Killers just not worth rememberingRandy Martin lives in South Milwaukee, not far from the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin where an intruder with a gun inexplicably killed six people last summer and — it seemed at the time — gained everlasting notoriety.
By: By Mike Nichols, Superior Telegram
Randy Martin lives in South Milwaukee, not far from the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin where an intruder with a gun inexplicably killed six people last summer and — it seemed at the time — gained everlasting notoriety.
Martin knows the story. The shooter had ties to a group of racists. He wasn’t from Wisconsin, but apparently moved here to be with a girlfriend. He targeted the temple for some unfathomable reason. But there’s one thing he doesn’t know.
“I can’t remember that freak’s name,” Martin said, standing outside a Phillips 66 Food Mart just down the road from the temple in Oak Creek.
He’s not alone. I approached five people at random in the temple’s neighborhood the other day. All five live in southeastern Wisconsin, most of them very close to the scene of the murders. Not one could remember the name of the killer. Or, for that matter, the name of the shooter with the “orange hair and crazy eyes” as one guy put it, in the theater in Aurora, Colo. Or even the name of the mass murderer in Newtown, Conn., who just slaughtered 20 children and six adults.
Murderers rarely leave notes, and there is no way to decipher the mind of a lunatic, especially a deceased one. But the sheer sensationalism of the killings, the orange hair, the slaughter of veritable babies and good-hearted, religious worshippers, prompts an obvious question.
“I don’t know what’s going on with people,” said Martin of the killers. “Are they trying to get in the history books?”
What reason other than a search for infamy “would there be to start popping people?” said a 57-year-old Caledonia guy by the name of Steve.
The implicit assumption that the killers — all bland men with undistinguished lives — do it partly out of a yearning for posterity has led many to blame the media for publicizing their crimes and their names, for essentially rewarding them with what they presumably most desire.
I don’t think that’s a fair criticism. The reporting is so bad half of the time, the names are wrong anyway. And even when they’re right, it turns out we aren’t really listening. Or, at least, remembering.
We did once. The one name remembered by at least one of the people I interviewed was Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine murderers. Others didn’t quite remember the Columbine murderers’ names, but came close. Columbine left a mental mark. If it occurred today instead of back in 1999, it wouldn’t. People wouldn’t remember Eric Harris and Klebold any more than they will Adam Lanza, the Newtown murderer, or Wade Michael Page, the Oak Creek shooter.
Yes, I used their names. It doesn’t matter; people will forget them again because we have become inured. I don’t think we’ve completely lost our ability to be shocked. People will always remember that 20 children died at Sandy Hook. But the murderers are running together, fusing themselves into an obscurity they so badly wanted to escape.
Maybe there are just too many of them. Maybe it is a collective self-defense mechanism on our part, our way of making them less tangibly real. Or maybe it is our little protest, our refusal to give anything of value — even the effort to recall a name — to someone who deserves just the opposite.
I wrote a column shortly after the Oak Creek killings saying that I hoped Page would have a simple epitaph: Here lies a small, ignorant man best forgotten.
I am glad to be able to say that he really has been forgotten, and quicker than we could have thought possible. He and others like him are simply “not worth remembering,” more than one person in Oak Creek told me the other day.
If only the killers could have known that.
Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com.