"Going Postal"-By Mark Ames
If Ward Cleaver were alive today, he'd rarely be home to see his wife and children; and when home, he'd be an impossible crank, always getting called on the cellphone or buzzed on the Blackberry. The stress from seeing his health insurance get slashed would only be overshadowed by the fear caused by another round of white-collar downsizing and vicious memos from the senior executives implying that more fat was yet to be cut from the company payrolls. Mr. Cleaver would work weekends and forego vacations, and likely vote Republican, forced to choose between the hypertension medicine and the blood-thinner pills since he can't afford both, not under the new corporate HMO plan.... His anger and stress would push him into cursing Canada for being a hotbed of anti-American liberalism while at the same time he'd agonize over whether or not to order his medicines from their cheap online pharmacies. He'd have no time for imparting little moral lessons. "Not now, leave me alone," he'd grumble, washing down the last of his Cumadins with a low-carb non-alcoholic beer while watching The O'Reilly Factor through clenched teeth. His wife June would be stuck at a three-day merchandising conference at a Holiday Inn in Tempe-if they weren't divorced by now-while the Beaver would be standing in front of his bedroom dresser mirror in his long black trenchcoat, clutching his homemade pipebombs, and plotting revenge on Eddie Haskell and all the other kids who call him "gay" and "bitch" and make his life a living Hell...
A NONDESCRIPT WARREN OF AN OFFICE
The first reports of the rage massacre at the Connecticut state lottery gave the impression that the shooter, thirty-five-year-old accountant Matthew Beck, was a barking lunatic: he had been treated for mental illness and suicidal tendencies, and now he had finally gone over the edge, slaughtering his co-workers with all the deranged purpose of a Freddy Krueger. He played paintball, they noted. At his father's house, where Beck lived his last six months, a sign read, "Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again." But the most chilling image was that of Beck standing over his last victim in the office parking lot with the gun aimed at the man's head. The victim pleaded for his life and the frightened co-workers, who were hiding in the nearby woods, yelled for Beck to spare him. But Beck just smiled and shot the man in cold blood before turning the gun on himself.
Yet what emerged later from more comprehensive accounts was far more ambiguous than first allowed.
Matthew Beck worked at the Connecticut state lottery as an accountant for eight years. He was considered a hardworking and loyal employee, but near the end he grew angry and disgruntled because he was not getting the promotions he felt he deserved. In our post-Reagan culture, most Americans would instinctively side with Beck's supervisors, operating on the assumption that corporations generally operate like efficient meritocracies rather than crude popularity contests.
Yet in each American's own private experience, we know how profound a role the supposed non-occupational factors-office politics, personal relations, connections, petty malice, attendance at the company barbeque, hygiene, fashion, one's ability to smile and make it look sincere, a sense of humor (or what passes for a sense of humor in the office world), as well as sheer luck and circumstance-play in an employee's ability to advance up the company ladder.
Beck was described by his co-workers as a "diligent and quiet" employee, a subtle way to describe an employee who doesn't play for the company softball team or peck his fellow workers with wacky jokes and anecdotes. Beck had hoped to get promoted at last to associate accountant, which would have made him a supervisor and increased his pay.
But he was skipped over, despite his work and seniority. To make matters worse, less than six months before his murder rampage he was assigned to do data processing on top of his stagnating accounting duties.
This was adding insult to injury-especially as they underpaid him for the new work by roughly two dollars per hour, according to a grievance that he filed and subsequently won.
Was he passed over for promotion because of poor performance? One supervisor whom he spared, Karen Kalandyk, admitted that when it came to computers, "He was so much beyond the rest of us that you tried to use his talents." His problem then? He couldn't communicate. "He couldn't tell us what he knew," Kalandyk said. In other words, he didn't join in the depressing Soup Nazi citation-tournaments with other employees over by the water cooler.
In August 1997, Beck filed a grievance against the state to complain about his unfair treatment. Fellow employees say that around this time Beck changed, both physically and emotionally. He went from being a quiet, diligent worker to a broken and bitter man.
"He was always angry about not being promoted," one supervisor said.
