Monday, July 21, 2008

Let's Not Forget: Brandon Killed Lawrence

Newsweek seems a little confused over just who killed Lawrence King. There's five pages of analysis over what the heck happened, and the most damning things they seem to focus on is the fact that Lawrence wore high heels to school once or twice, and he had a vice principal who was nice (and/or advancing her big, queer agenda) by supporting Lawrence and his decision to explore himself.

Rubbish. It doesn't matter that Lawrence King wore eye liner. It doesn't matter that he had a really nice vice principal. It wouldn't even matter if she were spreading the big, gay agenda, as if one really existed. Lawrence King, his Vice Principal, and the school didn't fire the shot. Brandon McInerny did. And that's something Newsweek apparently forgot.

Instead of investigating why Brandon was so troubled and distressed, a real tragedy in and of itself, they focused on Lawrence's playboy bunny necklace and the fact that he was the "Britney Spears" of the school that all the students liked to talk about. Buried in the article is a paragraph that could have truly been the start of an informative and important story, but Newsweek didn't pay it the attention it deserved.
Like Larry, Brandon had his share of troubles. His parents, Kendra and Bill McInerney, had a difficult, tempestuous relationship. In 1993, Kendra alleged that Bill pointed a .45 handgun at her during a drunken evening and shot her in the arm, according to court records. She and Bill split in 2000, when Brandon was 6. One September morning, a fight broke out after Kendra accused her husband of stealing the ADHD medication prescribed to one of her older sons from her first marriage. Bill "grabbed Kendra by the hair," and "began choking her until she was almost unconscious," according to Kendra's version of the events filed in court documents. He pleaded no contest to corporal injury to a spouse and was sentenced to 10 days in jail. In a December 2001 court filing for a restraining order against Kendra, he claimed that she had turned her home into a "drug house." "I was very functional," Kendra later explained to a local newspaper, in a story about meth addiction. By 2004, she had entered a rehab program, and Brandon went to live with his father. But he spent years caught in the middle of a war.

While his life did seem to become more routine living with his dad, Brandon's troubles resurfaced in the eighth grade. His father was working in a town more than 60 miles away, and he was alone a lot. He began hanging out with a group of misfits on the beach. Although he was smart, he didn't seem to have much interest in school. Except for Hitler—Brandon knew all about the Nuremberg trials and all the names of Hitler's deputies. (When other kids asked him how he knew so much, he replied casually, "Don't you watch the History Channel?" Brandon's father says his son was interested in World War II, but not inappropriately.) By the end of the first semester, as his overall GPA tumbled from a 3.3 to a 1.9, he was kicked out of his English honors class for not doing his work and causing disruptions. He was transferred to Boldrin's English class, where he joined Larry.
Does anyone else not see warning signs there? He lived in a violent household, with a family that likely owned a gun. His father allegedly pointed that gun at his mother, perhaps even shooting her, serving 10 days in jail. And he was the "stable" parent!

It's tough to tell how much the school knew about these events surrounding Brandon's life, but they certainly should have been made aware. Even if they didn't have any knowledge of these events, there were still warning signs. Whenever there's a strong student who suddenly starts failing, that student is crying out for help.

So, if the school has any blame in this - which is a tough case to prove - then it's the fact that they failed to address Brandon's problems. Clearly, they were doing a reasonable job with Lawrence.
On Jan. 29, every teacher received an e-mail with the subject line STUDENT RIGHTS. It was written by Sue Parsons, the eighth-grade assistant principal. "We have a student on campus who has chosen to express his sexuality by wearing make-up," the e-mail said without mentioning Larry by name. "It is his right to do so. Some kids are finding it amusing, others are bothered by it. As long as it does not cause classroom disruptions he is within his rights. We are asking that you talk to your students about being civil and non-judgmental. They don't have to like it but they need to give him his space. We are also asking you to watch for possible problems. If you wish to talk further about it please see me or Ms. Epstein."
This "they were asking for it" defense and media narrative is ignorant at best. Either Ramin Satooted, the writer, was intellectually lazy, pressured from Newsweek to cover the story in this way, or there's a subconscious homophobia in the way that this story is covered - probably all of the above. Why? The fact is that Brandon killed Lawrence, that the school was doing everything they could to accomodate Lawrence and make sure he was in a good environment - and they were largely successful. According to numerous reports, Brandon was as happy as he'd ever been.

