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Commentary: Remember victims at Va. Tech

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  • Student journalist says he tried to make sense of the Virginia Tech shooting
  • Writer says he's more afraid in big cities than on campus
  • Media coverage of urban crime often meager, he says
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By Garrett Broad
Special to CNN
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Garrett Broad, a senior at Rutgers University, is Environment Correspondent for Scoop08.com, a national student newspaper dedicated to coverage of the 2008 presidential race. CNNU is a feature that provides student perspectives on news and trends from colleges across the United States. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the schools where the campus correspondents are based.

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Garrett Broad, like many other Americans, was transfixed to the TV in the days after the Virginia Tech massacre.

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (CNN) -- It already seems like history; it is amazing to think it has only been a year.

Like so many other Americans, I remained transfixed in front of my television set and computer screen for days after the deadly shootings at Virginia Tech, trying to make sense of why a young student from an upstanding South Korean immigrant family would ever commit such a heinous and unnecessary crime.

Shortly thereafter, NBC news announced that it had received a package containing writings and video from an enraged Seung-Hui Cho, mailed some time between his first and second set of shootings on that April day in 2007.

And suddenly, the entire episode began to make a little more sense.

Spewing irrational hatred that became the basis for his inexcusable actions, Cho was clearly mentally ill.

At the same time, however, he seemed to have possessed an acute understanding of modern media systems. Within moments, his name and face were plastered across all of our screens, complete with fully-loaded urban combat regalia, his manifesto reaching millions of Americans on a 24-hour news loop -- just as he had surely wished and expected.

Cho seemed to know that, if one wants to gain the attention of the American media through violence, Americans must be hit in places they previously thought were safe.

According to the FBI's crime statistics, in 2006 there were 76 murders in Richmond, Virginia; 83 in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; 169 in Washington; 276 in Baltimore, Maryland, all within a few hour's drive of the campus in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Then there are those bigger cities a bit further from Tech's campus -- 406 murders in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 418 in Detroit, Michigan; 480 in Los Angeles, California; 596 in New York City; the list goes on.

Do we know the names of any of these victims or perpetrators?

The FBI also posts data for known offenses at universities and colleges across the nation. In 2006, they reported 7 homicides nationwide. Working alone in 2007, Cho more than quadrupled that total.

In response to the massacre at Virginia Tech, schools across the country took great care in examining and often updating their emergency response systems. One cannot underestimate the importance of having these plans in place and communicated properly to the student body, ensuring a safe environment conducive for young adults.

But watching the news in the wake of Cho's actions, an outside observer could hardly help but think that academia across America was on the brink of violent disaster.

Day after day, I watched pundits who had hardly stepped foot on a college campus in decades suggest that every college student should be packing heat, others decrying the same old arguments that if it were not for violent video games, tragedy would have easily been averted.

I have spent the last four years living on a college campus, and with crime statistics supporting my own experience, rarely have I ever feared that my life was in danger.

I regret that I cannot say the same, however, about late-night drives through Philadelphia, the closest city to where I grew up.

Yet the coverage of crime in urban America remains scant, with serious news-media public policy discussions on these issues almost entirely absent. It seems the only place on television where one can learn about the horrors of contemporary urban crime is through HBO's recently concluded dramatic series "The Wire."

Seung-Hui Cho knew that if he wanted his destructive, hateful and disturbed message to be heard, he would have to choose the ZIP code of his crime carefully.

And he hit hard, where we never would have expected, and where we were forced to pay attention because we could relate to the victims, and we worried that we might even know one of the victims, as I too anxiously worried on that day one year ago.

On this somber anniversary, we will pay a rightful tribute to those 32 innocent victims whose lives were taken by the hands of their maniacal peer.

But rather than focus on Virginia Tech alone, why not make April 16 a day to commemorate the deaths of the thousands of Americans killed every year by violence, forcing a dialogue on the best ways to tackle this epidemic throughout the nation?

Seung-Hui Cho wanted this day to be about him -- let us not respect his wishes and make this anniversary about something much greater. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

(c) 2008 Scoop Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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