22. Male. White. College student. Fraternity member. Arguably one of the most privileged and protected demographics in America. Last night, an individual of these identities lost his youth and his life in a fatal shooting that occurred around 2 A.M. in Lexington, Kentucky. The media and university have released his name; Jonathan Krueger died at the scene of an alleged armed robbery on the perimeter of the University of Kentucky’s campus. As he was a student active in various social and academic university organizations, campus is somber this morning as students cope with such an unforeseen and tragic loss.
Fact. An arrest has been made based upon a vehicle matching the description of another surviving victim.
Fact. The university made swift, yet vague, action when notifying students of an emergency situation, that later revealed the fatality of a student.
Reality. In the coming days, parents will have bury their barely 22 year old son, and friends, brothers, acquaintances, and students will mourn the death of a young man who was robbed of his life overnight.
Crimes occur on college campuses throughout the country on a daily basis. Some of those crimes do, indeed, reflect deaths of students and other individuals. Sometimes these events are swept under the rug to avoid tarnishing a university name. In others, the victim is elevated to bring justice and closure to the community. It is presently unclear why this specific incident occurred, and may never be brought to light. Was Jon a target? Was he in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was his death related to any of his identities? These are all questions that will be inevitably wrestled with in seeking an understanding of how a bright 22 year old could lose his life.
While we must leave arrests and our concept of “justice” to the police, we must begin an important conversation. Gun violence is a prominent problem EVERYWHERE. Whether it is connected to a college campus or not, unregulated access to and misuse of firearms are causing individuals to be harmed or even lose their lives, such as Jonathan has, regardless of age, gender, sexuality, time, ability, or geographic location. In spaces where we are entitled to feel safe (our neighborhoods) not just as college students, but as HUMAN BEINGS, we must recognize that we are not safe nor too careful. Violence, though perpetrated by a motivated individual, is not random. Violence is not created by a specific demographic. Though it may not be explicitly rooted in a victim’s identities, violence is taught and learned. Not that we want to or should have to live our lives in fear, the reality is that individuals (our classmates) are LOSING their lives because of perpetuated ideologies about violence. In the media and beyond, images of cyclical poverty, tropes of power and wealth, and displays of violence espouse the misuse of weapons and force. We are desensitized to such violence seen in films and on television until it becomes a reality in our backyards.
Where do we begin to eliminate gun violence and the misuse of physical power? Dialogue is the most critical element to change deeply rooted ideologies on the subject. Dialogue between state and national leaders? Yes. Moreover, dialogue between individuals in authority of various identities must be instigated to personalize violence and bring negotiations between communities to create safe spaces for EVERYONE in our country, as humans. The revoking of gun rights will not solve this problem. While stricter regulations may affect the circulation of firearms, the discussion must be centered on the use of weapons. In the United States, weapons are symbolic of safety and security. That symbol is voided, however, when individuals encroach on the safety and security of another human, particularly one that is in no way threatening. Desensitization on the issue of gun violence and the reality of tragedies sparked by the misuse of weapons must be brought into conversation in our communities. Likewise, the notion of community must be challenged and broadened. Until neighborhoods, universities, cities, and states accept various identities and appropriately confront identities that marginalize others, we will be unable to have a true community and the violence will not cease.
As a member of Kappa Delta sorority, I have had the privilege to meet and work alongside Jonathan, who was a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Despite the discrediting of Greek communities nationwide that have been guilty of perpetuating stereotypes and instigating violence themselves at times, I know no better example of a community that has mobilized to support its members and beyond, and to mourn the loss of Jonathan Krueger. Jon’s death will transcend the Greek community at the University of Kentucky and impact classmates, organization members, faculty, and others alike as we try to make sense of the situation.