"He became visibly withdrawn into himself [around the time that he filed his grievance]," said John Krinjack, a lottery sales rep. "He took on a severe look, an angry look. He looked like he had lost weight and gotten pale. For a while there, I thought he was really pale."
There is no indication that this obvious physical deterioration elicited any sympathy or support from Beck's supervisors or co-workers. Rather, what they conveyed to reporters is something like revulsion. Clearly he didn't fit into the frat-house, and they did their best to push him out.
"He looked a little evil in a way," said another accountant, David Perlot. "He talked a little sinister, like. He struck me as odd, not the kind of person that I wanted to get close to."
Was he always this way? Was he born weird and evil, or did his experience at the Connecticut lottery somehow deform his personality? Here is how a shocked childhood friend, Herbert Vars, described Beck: "He was the all American guy. He was Mr. Clean-cut."
Another childhood friend said that going back to elementary school, he had never even seen Beck argue with someone. "I would never have expected it from him," he said, noting that they had continued to hang out and even hike together until Beck's downward spiral.
Yet after eight years as an accountant with the state lottery, he was "odd," not the type that "I wanted to get close to." His missed promotion had less to do with his work performance, and more to do with the conditioned behavior his superiors wanted of their underlings. Beck did not have the cheerful attitude that masters prefer.
Two months after filing the grievance, Beck took a medical leave, suffering from the effects of stress. He was falling apart. It must have been painful for Beck to not only work for and take orders from people who refused to promote him, but worse, for people who ordered him to work more for no extra pay, people who must have been quietly and subtly getting their revenge on him for filing the grievance. Beck's relationship with his girlfriend suffered. He moved back home with his parents, underwent treatment at a psychiatric hospital, and started to take psychiatric medicines. He even tried committing suicide.
For someone clearly intelligent, industrious, and quiet like Beck to get rejected and mistreated by his workplace after eight years of hard, quiet, diligent work, which even after his shooting spree was described as "so much beyond the rest of us that you tried to use his talents," was a cruel and disrespectful harassment.
It must have struck him as an injustice of cosmic proportions. When he was finally denied his promotion, he essentially saw it as the end of his life.
While on leave, Beck turned whistleblower. He went to the local newspapers exposing corruption in the Connecticut Lottery. In November 1997, lottery officials admitted that they had inflated their figures for years by rounding up numbers to the nearest half million.
"They need to increase (revenues) by thirty million dollars and they're under a lot of pressure to let other things take a back seat," Beck told the New London Day newspaper.
He also exposed to the Hartford Courant how some store clerks were cheating the system by "fishing" for instant winning tickets. The clerks would punch code numbers into lottery computers until they came up with the winning combination and then they'd take the cash. Lottery officials at the time of the shooting spree refused to comment on this allegation.
Beck also tried to interest reporters in his own employment grievance against the lottery. But they didn't bite. According to an Associated Press story, here is why: "The Courant described him as frothing at the mouth and said his eyes were 'wild,' while the Day described him as 'scruffy' in appearance." There's quite a difference between appearing scruffy and frothing at the mouth-perhaps what they simply meant was that Beck didn't smile much.
Try to understand Beck's profound sense of dislocation. Here he worked for the state lottery, which by definition is already a sleazy enterprise, a government-run scam that preys, like all gambling dens, on the desperate dreams of predominately lower-class fools. And even in this officially sanctioned scam, the state was scamming its own scam to make the scam look like it was working! Yet the same corrupt supervisors who were fixing the scam were, at the same time, passing judgment on Beck's life, condemning him to stagnation not for being a bad worker, but for not being one of the boys. And Beck was the crazy one? He was expected to shut up and take it?
"I saw no prospect that my condition would ever be changed. Yet I used to plan in my mind from day to day, and from night to night, how I might be free."
-The Narration of Lunsford Lane, a slave memoir published in 1842
Otho Brown, the lottery president, told the media that the lottery's practice of inflating figures had been stopped. Brown was the man Beck later shot in the parking lot.
In January 1998, Beck won the first part of his grievance against the lottery. So he wasn't imagining his injustice. But the damage had already been done-he was crushed.
