Violence and the Social Compact

Just six hours after being released from jail on charges that he kidnapped his ex-girlfriend, Beatriz Cintora-Silva, Sanchez arrived at the the young woman's home bearing a gun:


Authorities said Beatriz Cintora-Silva called 911 shortly after 4 a.m. to report shots fired. The 911 dispatcher heard her cry, "No, no, no," followed by a gunshot. Sanchez took the phone, told the dispatcher he had killed three people and that he was going to kill himself, authorities said. The dispatcher then heard a single shot followed by silence. 

Cook said Sanchez had been arrested Saturday in Longmont on charges of domestic violence, kidnapping and false arrest for allegedly holding Maria Cintora-Silva against her will after their relationship ended. Sanchez was released on bail from the Boulder County jail at 10 p.m. Monday and drove to the home where Cintora-Silva had taken refuge with her sister and brother-in-law, Cook said. "He shot out the back door," Cook said. "He shot that out then gained entry into the house." 

The bodies of Ojeda and his wife were found in one bedroom. His sister-in-law and Sanchez were found in another, Cook said. Authorities found a .45-caliber Glock handgun near Sanchez's body and 16 spent shell casings around the house, Cook said, adding that investigators were still examining the house and might find more. 

Cook said Sanchez had two magazines for the gun, and each held 13 rounds of ammunition. Sanchez had been living in another house in the same neighborhood of tidy modular homes, winding walkways and parks. 

Investigators searching that home found the original box the handgun had been sold in, but they did not find a receipt, and it was unclear when he bought it, Cook said.
I read this story yesterday. And then this morning I went back through the comments section for yesterday's post on the killing of Kasandra Belcher. Here are a few samples of what I saw:

My ex-husband tried to kill me after months of working himself up to it. The day of the event he was at my house, and spent a good half hour following me around, badgering me about things, working himself up into a frenzy about nothing, until he totally lost it and started beating the crap out of me. 

The only thing that stopped him from grabbing a knife and finishing the job was that someone walked in on him. Amazingly then the first thing he said was 'oh my god what have I done, please don't have me arrested'. In retrospect I see it as a long brewing, calculated step into madness, then an attempt afterwards to blame me for it. 15 years later he still takes no responsibility.

To think that a person who is consciously capable of that kind of act, or a person so lacking in relationship skills that he can't manage to get out of a situation without killing the other person is going to possess the skills to know when it's time to give up his gun is not realistic. These guys are deep in the depths of denial.

More:

After our first date, my future wife's stalker, a truly pathological man she had briefly dated months earlier, revealed himself by physically attacking her in a grocery store parking lot. This started a three month reign of terror, which included an attempt to choke her to death in the unattached garage where the laundry room was. He was finally jailed after beating another woman he was stalking at the same time into a coma. The harassment didn't stop until I beat the sh*t out of a friend of his he had stalking her further, when he tried to break into her house while I was dog-sitting. 

There are truly ill people in this world. I'm sure my wife's stalker is out of jail now. I contemplate what I shall do should he ever appear again. I am ashamed to say that my guilt over not being able to protect her -- a bullshit male response if there ever was one -- were it not for the fact that we now have children, might well result in his death should he approach her again. It remains the only time in my life I have coldly reasoned how much violence I wish to mete out, and how I could get away with it.
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Someone I dated briefly in high school showed up at my house one night shortly after I stopped going out with him drunk and with a pistol, threatening to shoot me. A mutual friend was also there and restrained him. I never even told my parents, who were upstairs asleep at the time, let alone called the police. He verbally terrorized me for months afterward, making life in my small high school pretty ugly for awhile. 

I marvel now, more than 35 years later, that I was so accepting of the idea of my own powerlessness in the situation that it never occurred to me to defend myself or to prosecute the guy in any way. Nor did it occur to any of my classmates who knew about the incident to discuss it with any authority figure. Profoundly fncked.
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My ex-wife's second husband during the dissolution of their marriage shot a rifle in her vicinity inside their house, in a room where my second daughter and granddaughter by my first daughter, no more than an infant at the time, were also. He was not a hunter; I had never known him to shoot or discuss self defense. He was not a collector. This was Texas, where guns and rifles in the home are as common as cups and saucers. 

For a month afterwords, my daughter stayed in the same bed as her mother (I did not find out till all this was over or I would have been very upset) to protect her. He was never arrested, albeit there was a restraining order put on him to stay away from my ex-wife, though not my daughter or granddaughter, after a hearing in which my daughter, who had had an excellent relationship with him for years, had to testify to assure the petition's success. She told me later it was, up to that point, the most terrible day of her life, and I believe it was the event that triggered her bi-polar condition in ensuing years. The rifle was legal and registered. 

He has denied the incident ever occurred for over a decade, so convincingly so that one must infer that his memory has erased the event and replaced it with an entirely different narrative he has supplied for himself and repeated to himself. He has never once since demonstrated any violent behavior toward anyone, let alone gun use. If he had hit either my granddaughter or daughter it would have been an accident, a slip or trip, perhaps a ricochet: he was not, according to my daughter, aiming in their direction.
I have often said that I grew up around a good deal of violence. It really was just in the air. It's one of the reasons why I am always skeptical of the notion that violence is simply something that "those people over there" do. On the contrary, the desire to dominate other people lurks under the surface of all humanity. I think this extends across all class boundaries. The project of a civil society is to curb this desire for violent domination. It is to recognize that there is an animal in us, and that, if we are left to our own devices, the animal will rule.

I've been with my spouse for almost 15 years. In those years, I've never been with anyone but the mother of my son. But that's not because I am an especially good and true person. In fact, I am wholly in possession of an unimaginably filthy and mongrel mind. But I am also a dude who believes in guard-rails, as a buddy of mine once put it. I don't believe in getting "in the moment" and then exercising will-power. I believe in avoiding "the moment." I believe in being absolutely clear with myself about why I am having a second drink, and why I am not; why I am going to a party, and why I am not. I believe that the battle is lost at Happy Hour, not at the hotel. I am not a "good man." But I am prepared to be an honorable one.

This is not just true of infidelity, it's true of virtually anything I've ever done in my life. I did not lose 70 pounds through strength of character, goodness or willpower. My character and will angles toward cheesecake, fried chicken and beer -- in no particular order. I lost that weight by not fighting the battle on desire's terms, but fighting before desire can take effect.

These are compacts I have made with myself and with my family. There are other compact we make with our country and society. I tend to think those compacts work best when we do not flatter ourselves, when we are fully aware of the animal in us. 

Power changes people. People yell things from behind the shielding of their automobiles which they would never yell if walking down a sidewalk. This does not mean that power should be shunned; it means that we should be aware of its effects. I believe very much in self-defense, and totally understand why someone would keep a gun in the home. If I lived somewhere else, I might keep one too. 

But I would not insist that I was the same person armed, with the power to take a life, that I was without it. I would insist on guard-rails.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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