“Lockdown.” To a parent, perhaps no word induces more panic. Recently (May 22), I received a text alert that my son’s elementary school was going on lockdown. A second alert from the University of Chicago Office of Safety and Security advised all University personnel to avoid the area just a stone’s throw away from where I drop him off every morning for class. The lockdown was initiated because Myles Frazier, a young man of our neighborhood suffering from a mental health episode, had barricaded himself inside his apartment and threatened to harm himself with a gun. As officers negotiated with him, Frazier allegedly fired shots, prompting the police to shoot and kill him.
The overwhelming sense of panic I felt when I thought my son’s safety had been compromised made it all the more devastating to hear that it was Frazier’s father who, concerned for his son’s safety, had made the call to police that would eventually end in his son’s death.
Myles Frazier’s death was, among other complicating factors, a tragedy of gun violence, a genre with which America has become all too familiar in recent years. While tragedies of gun violence can, like Frazier’s, take the form of state-sanctioned killing, they also manifest in suicide, self-harm, accident, and sometimes purposeful massacre.
Whatever form they may take, the responses in the wake of gun violence incidents in America are as familiar and formulaic as a Greek play. First comes the strophe of “thoughts and prayers.” Heads both bow and shake in the face of “senseless” violence. The inevitability of individual sin and the impossibility of its elimination are touted as both explanation and excuse.