While still awaiting the grievance board's ruling on his back pay, Beck decided to return to work. His colleagues were openly hostile upon seeing him return. They had him marked as a loser.
As one employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told the New York Times, "He knew he wasn't going to go anywhere. Management distrusted him."
In February 1998, just a week after returning to work at the lottery, one of Beck's supervisors gave him the task of tracking lottery employees who were given state vehicles as a fringe benefit. It must have been like salt in the wounds: "Why don't you monitor other privileged employees who gets the perks we've denied you?"
The office massacre took place on March 6. Like the word "stress," "office" is far too simple a word to describe both the oppressive spirit of the place and also the typical degrading interior. It cannot describe how, by sheer dehumanizing design, it flattens you with that horrible fluorescent light, those white walls, beige cubicle partitions, the trim industrial carpeting, the disinfectant-scented restroom stalls, and the buzzing vending machines . . .
One local reporter described the state lottery office as a "nondescript warren of offices . . . a maze like collection of cubicles and small offices, connected by narrow hallways to still more offices in the one story concrete block building."
The New York Times reporter on the scene offered this picture: "It is an ordinary building, beige, with a warehouse in the back, but to many people, the headquarters of the Connecticut Lottery is a place of fantasy where the big winners go to pose with the big cardboard check. They follow the bright yellow "Prize Claim Center" sign into a special reception area and collect jackpots from six hundred to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"There is another entrance, one used by the secretaries, accountants, data processors and other employees who keep the Connecticut Lottery humming. They must punch in a security code to enter the rabbit's warren of cubicles and partitions.
"An outsider could easily get turned around in this maze, but Matthew Beck, an accountant, had worked at the lottery for more than eight years. He knew where he was going, and on Friday morning, he knew what he wanted to do."
In other words, an office just like any other. Did the journalists who wrote these descriptions understand that they were describing part of the murder spree's cause?
It was Casual Friday at this nondescript warren of offices, a day which most well-conditioned American workers greet cheerfully. But in its own subtle way the concept of Casual Day is just another demeaning reminder of how much power the company has over you, even commanding how you look and dress, when you need to stiffen up and when you can relax. Even slaves had their version of Casual Friday. As Robert Anderson noted in From Slavery to Affluence, "The slave on a plantation could get together almost anytime they felt like it, for little social affairs, so long as it didn't interfere with the work on the plantation."
Matthew Beck wore jeans and a brown leather jacket for Casual Day. At the start of the workday, Beck was seen speaking to his former data processing supervisor, Michael Logan. Logan was the first to deny Beck's grievance over his nonpromotion, before the complaint was taken to a higher authority. And Logan was the IT manager who oversaw Beck's humiliating and illegal added workload for no extra pay the year before, when he was moved to data processing work. A co-worker said that Beck looked "real ticked off" while talking to Logan.
Linda Mlynarczyk, the chief financial officer and Beck's senior supervisor in the accounting wing (another key oppressor from his experience), walked past and told Beck to take off his coat. It was thirty minutes into the work day and keeping your leather coat on was not in the spirit of Casual Day. But Beck wasn't in a Casual Day mood. So he answered her curtly: "No."
Logan finished talking with Beck and walked back to his office. Beck sat at his cubicle for a few minutes, staring off into space. At 8:45 am he stood up and walked into Logan's office. After a brief confrontation, Beck pulled out a military-style knife and plunged it into Logan's stomach and chest, killing him.
He then backtracked toward the front of the building and barged into a meeting room. Again, the privileged-class meeting room acts as focal point for the raging insurgent. The meeting was led by Mlynarczyk and attended by four other employees in the accounting department.
Beck keyed in on his objective: the CFO herself. He pulled out a Glock 9mm semiautomatic handgun from his coat, pointed it at Mlynarczyk, and said, "Bye-bye." He shot Mlynarczyk three times, killing her. Just a few days before she had met with Beck to explain to him his new duties, now that he had returned to work.
It is not hard to imagine how uncomfortable that meeting must have been for the humiliated, aggrieved Beck; nor is it difficult to imagine the subtle way that a supervisor who dislikes her employee can transmit contempt.
