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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Vandalism of Graves and Memorials: Who's To Blame

After reading reports of vandals damaging lights at the KIA-MIA Memorial at Tracy Park (again) and at Garrett Maloney's grave site in South Webster, I was angry and confused.

Angry? How could anyone desecrate a memorial to fallen heroes or a grave of a respected young man? It makes me sick to think the sanctity of such places is not taught, respected, and rigidly controlled. Is it because people today do not instill respect except in relation to their own families? I seriously doubt if any person would vandalize a memorial or a grave site of a close loved one.

But, what makes me furious is a growing attitude that hollowed ground and sacred ceremony do not deserve reverence by all. Think about how individuals and even cults breed lack of respect for institutions such as the United Stated Armed Forces.

Fred Phelps, Sr. and the members of Westboro Baptist Church picket funerals of American servicemen and desecrate the American flag while believing in this philosophy: "Our attitude toward what's happening with the war is the Lord is punishing this evil nation for abandoning all moral imperatives that are worth a dime."

The so-called Westboro "Christians" blame the military for allowing gays to serve and wave signs that read "God hates fags" and "Thank God for dead soldiers." For their own reasons, they also picketed the funerals of  Micheal Jackson, Steve Jobs, heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio, and Christina Green, a 9-year-old victim of the 2011 Tucson shooting.

My blood boils over such disgraceful, heartless protests. While protesters have the freedom of speech, veterans say when saying goodbye to someone who died for that freedom, people should put those protests to rest. I wholly agree.

BUT, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the rights to protest at soldiers' funerals, reaffirming the protections in the U.S. Constitution. What price are we paying for allowing "hate speech" freedom to extend to those who would operate under the cloak of religion?

Exclusions of the First Amendment right include the following:

1. Incitement to Crime

Supreme Court rules: You cannot falsely yell "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater.

2. Fighting Words

Supreme Court rules: You cannot say "nigger" as an incitement to immediate violence or defamation.

3. Student Speech

Supreme Court rules: You cannot hold a banner reading "BONG HITS FOR JESUS" at a school-supervised event which was not on school grounds.

Yet, the highest court in the land says
 you can attend a funeral
for a fallen hero with signs that read:

"God Killed Your Son"

"You're Going To Hell"

"God Hates Jews"

"Semper Fi, Semper Fags"

"9-11 Gift From God"

"Thank God for IEDs"

Do these protesters incite crime at a funeral as much as the "Fire!" example incites crime in a crowded theater? Is "fag" as much a fighting word as "nigger"? (Please don't judge me for making a specific example - I hate both of these words.) Does the student sporting his immature "BONG" banner hurt the sanctity of Jesus and religion as much as the student of the Bible blaming God for killing an American son?

I know the Supreme Court decision doesn't mean the soldier's family must listen to the repugnant speech or view the extremist language on the picket signs. Thank God that 900 bikers from around the country are making sure they don't have to.The Patriot Guard Riders, many of them former veterans, protect funeral-goers from the hurtful speech by creating a "wall" of American flags and soaring patriotic music to shield families from the protest.

Yet, in a democracy, in their worst time of grief, soldiers' families must feel even more grief when protesters show up uninvited. Angel Vasquez, a Vietnam Marine veteran was alarmed by the Supreme Court's ruling. "Well, there's the right to get their "expletive" kicked," he said.

I tend to agree with Angel. And, maybe, just maybe... correct thinking Moms and Dads should have whipped a few young hate mongers' "expletives" before Angel and other vets get their chance.

Why the Parallel to Vandalism and Funeral Protests?

Although some police agencies hold onto the idea that such destruction is usually evidence of classic hate crime such as occult involvement, theft of objects for vintage collectors, or spiteful actions of revenge or protest, many experts believe most vandalism occurs, not out of spite or hatred, but rather simply because it can. So, let's see how "it can."

In some cases, these places have become havens for wild parties, complete with beer cans, drugs, fast food and condoms. The combination of the haunting appeal of an isolated graveyard and the risk-taking will of an impaired youth can lead to terrible, irreverent acts of vandalism. We all understand this, yet most of us assume we have instilled a sense of reverence, homage, and respect in our youth that would prevent them from desecrating these places. We cannot fathom such criminal behavior. These youth should never put themselves in such a position in the first place.

