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Over a year ago, a teenager stepped inside Chardon High School in Ohio and fired shots. Three young people died. And today, TJ Lane appeared in court to hear his sentence for those murders. Since Lane was tried as an adult, we expected to hear a stiff sentence. He got life without parole. What we didn't expect was to see TJ Lane remove his blue, button-down shirt revealing a t-shirt reading "killer." As if that wasn't shocking enough, when Lane was asked if he had a statement for the court, he stood up and gave his victims' families the finger.
What a horrifyingly hurtful gesture. Everyone in the room was sickened by it. The victims' families called it "repulsive" and said they hoped he'd stay locked up forever "like an animal." But TJ Lane isn't an "animal." He's not so unfeeling. His shocking performance betrays what's really going on inside him right now, and it's not indifference.
This was such a teenaged boy thing to do. Sometimes, when people are overwhelmed with pain, and anger, and confusion they cannot express, they lash out at others. They do what TJ Lane did, killing his fellow students. And then they put up a front like they don't care. I think Lane is actually terrified out of his fucking mind right now. He's completely freaked out. He doesn't know how his life has come to this, and he's beyond scared about spending the rest of his life in prison. He cannot fathom the hurt he's caused these families, but he can tell it's awful, and this is his refusal to confront it. So what does he do? Front like he doesn't care. Hurt other people even more.
I feel like every time someone commits a horrible act we don't understand, we call it "evil," shrug, and leave it at that. I think that's too easy. I think we can understand, and we must try to understand why people commit these heinous acts. It's not because they're possessed by the devil or they're magic. There are real psychological and societal reasons, if we're willing to do the digging.
Let me be clear: I'm not excusing Lane. He deserves his punishment. But we want to stop people from shooting their peers, don't we? We need to dig deeper, then.
This is one of the worst outcomes of boys being unable to express how their turbulent feelings are (and there's probably mental illness issues involve here as well). But we see it in smaller ways, too. When boys tell their family members they hate them, that they don't care. When boys hit their girlfriends. When they crash their cars. When they get into fights. When they drink too much. Girls do this, too, but violence is much more prevalent with boys. I think a lot of it has to do with boys being unable to identify their difficult, scary feelings and express them. And it's something we all need to confront and deal with. This is our problem.
What do you think TJ Lane's actions in court say about him?
Image via ABC News