Mlynarczyk had previously served as mayor of nearby New Britain, a city of seventy thousand with a large ethnic-Polish population. She was the first Republican to be elected mayor of New Britain in twenty years-and she was tossed out after just one term. Her single term was marked by controversy over the fact that she had privatized the city cemetery and named her fianc_ the corporation counsel. She also forced the city union to make concessions to lower expenses and make New Britain more "business-friendly." While she may have been for the free market and fair competition, when it came to her own fortunes Mlynarczyk practiced familiar Old Europe rules of the back-scratching nepotism sort. She was the first mayor in Connecticut to endorse Republican John Rowland for governor, so when she lost re-election and he won, the victorious Rowland duly appointed her CFO of the state lottery. As CFO, she was responsible for the lottery's numbers which were later admitted to have been cooked-though she never took a fall for the lottery accounting scandal. Beck got destroyed by her and other supervisors for much less. Meanwhile, her patron, Governor Rowland, was forced to resign as governor in the summer of 2004 in the wake of a federal corruption probe and numerous ethics violations that were building toward an impeachment. He was the first Connecticut governor ever to have been fined for ethics violations prior to his resignation.
Beck shot Mlynarczyk dead. But rather than shooting the others in the meeting room, employees whom Beck knew well, "He just lowered the gun and walked away," said mid-level supervisor Kalandyk, the same one who had complimented Beck's intelligence in the New York Times. "I made eye contact, and his eyes were dead."
Another colleague in the room noted that Beck "gave him a grin or a smirk" before walking out.
In the hallway, there was pandemonium as workers screamed and fled through the maze of cubicles toward the warehouse.
Mlynarczyk's office was located in the executive suite, which worked out well for Beck. Next to her office was that of Frederick Rubelmann III, vice president of operations, who opened his door and asked, "Is everyone okay?" Rubelmann was one of the executives who had rejected Beck's promotion to associate accountant. Rubelmann confronted Beck head-on-and was shot and killed.
By this time many of the hundred employees had escaped to the gravel parking lot. Beck sprinted after them, hunting down his last and biggest target, Lottery president Otho Brown. It was the fifty-four-year-old Brown who had final say on signing off on the rejection for Beck's promotion. Now, hunted and pursued by his disgruntled worker, Brown was leading the employees toward a nearby forest for safety. Beck staggered outside and sprinted after his co-workers, the left leg of his jeans soaked in his victims' blood. Some employees dove into ditches, others dispersed, sinking into the soft mud.
Brown apparently detoured back to the gravel parking lot. Some employees claimed that he was a hero, trying to save his employees by using himself as bait to draw Beck away from them and toward him.
Brown was caught alone in the gravel parking lot, trying to flee. Beck, an avid jogger and hiker, quickly overtook him. Brown backpedaled as Beck closed in. The Lottery president held up his hands and cried, "No, Matt!" then tripped and fell on his back.
Beck stood over his boss with the Glock aimed at his head. The employees who had safely hidden in the forest marsh yelled out at Beck not to shoot. One fellow accountant yelled, "Matthew, don't! Matthew don't!" while others screamed. Brown pleaded for his life and held his hands up defensively. Beck stood over him for a moment, breathing hard. He raised his pistol-Brown put up his hand to shield himself-and fired twice. Brown went still as the employees in the woods screamed and cried. Beck stood for a moment, walked around Brown's limp body, then shot the corpse again, causing it to jerk.
Just then a white police car came tearing into the parking lot. Beck put the pistol up to his head and shot himself through the temple. Somehow the gun went off twice. His body collapsed to the ground.
Was Matthew Beck crazy? As one supervisor in the meeting room who survived described his choice of victims, "They were the people who had the power in the Lottery. They were the ones who had turned down his promotion."
His parents released a statement to the press, noting, "His murderous act was monstrous, but he was not a monster, as his friends and family can attest."
"There's a lot of hate around here."
-Gentry Robler, Santana High sophomore
The Santee rage massacre took place less than two years after Columbine, and this time, thanks in part to the pathetic figure of Andy Williams, people started to seriously consider the role bullying might have played. But there was resistance.