I got news for you optimists -- this sense of what must be sacred has not been taught or practiced by many modern American families. Let me remind you of my beliefs on respect: Many families have respect for their own biological units but show little concern for the rest of the "family of man." These folks would likely believe "letting Junior and Sis blow off a little bit of steam in a field of stones ain't no big deal." Somehow, people can exhibit anger and aggression in the midst of joy. Interesting twist? A lot of Americans call it "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll." Hollywood calls it "business as usual: no foul intended."

Watch how mobs of people celebrate winning a national sports title or a professional championship. Good, educated people join the mob mentality to start fires, overturn vehicles, loot and generally ignore the efforts of law enforcement to stop their criminal activities. And, all in the name of celebration? People raised with little respect for others mix their emotions at the drop of a hat.

Since vandalism tends to be a crime mainly committed by juveniles. I, like many others, suspect such destructive behaviors start at an early age because the people who vandalize are not learning how to have respect for others and for other people's property. In general I would say vandalism is the result of poor parenting since parents should be responsible for teaching their children respect -- and, not just a selfish respect for their own kin and possessions but a respect built from honor for the rights of all.

I think vandals are also basically angry people who think it is acceptable to take out their anger on other things. Dr. Jeffery Chase, a license clinical psychologist and psychology professor at Radford University in Radford, Virginia, says many times people, especially children and adolescents, will use vandalism to vent.

Chase says, “It can be displacement — displacement in the technical sense is that [vandals] wish to do something against a more threatening object or individual, so they vent their anger on something safer.” Other people's property is one fairly "safe" alternative.

Social psychologists have found these young people are more likely to attribute their failure to external forces. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as the self-serving bias. Many of these youth have no problem attributing their success to personal characteristics, yet they blame outside variables for their failures. Researchers believe that blaming external factors for failures and disappointments helps protect self-esteem.

As a teacher, I have seen this self-serving bias time and again. Take a teen who gets a bad grade and refuses to take responsibility for his or her own inept performance. They immediately look for something else to blame. "I failed because the teacher included trick questions" or "The classroom was so hot that I couldn't concentrate" or "That stupid teacher just hates me" are examples of excuses a student might come up with to explain poor performance. These explanations lay the blame on outside forces rather than accepting personal responsibility.

In my opinion, we are giving youth too many models that represent opportunities to shirk responsibilities of common decency and respectful behaviors. These young people see the actions of Westboro Baptist Church and believe in unbridled rights of freedom of speech and expression. They think, "Why shouldn't I be allowed to hate what I wish and openly confront any sacred belief or desecrate any place I want to?"

Teens see the Supreme Court as an ally in their hateful actions such as vandalism. They think, "How can I possibly be wrong when I am exercising my freedom of expression? I live in America where the ACLU will back me up." The sad part of this reasoning is that, in part, they are right.

Today honoring one's community and country pretty much means "anything goes because my rights to express are more important than your rights to sanctity." What have we become? Soon, people will not have any opinion except the ideas being force fed by the liberal media, big business, and self-serving government. Can't you taste the vanilla already? We are becoming spineless individuals, afraid to honor our own beliefs.

So, parents, let Junior and Sis "do their own thing." Don't worry about things as stupid as taking your hat off during the National Anthem, showing respect and not taunting the opposition during a sports contest, and solemnly honoring the graves of the departed. Spray your graffiti on monuments and buildings. Smash some stupid public displays. And, tell the dead soldier's parents their son is in hell. You can do this because you live in America, the land of freedom and justice for all.

But, when you raise your children to be heathens and vandals, remember this: My grandfather, my father, my uncles, my brother, me, my sons, and a whole lot of deceased veterans are going to be part of an angel's legions. This particular angel's name is Angel Vasquez, and we each plan to mark off a little space of your ass to kick through the gates of hell. Oh, sorry, I mean "little space of your expletive."

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