Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sandy Hook

Yesterday was the third anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school. It's across the state from me, but being within the political boundaries still made it feel close to home. Also, my brother-in-law grew up nearby and I've driven through the area.

Millions of people produced various musings on the event yesterday, so I'm not going to bother with the politics or the moral meaning, or the grotesque phenomenon of denialism. What I will remark on is the way in which memory is physically embodied. The damage to the school building could have been repaired for no more than a few thousand dollars; but instead, in a referendum, the townspeople voted overwhelmingly to tear it down and build a new school for some $57 million, of which the state contributed the bulk of the money. The town also acquired the perpetrator's house, which his family lawyer arranged through a series of transactions so they would not acquire it directly from the estate; and demolished it, leaving the land permanently open.

So the house was unsaleable and uninhabitable, and the school unusable, because they were marked with the memory of horror. There was no alternative but to eradicate them, at whatever cost it required. Sometimes, we take the opposite view, and insist on reclaiming morally tainted spaces. Think of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater, which ultimately reopened in what was widely seen as a positive gesture of defiance; or for that matter the Planned Parenthood clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts that was attacked by John Salvi, which also reopened.. It will be interesting to see what happens with the civic building in San Bernardino.

I wonder what makes the difference?


  1. Interesting question. I think there are ways to reclaim a space that has been tainted by such horrors. Imagine if the whole community had come out and worked to rebuild the school, contributed in any way that they could: painted a wall, placed a single brick, etc. There are things that can be done that empower people and help them to overcome such horrors.

  2. I think it was just too devastating. You don't want that memory hanging over an elementary school, I think. It might be different if the children were older.

    1. I think you're right about that. Such an unbelievable nightmare.