In 2021, three people died because snow had piled up in their driveways.
That’s the story.
Or is it?
Here is the ABC News version of what happened, which also raises as many questions as it answers. [I also watched the security video of the event, but I won’t put that link here because it depicts gun violence which I will not glorify. I watched it in order to understand more of how the event could have taken place].
Before analyzing this event any further, let’s address a key objection in examining the rationale for violent crimes. People criticize psychologists for trying to determine the reasons someone committed a crime. They feel this will be used as a pretext for excusing their criminal behavior. The reasoning is that no one should spend any time trying to understand a criminal. The full focus of understanding should only be on the victims, not the perpetrators.
But is this a healthy approach for modern society to take?
In seeking to understand why anyone can commit a violent crime, social science attempts to delve into the mindset that results in people being hurt. If crimes were only committed by gangs, organized crime, or “evil” people, the search for meaning behind crimes would be a wasted effort.
As social scientists have looked deeply into crime statistics worldwide, here is what they found:
- The majority of violent crimes are committed by males (90%)
- The majority of violent crime victims are male (80%)
- 50% of violent crimes are committed by organized crime members
- 50% of violent crimes are committed in relation to domestic disputes
Too much of the study involving violent crime and the policing of it has focused on the gang type violence. Not enough has gone into discovering what causes the average person to become violent. I think this is more intriguing and holds the answer to solutions to some of crime’s origins.
I’m a trauma therapist. My job is to delve into the parts of the psyche that cause people to manifest the type of behavior and thoughts which cause problems. One of the tools I use in pursuit of accomplishing this job is called Internal Family Systems. In this therapy approach, we believe the mind is an amalgam of many Parts. These parts each have their jobs and every part functions mainly to protect the individual. Parts like Anxiety, Shame, Depression, Justice, Fear of Rejection, Abandonment, Rage seem to have their own agendas based on the roles we originally gave them. Many of these roles began in childhood. Some of the roles are grounded in traumatic experiences.
Back to the violent snow story. The facts are simple: A single male neighbor lived across the narrow lane from a married couple. Every time it snowed, the couple would shovel the snow from their driveway in front of the driveway of the single man. Over time, this became the basis for their animosity toward each other.
On the day of the murders, the couple did the same thing after a snowfall. The single man happened to be home. He came out and started to shout at them. The two men started to exchange angry words filled with expletives. The longer this went on, the woman also began to shout at her neighbor. The addition of her voice seemed to enrage the single man who retreated into his home at one point.
That’s when he emerged with a gun.
He slowly walked over to the woman and shot her several times. From the video, it is clear this is either a pellet or bb gun, for she doesn’t seem to be seriously hurt by the shots. But the more he shoots, she begins to react physically to the pain. Her husband runs over and the single man shoots him several times as well. They are both left bleeding on the ground. As I watched it, they were moving freely, suggesting they were not seriously hurt.
A minute later, the single man walks out of his house with a different gun. This one is larger and looks more lethal. In fact, he walks over to the woman and shoots her once, killing her. He also shoots the husband. Then, he calmly walks back into his house.
According to the story in the news account, when the police arrived at the scene, they went to the shooter’s house and knocked on the door. That’s when they heard a gunshot. He killed himself before they could enter and arrest him.
Some will watch this video and just shake their heads at the bizarre nature of this violence. Who gets this upset about snow? Who reacts to an argument by getting two different guns to take down their neighbors? Why were they all acting badly in the first place?
As a trauma therapist, my questions are different. What parts of their protective psyche were activated in this scene? What parts had been active in the months prior? As we have analyzed young men who commit multiple murders, we note mitigating factors such as bullying, isolation, or injustice in their background. Are these events what cause a person’s psyche to create violent parts that need to hurt others?
And why do some people create these violent parts to protect themselves and other people do not? This we cannot answer. Every person’s internal system is created differently and uniquely. Many people are bullied in school, but very few come back and shoot up the school with automatic weapons. Why do more men create parts that feel the need to retaliate violently than women do?
This year in America (2022), we have had more than 600 mass shootings. All 600 have been committed by men. Why men? We do not have an answer for this. But the question must be asked. And, in order for the answers to be helpful, we must answer the question with as few preconceptions and biases as possible.
I don’t know why these people were in a dispute about snow. But I guarantee their disregulated internal reactions had little to do with snow. Their parts were convinced this snow dispute encompassed larger principles. Perhaps one or all of these people had been abused as children and felt power taken away from them. Perhaps one or all of them had witnessed their own parents react with violence toward neighbors or relatives. Perhaps one or all of them had a fear of other people taking advantage of them because it happened to them when they were young.
There are reasons we create the protective parts inside of us.
I remember as a boy being surrounded by six older boys, tied up and beaten underneath the bridge near our house. That immobilization for years brought blind rage inside of me when someone would hold me down or cause me to feel panic.
This emerged my first year of college. The guys who lived on my dorm floor decided to attack the floor above us in a pillow fight. We thought about going room to room pummeling them with pillows. But someone had tipped them off. When I lead the charge up the back stairs, I came around the corner on their floor and was set upon by ten guys with pillows. My floor-mates got away but I didn’t. They beat on me for a minute or so.
There was no real pain. But the panic got a hold of me. I dropped my pillow and started to punch and kick the two guys closest to me.
I’ll spare you the details. As a result of my actions, I was suspended from classes for several days. I could not believe I had become that violent. But now that I work with people who have these kind of parts, I recognize that a Protector broke through to keep me “safe” and could not see that there is any difference between a pillow and fists.
I wonder what might have happened if I had access to a gun?
I also wonder what might have happened with the snow shovel people if no guns had been available. I speculate we may never have heard of them. I challenge anyone reading this to begin looking beyond the headlines these days. What makes people so protective of themselves? What would it take for you to lose control and have your internal Protectors take over?
What makes any of us have such bizarre reactions when we feel insecure or attacked?