explosives that have yet to be de-activated. For the victims, those present at the scene, family and friends – this attack might never be over.
In this the age of the internet, I first became aware of all this, not from the local media, but as I opened my computer early the next morning to read email. It was from an inquiry from a friend in Italy, and shortly thereafter from one in Denmark that I first learned of what happened. After reading the initial reports, I stayed away from the media blitz most of the day, returning only in the evening to the CBS news special and some articles from the New York Times and Washington Post, whose reporting – with all its limitations – I trust more than the local media, especially the Denver Post.
I want to understand what happened, to the degree possible, to understand how it is that James Holmes came to the point where he could open fire and wantonly kill 14 people and try to kill so many more. From what I can glean at present, the audience was made overwhelmingly of young people and given the ethnic and class make up of Aurora – a goodly portion of working class and minority youth. The target was carefully chosen, the crime long planned and carefully executed. I am also concerned about the social and political consequences that could emerge from all this.
I am no expert on this type of mass killing by an individual, but I have studied a number of others – the result of civil or other forms of war, mostly on foreign soils in some depth. The 1945 Setif Massacre of Algerians (in reprisal for Algerian killings of French colonialists) and the 1968 My Lai Massacre in Vietnam committed by `Charlie Company of the 11th Infantry Brigade of the U.S. Army come to mind.
Setif was a case of revenge killings on the part of French colonialists where the Algerian victims outnumbered the french killed by 20 to 30 (maybe more) to one , porportions not unlike those that would emerge in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. My Lai – the wanton slaughter of Vietnamese civilians in order to terrify other Vietnamese villages into submission to U.S. military dictates – resembles Nazi mass killings at places like Orador, France, Lidice, Czech Republic or hundreds of villages in what today is Belarus
There are others, on a larger scale that I have tried to understand: the slaughter of Armenians by the Turks during World War 1, the Holocaust – as it affected Jews of course, but also the fate of Poles, Russians, Ukrainians and others. Rwanda.
Admittedly Setif, My Lai and Rwanda have a different logic from what happened in Aurora. But perhaps the differences are in the details and that the deeper logic – the ability to objectify other human beings to provide the excuse for mass slaughter with very little or no regret – is at work?
Already I admit that I have my own theories as to what happened in Aurora that have already offended some people. My theories are not so important and I realize they need challenges and refining. It is true that information is just beginning to surface, that as usual the media is scurrying around with its head up its ass trying to act as if it knows what it is talking about when it doesn’t, and that there will alot of spin – and nothing but spin – on these events. Be that as it may – we can check on the facts and as for the media spin, some of us have a bit of experience learning how to see through the clouds.
What is important is that together, in unison, collectively, through our different voices and experiences that we study these events, try to get to the core of what happened, that we approach it all, of course, in great sympathy for all the victims, but still, systematically and carefully. That is what I intend to do in the entries that follow over the next few days and weeks.They will be as much `dialogue’ as they are personal conjecture. I will try to write about this every few days on my blog and will usually post my entries on Facebook as well.
What’s the end game? Where is all leading? For the perpetrator? For the victims? For all of us.
July 20, 2012. Juan Cole. `How Long Will We Let The NRA and Corrupt Politicians Kill Our Children?’
July 21, 2012. ABC News. `Gun Deaths, A Familiar American Experience’
July 21, 2012. James Fallows. `The Certainty of More Shootings‘