The lesson to draw from this article is that while Newsweek questions if the students in California were grappling with issues too grown-up for them, in all actuality we need to teach kids about glbt issues earlier and often. The world would only be a better place if students starting a young age were taught that there were a number of different kinds of families, that people end up growing up with different likes and interests and that our minds work differently. Kids need to know that they have no control over those thoughts and that there's nothing wrong with them. They also need to know that they have to respect and be kind to those who are different. Most of all, kids need to learn that violence is not an answer.

If Brandon was taught not to be afraid of gay people in advance, years earlier, Lawrence would be alive right now. If Brandon were taught not to be violent, both at school and at home, then Lawrence would be alive right now. Most importantly, Brandon would be alive and free today, instead of facing years in prison and a life stained by his actions, actions he'll surely come to regret.

Despite what Newsweek seems to think, this tragedy had nothing to do with Lawrence and everything to do with Brandon. It has nothing to do with students struggling to deal with their self identities and everything to do with a society that society isn't preparing its young for the world. Until we fix that - until we make schools tackle these issues and problems before its too late - we'll never have a society where every student can have the peace of mind that they can choose to be happy, that they can choose to explore their identity, instead of hiding away from the world. It sounds like a big task, but it doesn't have to be. We can make the world a better place in a single generation, if we're willing to teach our students about life before they decide to take life in their own hands.


DMF said...

Lets also not forget that Lawrence had routinely sexually harrassed brandon and other male students in the school. I don't know why you would want to make light of that.

Ryan Adams said...

I was about to say - "is it any different than the harassment they did to him (including physical) - but then, I realized, what does it matter? Again, Brandon shot Lawrence. That's what happened. That was the crime that took place.

Brandon was not defending himself. He murdered Lawrence. End of story. Sorry, the Gay Panic defense just doesn't cut it. No one made Brandon push that trigger - he chose to do it, in the middle of class full of students typing away at the computer, no less. He chose to shoot Brandon not once, but twice. Give it - and your homophobic ways - a rest. Nothing else in this situation matters, at least in terms of blame, because Brandon is responsible for his own actions.

DMF said...

"I was about to say - "is it any different than the harassment they did to him (including physical) - but then, I realized, what does it matter?"

So killing someone is wrong but sexually harrassing them is ok if it done under the premise of expressing one's sexuality?

Ryan Adams said...

Of course sexually harrassing someone isn't okay, but we don't know if sexual harrassment actually took place. We just have a news report that suggests some people thought it did.

Murdering people isn't okay. In fact, there isn't a worse thing a human could possibly do. There is no excuse for murdering someone, there just isn't. If Brandon didn't feel comfortable because of things Lawrence was either saying to him or doing to him, then he should have went through the proper procedures: mainly, in telling someone! Filing harrassment in a school is an easy thing to do - you just talk to a teacher or a guidance councelor, etc. There isn't a thing you could say that will take away from the fact that Brandon is completely responsible for killing Lawrence and that there isn't a single excuse in the world for what he did. None. Nada. Zippo.

Anonymous said...

A woman killing her habitually abusive husband ?

Ryan Adams said...

If a person defends themselves while attacked, that's called self defense. There is no aspect of what Brandon did that was in self defense. I'm sorry, but the fact that someone has a crush on you doesn't give you the right to then go kill that person. Lame, lame (and homophobic) arguments...

DMF said...

"Newsweek seems a little confused over just who killed Lawrence King. There's five pages of analysis over what the heck happened, and the most damning things they seem to focus on is the fact that Lawrence wore high heels to school once or twice, and he had a vice principal who was nice (and/or advancing her big, queer agenda) by supporting Lawrence and his decision to explore himself."

Newsweek mentions all this in order to highlight King's history of attention -seeking behavior. There are a multitude of ways in which King could have chosen to express himself. The real tragedy is that he went along never fully understanding the implicatations.

Anonymous said...

I was exploring your comment that there can never be a justified murder. I agree that this kid wasn't justified, but in the case of an abused wife (even though she isn't currently being attacked) don't you thing she can be justified in killing her husband? (Or anyone in a long term abusive relationship)

John Hosty-Grinnell said...

I find it sad that anyone would try to defend the actions of a murderer.

What's so wrong with flirting or letting people know you have a crush? Oh that's right, you're not allowed that pursuit of happiness like everyone else when you are gay.

This (stories like this) is why I continue to fight for equality. Even in the most extreme examples of homophobia some people want to attempt to justify that hatred. There is no justifying it however, so I will continue to educate as many people as will listen.

Thanks for posting this Ryan, you rock!

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