A while back I went to see We Are Marshall, a movie about the horrifying plane crash that killed an entire football team and their coaches in 1970. Because the film was a typical Hollywood flick, we hardly got a few minutes to meet some of the players and their families before the airplane crashed. I spent the rest of the movie not feeling all that sympathetic to these devastated families or to the girlfriend of one of the players, whom we follow for the rest of the film, watching her pick up the pieces. I can't recall what any of them looked like and, when the movie was over, I tossed my popcorn in the trash and the movie quickly flew out of my mind.
On the other hand, after I saw an Indian movie called Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota (Rough translation: What if . . . ?), I cried when the plane crashed into the World Trade Center and all but one of the main characters died. I am still bothered by this movie and I can picture all of the protagonists and remember the looks on their faces in the last moments of their lives. Why the difference?
Well, Bollywood does something Hollywood does not: they spend an immense amount of time in character development during their movies, so by the time tragedy hits, you are fully invested emotionally in these people. They have become real to you and you know their hopes and dreams and it is horribly painful to see them suffer and lose out on their futures. We also get to know those who loved them and we feel terribly sad for them as well.
What does all this have to do with crime? A lot in a world that is spending less and less time in human interaction and more time in artificial worlds where humans are devalued and depersonalized.
Two little girls were just used as target practice out in the small town of Weleetka, Oklahoma. Police theorize two shooters using different guns both shot each of the girls, 11-year-old Skyla Whitaker (pictured left), and 13-year-old Taylor Paschal-Placker (right). The two little girls were doing nothing more than walking from one house to the other in the middle of the day. They were not enemy combatants, they were not opposing gang members, and they did not get killed because they saw something they shouldn't have or wanted out of a romantic relationship. They were killed because they had no meaning to the killers except as moving targets. Their murderers had zero empathy.
Zero empathy or great fear are the only two explanations for why human beings can take the lives of others. Great fear of children or harmless people cannot be justified, which leaves only zero empathy as the remaining answer. Fear and low empathy is achievable in war which allows soldiers to kill little children (especially those they think are attached to explosives). Low empathy is certainly present in terrorists who claim to have only killed children (as collateral damage) for a cause. But zero empathy is what is present in homegrown murderers who take lives of children merely for the fun of it.
I got a closeup view of zero empathy by a young adult toward children in action during a ride-along with my police officer daughter. We--and I say we because all of us ride-alongs feel temporarily part of the team!--were called to a public library at seven at night. Two little boys, six and eight, had just spent the last eight hours while Mommy was off with her girlfriends at an amusement park. She had dumped them there, without any lunch or snacks, and told them they would get picked up around 7 PM. The police beat Mom to the library. When Mom arrived, she was forced to sit while CPS was contacted. She complained the whole time about how long she had to wait . . . in all, about 45 minutes . . . and how she was hungry. Finally, the decision came down, and the children were placed in the police cruiser to be taken into protective custody.
Not once did the mother of these boys look at them, talk to them, or apologize to them. She only had concern for herself and for what she had to go through because "these cops were being ridiculous." Zero empathy for the little boys. One day if she decides she has had enough of having to "care" for them, we might find them dead.
Society will be surprised at how this could have happened! What kind of pressure must the mom have been under to do such a thing? Is she psychotic? Did she snap? No, folks, Mom has zero empathy and the boys are expendable. Zero empathy is the hallmark of psychopathy and psychopathy is a growing menace in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
Children and teens who grow up in an emotional abyss and are raised on media that devalues human life in quantity through violent television and video games show increasing signs of reduced empathy towards their families, classmates, and communities. Then these young people grow up to be teenage killers or full-grown adults who have no empathy toward anyone younger.
When the two men who killed Skyla and Taylor are caught, we undoubtedly will hear from the defense lawyers as to what drove these men to kill innocent children. What we are unlikely to hear is that these two men simply have zero empathy for other human beings. Like rabid dogs with an incurable disease, human beings who have zero empathy are damaged beyond repair.
Our country needs to take a strong look at what is causing young people to become emotionally estranged from their fellow man and work hard to restore in society what is necessary for creating love and empathy in our youth and remove what is detrimental to their healthy emotional growth. Otherwise, children will become more and more expendable in the eyes of those who feel nothing for them.