Originally posted on Nation of Change – December 6, 2013
On October 22, 2013, a 13-year-old boy, Andy Lopez, was fatally shot by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus in Santa Rosa, California after he was warned repeatedly to put down what looked like a real automatic rifle. When Lopez turned around with the fake gun pointing directly at Gelhaus and his partner, fearing for their lives, Deputy Gelhaus fired eight times killing Lopez instantly.
Because of the tragic loss of a young life and the understandable outrage that naturally followed, I am afraid that the full lessons have not been drawn from the episode.
Unless we understand and learn from them, we will only see future such tragedies.
While there are few if any excuses for the taking of any life, because I have worked with the police over my career, I want to put forward a different understanding of the tragedy. To do so, let me take a step back and indulge in a bit of theory.
Melanie Klein is one of the most influential child psychoanalysts who ever lived. It is contended that if Freud discovered the child in the adult, then Klein discovered the infant in the child. Working with children as young as newborns up to pre-teens, Klein pushed back even further our understanding of the roots of human behavior.
One of Klein’s earliest discoveries was what she termed the “paranoid-schizoid position.” The child’s earliest state was “paranoid” because of its incessant fears that it would be abandoned or hurt by its first caregivers, typically the mother when Klein worked early in the 20th century. It was also “schizoid” because the young child’s mind was not sufficiently developed to understand and accept that the “good mother,” that one that fed, cared for, and met the child’s every demand, was also the “bad mother” who couldn’t be there all the time and had to discipline the child. Fortunately, with love and understanding, and without overreacting to it, the mother helped the child to heal the “split” between these two diametrically opposite images. In time, the child was able to see and accept that the “good and the bad mother” were one and the same person. She also helped the child to see that there was a “good” and “bad side” to everyone including the child itself.
But if there were prolonged trauma, then the splits would never heal properly and even continue to grow. Indeed, even with healthy development, all of us on occasion split the world into “good and bad guys.” The constant demonization by Democrats and Republicans of one another in Washington is sadly only one manifestation of this phenomenon, albeit one of the worst!
Unfortunately, paranoia and splitting are also furthered by society and certain occupations. Thus, it is not an exaggeration to say that police live and work in a constant state of “paranoid-schizoid.” They are constantly in fear for their safety and lives.
This is not meant in the slightest to excuse or wish away the tragedy that happened. It is also not to say that there aren’t bad or racist cops. There are. But this often obscures more difficult lessons. At the very least, we are not only aware of bad cops, but we try to do things about it. But, we are generally unaware and try not to correct for the earliest states of mind that Klein identified.
If there is any blame to go around for the tragedy, I place it squarely on the makers and the sellers of toy guns that look so much like the “real thing” that they make such tragedies almost inevitable. What kind of society would even allow such things?
There is no excuse for such “toys,” let alone real assault weapons that are too easily available.
Contrary to gun proponents, we are not safer as nation by having 315,000,000 guns, approximately one for every person. Toy guns are now part of the same lethal mix.
If there is any good that can come out of such a tragedy, the California legislature is considering a bill that would ban the manufacture and sale of toy guns that “look like the real thing.” I fervently hope that such a bill passes.
One death is one too many!