Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's not paranoia if they're shooting at you

By now almost everyone in the U.S. (and I imagine quite a few people around the world) have heard about the tragedy at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. On Friday, February 12 at approximately 4:00pm CST, Dr. Amy Bishop, an Assistant Professor in the Biological Sciences Department took out a 9-mm handgun and shot at her colleagues during a faculty meeting. She killed three colleagues and wounded three others, including the department administrative assistant.

What the news immediately latched on to was Dr. Bishop's tenure case--she had been denied the year before, had appealed the decision, and had apparently just learned on Friday that her appeal was also denied.

There have been lots of coverage about the incident as it first unfolded and then as new twists emerged over the revelation that Bishop had fatally shot her brother in their Braintree, MA home when she was 20 and about a pipe bomb investigation she had been tied to over bombs sent to the home of her then post-doc faculty advisor at Harvard.

Speaking of which, in almost every article I've read about this story, they all mention that Bishop has a PhD from Harvard. And I wonder at the insistence on her credentials--versus the absence of similar credentialing of any of her colleagues-victims. Are we supposed to assume that the juxtaposition of the words "Harvard" and "shooter" makes this more titilating because someone with a Harvard PhD couldn't possibly murder anyone or be mentally unstable?

Anyway, what I really want to write about is an issue that no major newspaper or magazine has discussed yet--which is the racial profile of the faculty members that Bishop targeted.

I recently looked at the department webpage and counted fourteen current faculty members (emeritus professors are, essentially, folks who have retired). Of those professors, five are people of color. Of the six people that Bishop shot, four are people of color. Which means Bishop shot four out of the five faculty of color colleagues in her department.

[for a picture of the colleagues she shot all together, click here for the latest New York Times article]

Now, let me be clear. There is nothing in any of the reports that suggests that this was a racially motivated shooting. But you have to wonder, in a meeting with all these people, where the faculty of color comprise a third of the people in the room, she managed to shoot four of five people of color, fatally shooting three people of color and killing off all the African American faculty in the department. It leads you to wonder if this wasn't somehow planned, consciously or subconsciously, to focus her gun on the faculty of color in the room. And the fact that her previous connections to gun and bomb violence had been dismissed also seems to fit within a history of how often middle-class white Americans are often given a pass. Consider this quote from the former Braintree police chief:

“You put them all together and it does make you doubt just what happened and how it happened,” Mr. Polio said. “You have to be more than a psychiatrist to figure that one out. I don’t think anybody can really get a handle on it. These things happen, and they happen to people we least suspect they could happen to.”

WTF? These things happen? Murdering your colleagues? It wasn't an accident--and taking a shot gun to your brother also seems very suspect. As for the remark that they "happen to people we least suspect they could happen to"--is that because Bishop is a woman, came from a middle-class home, was educated at Harvard? Or is it that we are surprised because she's white? And should we start to racially profile female white science faculty at universities? First of all, I don't think you should racially profile anyone, but lets be honest, NO ONE is going to jump to the conclusion that we should be more nervous around white female professors on college campuses--unlike some of the xenophobic reactions that occurred around Asian American male students post-Virginia Tech.

I just wonder, is anyone in the mainstream media going to note the startling image of this white woman shooting and killing her faculty colleagues of color? Is it really just a coincidence?

[Aside: I know I've focused a lot on the shooter in this post, but I did want to acknowledge the pain and suffering of the entire community of UAH as well as the members of the Biological Science Department in particular. If you read about the profiles of the slain faculty members, they are each extraordinary and remarkable and it is tragic that they are no longer with us. R.I.P. Dr. Gopi Podila, Dr. Adriel Johnson, and Dr. Maria Ragland Davis. I'm glad that Dr. Luis Cruz-Vera was released on Saturday from the hospital and I hope that Dr. Joseph Leahy and Stephanie Monticciolo both recover from their head wounds very soon]


Eurasian Sensation said...

Interesting. I think this kind of phenomenon happens quite commonly; an attack that is not racially motivated, yet racial prejudice has a powerful influence on how it goes down.

Just speculating, but perhaps she saw the POCs as somehow being affirmative action hirings, who had denied Bishop her "rightful" place?

Moi said...

I maintain that if her ass had been thrown in jail when she capped her own brother decades ago, none of these people would be dead right now.

People need to start asking more questions as to why she'd been walking free this whole time and why her history of violence ('cause she assaulted folks before and all) went ignored 'til now.

Jennifer said...

Hi Eurasian Sensation and Moi,

I agree with your speculation Eurasian Sensation, that perhaps the POC in the room were targeted, either subliminally or not so subliminally. The NY Times article suggests that she had intended to shoot/kill ALL of her colleagues, so in that way, I don't believe she was specifically targeting only the POC. However, did she intentionally start with them? If she was shooting people sitting nearest her, were the POC all grouped together allowing her easier access/targets? So hard to know and since it's a criminal investigation, details are going to be slow in trickling out.

More than likely, she wouldn't have seen much if any jail time, even if it had gone to trial. Given the fact that her mother was on the city board (which, lets face it, was probably the reason the file conveniently disappeared) means that if she had been charged and if it had gone to trial, they could have done a lot of things to prevent her from seeing jail time, like pleading temporary insanity or involuntary manslaughter.

The fact that she seems to have evaded criminal scrutiny seems to beg the question about WHY she was given so many passes?