In the immediate aftermath, Santana High School officials and local law enforcement officials either denied growing reports that he was a victim of bullying, or else they argued that even if he had been bullied it had nothing to do with the shooting.
Andy's appointed lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Randy Mize (his father could not afford to hire a private attorney), listed eighteen incidents of bullying just in the weeks leading up to the shooting, including "burned with cigarette lighter on his neck every couple of weeks," "sprayed with hair spray and then lit with a lighter," "beat with a towel that caused welts by bullies at the pool," and "slammed against a tree twice because of rumors." These "rumors" of course were rumors of the sexual orientation sort, the most devastating of all bombs you can drop on a newcomer kid who is incapable of defending himself. Jeff Williams, Andy's father, later said, "Some of the stuff basically borders on torture."
As Andy quickly learned, Santana High's culture combined the lethal cruelty of coastal California suburbia with familiar, rural trailer park hazing. He wanted out. He visited his mother in South Carolina a few months before his attack, and hoped to move back with her. When he visited old school friends in rural Maryland on that same trip, he told them that kids at his high school regularly egged his father's apartment or stole his homework and threw it into garbage bins. They called him "faggot" and "bitch" and "gay" and taunted him for not fighting back when he was bullied. Worst of all, much of the abuse came from the neighborhood "friends" he hung out with, got stoned with (he turned stoner to try to earn acceptance), and from whom he tried and failed to learn to become a skate rat.
Some were students at the high school, some weren't. Andy's decision to hang out with students from another school, which suburban kids don't often do, in spite of the fact that these "friends" abused him at least as much as the Santana High "friends," says a lot about the choices he faced. If Andy could have learned to skate, he might have been accepted by a second-tier clique in the coastal California public school hierarchy. As it was, not only did he never live up to the skate rat standards on the ramp, but to punish him for being a dork, his skateboard was stolen on at least two occasions by his friends, who then taunted him for being too much of a fag to protect his board.
In spite of their relentless taunting, Andy joined them at the local skate park, where they got buzzed on liquor and weed, skated on the ramps (he just watched), and tormented Andy Williams.
"His ears stuck out, he was small, skinny, had a high voice, so people always picked on him 'cause he was the little kid," said Scott Bryan, a friend of Williams.
He earned the nickname "Anorexic Andy."
"He was picked on all the time," student Jessica Moore said. "He was picked on because he was one of the scrawniest guys. People called him freak, dork, nerd, stuff like that."
Laura Kennamer, a friend, said, "They'd walk up to him and sock him in the face for no reason. He wouldn't do anything about it."
Anorexic Andy: before puberty...
Even Andy's fifty-nine-year-old, neighbor Jim Crider, observed, "Williams looked like someone working hard to fit in with his peers-and not quite succeeding. His clothes did not match what the other kids were wearing. When he talked, others didn't always pay attention."
Anthony Schneider, who was fifteen when the Santee shootings happened, both confirmed Crider's observation and gave a small glimpse into the dumb, cool poison of this schoolyard culture there: "He didn't have that many friends. A lot of people picked on him. He was kind of a weirdo . . . He didn't talk that much. He just kept to himself. . . . One of my friends stole his skateboard [about a month ago]."
Schneider's flat braggadocio about his friend who stole Andy's skateboard is a familiar cool tag for anyone who has experienced life in the suburban California school culture. I would have thought that his type had evolved by now-but no, like jellyfish, it turns out they're the same as they always were.
While visiting friends in Maryland a few months earlier, Andy was videotaped softly telling the camera, "My school is horrible. I hate it there." That was the same trip where he asked his mother to let him move in with her in South Carolina, anything to escape Santee.
On February 8, a few weeks before his shooting spree, one of Andy's best friends from Twentynine Palms, a boy described as a shy outsider suffering from muscular dystrophy whom Andy had essentially rescued from the lower rungs of twerpdom, was hit by a bus and killed. Andy was devastated by the news, though he never expressed his grief until after he was jailed. He couldn't show pain in the coastal suburbs, especially not over some dweeb who was a gimp.
