"We're getting used to violence" / by Rish Basu

J.T. Sutcliffe sits and watches as some of her best friends disappeared from the country.  Since her childhood, Sutcliffe never had to worry about the government’s wartime draft. But in 1973, during the height of the Vietnam War, Sutcliffe’s friends are being shipped to fight one by one, and she can’t do anything about it. Except protest.

For Sutcliffe, it’s not fair that her longtime friends have to risk their lives. It’s not fair that almost two million Americans were drafted.  It’s not fair that her friends had no say in whether or not they are going to war.

So Sutcliffe and her friends make a statement and join the thousands of people lining the streets of Washington D.C, protesting the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War.

But these protests were nothing like the ones of today.

In the 1970’s, protests consisted of peaceful sit-ins, organized marches and harmless rallies. Meanwhile, today’s protests conclude with events such as the murder of multiple police officers and civilians, a burned down building or whole city blocks torn asunder.

The core of the protests have not changed, but our generation’s sensitivity to violence has.

Sutcliffe believes protests from the past and present have certain differences that alter how we perceive the definition of effective and public demonstration.

“I believe that people who have peaceful protests are useful, but when people start shooting at each other or making verbal accusations that rip people apart, nobody can communicate or convince anybody of everything,” Sutcliffe said. “If we are to resolve something, we have to communicate. We aren’t going to solve problems by shooting and shouting at each other.  When I look at people who think that the most effective way to do things is by shouting louder than the next guy or blogging faster than the next guy, I think about how your generation is going to have to reign that in.”

Freshman David Vallejo sees a difference between the generational reactions to social unrest.

“If you look back to the Vietnam war, reporters would broadcast images of the news at a certain hour on TV and not every day,” Vallejo said. “So it’d be much harder for people to actually look and see what was going on and think about the horrors. Nowadays with social media and 24-hour news cycles and the whole digital age, it’s become that every time we turn on our phone, every time we turn on the TV, everytime we go on the internet, there’s always a new headline, there’s always a new article, and it’s just becoming something that’s commonplace.”

Vallejo says the presence of violence in today’s protests can be attributed to a mindset that society acquires.

“I didn’t live through the Vietnam protests, but I think the difference now is that a lot of the people in our generation really feel that the issues are so important that any action used to protest it is justified, including those of violent outbursts or any sort of violence.”

Vallejo, Sutcliffe and Hamilton all recognize the prevalence of violence in today’s society. As a result, an underlying question still remains. According to The Washington Post, there have been over 40,000 occurrences of gun violence and police brutality combined so far this year. So, with acts of terror becoming commonplace in today’s news headlines, are we becoming entirely insensitive to violence?

When today’s children turn on the television or scroll through social media and experience the increased news coverage, the presence of violence becomes more and more customary. So is the desensitizing of today’s society something we should worry about?

Assistant Upper School Head Scott Gonzalez has seen a generational desensitization to violence throughout his time as an educator.

“I think that when you start seeing violence, bloodshed and people being hurt as a normal aspect of life and a regular aspect of life, it just becomes more and more acceptable,” Gonzalez said.  “If you look at real current events, I think there is a real lust to see the videos right now of especially black men or any kind of violence. It is being promulgated and wanting to be shared. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but I think that when that gets out there, it becomes more sensationalized.”

Sutcliffe agrees this generation is becoming more and more desensitized as a result of increased coverage of violent events in the media.

“The way we get our information has definitely changed,” Sutcliffe said. “Back when I was reading about the Vietnam War, I was getting my information from TV and newspapers. If you read different newspapers, you got different perspectives. The same thing is happening today in blogs.  We had to be careful then and we have to be careful now to make sure we’re getting two legitimate sides.”

Harry Houck, Cable News Network (CNN) consultant and former New York Police Department detective takes a different stance. Having multiple years of experience dealing with law enforcement and racial tensions in the United States, Houck believes our generation is becoming more sensitive to violence because of the increase in technology.

“In today’s society, we have never seen public demonstrations like this before,” Houck said. “We have the internet, YouTube, and everybody has a camera on their phone and police officers are under more stress now as a result of that.”

Instead of designating the desensitization of our society as a major problem, Houck goes back to the roots.

“People aren’t telling the truth about the events that happen,” Houck said. “Let’s take the incident in Charlotte, North Carolina, where two police officers shot an armed man. We had three days of riots in Charlotte because of a false narrative. People will say he didn’t have a gun and that he was reading a book. You will have a peaceful demonstration for an hour and then the people who look for any excuse to commit violence come out. If we want to put an end to what’s going on in these inner cities, we need to stop the false narrative that goes out.”

Hamilton, however, sees no particular trend in the change in sensitivity between generations.  She believes the people in our generation are interpreting violence in different ways as a result of changes in priorities.

“I think it’s kind of both. For some of the young people, they’ve become non-reactive to it,” Hamilton said.  “But in other cases, what we’ve seen is that young people have taken that knowledge and themselves become violent. So there’s not one reaction for young people to all this violence. They’re all going in different directions.  This is because the younger group has other things that are their priority. One thing that has changed increasingly since I was a police officer is that police are not targeting as many younger people as they were. The reason is that for example in the 1970s and 80s, the crime rate for juveniles was higher than normal and so there was a reason that police were targeting juveniles for stop and frisk and things like that.”

Nevertheless, Vallejo believes society has become somewhat accustomed to acts of violence across the nation.

“I definitely think that a lot of our generation has become so use to seeing the images of like police shootings, mass shootings, just violence in general that we don’t really take the time to think about it and to think of the implications that it may have for the people involved,” Vallejo said.