After writing an article about my son's iPod Touch getting stolen, I shared it online....and that's when a couple of former high school classmates started commenting on my Facebook page (note: I've blurred any names except for my own). This high school friend now lives in L.A.:
The next comment came from a former high school classmate who lives in Illinois, and it took me by surprise:
While I'm happy to know this guy's dad had a great experience at Evanston Township High School 54 years ago, what the hell was THAT comment for? Has he been to Evanston lately? Does he know the families of the three young men (Dajae Coleman, Justin Murray and Javar Bamberg) shot and killed here within the past year? Does he know what the definition of "ghetto" is? Wikipedia describes it as "a part of a city in which members of a minority group live, especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure." Here in Evanston, we're proud of our multicultural, urban edginess, and we have just as many "lower income" neighborhoods as those in the "middle" or "upscale" brackets. Is he aware there are gangs in thousands of U.S. cities and neighborhoods, including within the very walls of our former high school in Hoffman Estates, Illinois?
On Facebook, a flowery Evanston friend chimed in along with the L.A. friend:
While it was hard to ignore the high school friend's first, damning comment, I wasn't going to let it bother me. But, as I began to type some more details about my son's stolen iPod Touch, this comment stopped me cold:
There's something so passive-aggressive about that statement -- so ignorant and cruel and insensitive that my blood ran cold.
Where children go to get shot randomly.
Common sense would have me immediately unfriend this troll, but that's the easy way out -- just like his statement. His comment suggests to me that gun violence was someone else's problem.. another town's issue... What his words say to me is "Gun violence has taken over your city." Unfortunately, he left his comments on the Facebook page of a someone who's chosen to raise her family in that city, who writes about that city every week, and who's looked into the eyes of the mother who's 14-year-old, honor student son was shot and killed walking home with friends in that city. And that kid was NOT shot randomly: he was shot by an individual with a gun who wanted to do harm. Just like Justin Murray. Like Javar Bamberg. Like U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Like Sandy Hook Elementary School victims and Columbine High School victims and victims of the 61 mass shootings in the 30 years following the Columbine High School massacre.
In towns across our country, humans are hunted by other humans with guns. It's hardly random. the bullets just don't always hit the intended targets.
I no longer know this former high school classmate beyond the profile he shares on Facebook or the comments he shares with the world. As an opinion columnist, I appreciate and encourage varied perspectives...but his opinion reminds me there are so many just like his: jabbing, lurking, mocking and taunting -- to no positive affect whatsoever.
So shy do I let his comments even bother me? Because comments like his don't yet bother enough of us. And I think my L.A. friend tried to let him know as much:
So we'd become an experiment in his exploration of online emotion? The conversation ended for the day, but then picked up again the next morning, when another Evanston friend let me know someone had found my son's iPod Touch. And for the first time and noted my former classmate's insensitive comments:
After that, the Evanston Facebook friend couldn't help but add her two cents, followed by a final comment from the high school "bear":
And yet, despite this "happy ending", the thread, in my mind, doesn't tie up neatly. The most important part is that messy middle, the part in which he implied -- even in jest -- that my town is overrun by thugs and violence. His statements struck a raw nerve (something trolls pride themselves on) and nothing will take them back.
There are many degrees of poor judgement, from posting callow Facebook comments to pointing a gun into a classroom full of children. But, when one dips in via Internet to declare someone's town is a gang-infested ghetto, one ought to carefully select the "friends" with whom to probe those so-called online limits of emotion. After all, you never know when those comments might come back to bite you.
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