So this was how the best years of Andy Williams's life began-in the words of his father, "border[ing] on torture." He was beaten up, taunted, set on fire, regularly burned with a cigarette lighter, had his skateboard repeatedly stolen, and his shoes pulled from his feet. He was taunted for being a fag, taunted for being taunted, and taunted for not fighting back, which only weakened his will and confidence more . . . and yet he was the weirdo in the eyes of the normal students.
...and after, how huge and in for life.
And he was only halfway through his freshman year.
His own explanation for why he shot at his fellow students was simple yet honest: "I was trying to prove a point." Word for word, this is the same reason Brian Uyesugi gave to Hawaiian police after his shooting spree in the Xerox office which left seven dead.
Prosecutor Kristin Anton told the San Diego Union-Tribune that authorities had failed to uncover any evidence that Andy Williams was the victim of a bullying campaign. "We've talked to hundreds of people . . . and frankly there isn't evidence to support this bullying theory," she said. Evidence that Andy's neighborhood "friends" had brutalized him was dismissed by Anton: "[T]hey did it in a way that they'd laugh about it and continue to associate with each other."
District Superintendent Granger Ward also denied that Williams's shooting was sparked by bullying, in remarks reported in the Union-Tribune: "Based on the district's own review last year and information from the District Attorney's Office, there is no evidence that Williams was bullied at school." Ward characterized Andy Williams's shooting as a criminal act by someone who brought a gun to campus and shot students and staffers. By shifting all of the blame away from the vicious school culture and onto the evil psychology of Andy Williams, Ward was essentially indemnifying himself. "It is unfortunate that the perpetrator of this crime is not the focus, and that's where the focus should be," he told reporters.
What was really unfortunate for Ward were subsequent media expos_s which revealed that his school knew a lot more about the bullying problem than they had let on, and they had bungled and wasted a perfect opportunity to change the school's culture. In 1999, almost two years before the shooting, the U.S. Justice Department gave Santana High's school district a $137,000 grant to study the causes and effects of school bullying in partnership with the local Sheriff 's office. The district could have chosen to give that grant money to any of its schools, but it chose Santana High. Why? The school later denied that the grant was given specifically to Santana High because it was a particularly cruel school beset by rampant bullying-they said that Santana was chosen essentially at random.
Almost all the grant money intended to study Santana High's bullying problem went instead to dubiously-related projects, like purchasing computer equipment and software for the police, including $3,400 for a computer image projector and $4,600 for mapping software. Money was also spent hiring "consultants" who were ineffective and generally ignored. As the Union-Tribune noted, "[P]articipants said a computer system to track juveniles wasn't used as planned, people received training they never used and little study was done of frequent bullies and victims." One "consultant," Nancy McGee, was paid twenty-five dollars an hour for organizing such bullying-reduction activities as the annual Peace Week, which included a school peace march and sensitivity training seminars, as well as a field trip for 75 students to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
There were accusations that the money was wasted. As one parent, who was trained with six hundred dollars of grant money to act as a mediator, said, "I left there thinking, 'OK, we're going to do something with this.'" The parent was never called again.
After Andy Williams's shooting spree, the school had used some non-earmarked grant funds to bring in a bullying expert from Clemson University, Sue Limber. She interviewed students, parents, and teachers, and drafted her recommendations on how to change the school culture. The school board rejected her recommendations, charging that they did not apply to Santana's circumstances.
Remarkably, after three years and $137,000 in grant money, almost no actual interviews were conducted with bullies or bullied students in order to understand them better, no analysis was ever produced, and no recommendations ever forwarded.
However, a more general survey of Santana High students and parents was conducted, and it yielded interesting results about the extent to which bullying was an integral part of the school's culture.
Roughly one-third of the school's 1,200 students surveyed said that they had been bullied, and nearly half said that they retaliated in some way. About one in five students were repeat victims of bullying, more often girls than boys. About 11 percent said they had brought a weapon to campus, and of those, a third said they brought the weapon for protection, while a tenth said they brought the weapon in order to intimidate. Most students-and even most parents-said that they did not tell school officials about bullying because they didn't think it would help.
Remarkably, in spite of this perceived violence and threat of violence, and the lack of protection, only 7 percent of these same students said they felt unsafe at the school, and roughly the same percentage of parents felt that the school was unsafe for their kids. In other words, this prison yard culture in a white middle-American school was seen as normal by most people. And the principal and superintendent had this information two years before Andy Williams's shooting.
Their reading of the situation was right: it was normal. A national survey on bullying conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Nickelodeon in mid-2001 showed that nearly one-third of all sixth through tenth-graders nationwide were either bullies or targets of bullying. Seventy-four percent of eight to eleven-yearolds say teasing and bullying occur at their school, while for the twelve to fifteenyear- olds, the number rises to 86 percent. And both age groups called the teasing and bullying "big problems" that rank higher than racism, AIDS, and the pressure to have sex or to try alcohol or drugs.
Time and again, students and parents complain of the devastating effects of bullying and their inability to stop it, no matter where they live. As one man in upper-middle-class suburban Iowa, whose son was savaged by local kids for being a "fag," said, "My son does not say if he's gay or not, but he is afraid to ride his bike, or even be out in the neighborhood alone. Our neighborhood has homes valued at $200,000 to $300,000 and he does not feel safe."
One reason why our society has failed to curb bullying is that we like bullies. Hell, we are bullies. Research has shown that bullies are not the anti-social misfits that adults, in their forced amnesia, want them to be. Rather, bullies are usually the most popular boys, second only on the clique-ranking to those described as friendly, outgoing, and self-confident. The Santana High kids and parents both felt that there was no point in complaining to the administration because they wouldn't have done anything anyway, a reflection of the fact that popular winners are treated better than losers. At Columbine, parents and students both felt that bullies were favored by teachers and administrators, and that complainers were often ignored or blamed. Indeed, losers pay for being losers twice over in our schools, taking both the punishment and the blame. Many kids (and adults) believe that victims of bullying bring it upon themselves; studies show how kids will often egg bullies on against their victims, in part to curry the bully's favor, in part to distinguish themselves from the victim class.
As we scratch the surface of this phenomenon, we start to see how miserable the school experience is for a great number of kids-white, middle-class, middle- American kids. It's a misery built into the modern school culture. In fact, it is so obvious, and so common, that only a kind of adult amnesia, combined with powerful cultural propaganda, could edit away such a widely-held bad memory.
That said, Andy Williams did manage to spark a significant shift in the culture, a mini-cultural revolution. If someone were to stand up in 2005 and argue, on television, that bullying is "not a big deal" today, they would be the weirdo, the one who would cause people to roll their eyes.
It is exactly this kind of transformation, of what is considered "normal," that is at the heart of this book. In a matter of a few years, the concept of bullying had gone from being considered "culturally normative" and part of reality, to being recognized as intolerable and lethal.
...Was Andy Williams's uprising a success or a failure? His shooting did help change the discourse, and legislation. He found enormous sympathy and sparked uprisings around the country. In that sense, it was a success. But is bullying really the fundamental problem? Laws were enacted in early America to mitigate cruelty towards slaves-but slavery still continued in a refined form.
For Andy Williams personally, the rebellion was a cruel failure. In the months after he was arrested, Andy hit puberty. Within a year, he went from being "Anorexic Andy" to a six-foot-three hulk, as stocky as a defensive lineman. Such a build would have changed his life at Santana High if he had held out another year.
The only place where being a six-foot-three sixteen-year-old didn't help was where he was stuck. As Andy told an ABC Primetime Thursday interviewer, in his prison there are "five thousand bullies in one place."
"I don't really have a criminal background. I'm not really like a mean, like, hard-hearted guy. So I don't think I'm going to make it in prison. It's a tough place."
He was sentenced to fifty years to life. He will be eligible for parole when he turns sixty five.
(These sections are excerpted from Mark Ames' new book, "Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine" published by Soft Skull Press. It is available on amazon.com and bookstores, and will be available in Moscow in the near future. Ames will be reading from his book at Junno's in Manhattan on Tuesday, November 8th.)