Amid days of darkness following Elliot Rodger’s deadly and suicidal rampage in the streets of Isla Vista, collective grieving unified a broken community. But percolating through the mourning are several charged topics — mental illness, gun control, misogyny — that have begun to shift the response from grief to consideration and debate. “Right now is a tricky moment,” said UCSB history Professor Alice O’Connor, noting the difficult path that will follow the grieving. “It might be a time of divided opinion about what should be done.”
People near and far have bombarded the Sheriff’s Office with questions about its practices — focusing largely on the welfare check that left deputies convinced Rodger was not a threat to himself or others. In a report to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Sheriff Bill Brown said questions were certainly legitimate and that he hopes it will “spur some changes” in how mental illness is approached. Brown said his department will work with Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services as it implements its crisis-response and triage field teams — more than $11 million in grant funding was recently secured for them — which may include a coresponse with law enforcement.
But Brown maintained that “Rodger’s journey” was a long and complicated one, which he did not believe could have been prevented. “In a free society, we constantly have to balance public safety with individual liberties.” He also agreed with the vigorous campaign by one of the slain students’ fathers, Richard Martinez, to end gun violence. “We must find ways to stop this madness,” Brown said.
Where discussions about gun control and mental illness have lit a fuse in one realm, talk of misogyny has ignited another due to the disturbing words and videos Rodger left behind. Despite resistance to the term “feminism” by young people today, a massive Internet trend has emerged from the tragedy in Isla Vista. Activists say the horrific incident is a sobering reminder of the consequences of misogynic attitudes and is an opportunity to be constructive. Though some students argue now is not an appropriate time to advance political agendas, the discussion took off to a striking degree in the blogosphere. Countering an argument that all men commit rape, people argued all women live in fear of oppression and hostility. “#YesAllWomen isn’t about bashing men, it’s about shedding light on what women go through,” one woman tweeted. Within days of the tragedy, there were more than a million submissions documenting instances of chauvinist sentiments.
Discussion about what the term misogyny means in the real world has also emerged: In the hectic streets of Isla Vista, harassment is common. “Most people don’t fight back, and that’s why it’s become the norm,” said UCSB senior Rachel Glago. “It takes more than one person to do something.”
It’s important to note that Isla Vista is a community that sucks residents in and spits them out just a few years later. Populations move through a revolving door, presenting unique challenges. The six-tenths of an unincorporated square-mile populated with 23,000 people — approximately 9,000 attend UCSB and a few thousand trek to SBCC — lacks cityhood and the benefits that come with it. Though traces of university efforts have occurred in Isla Vista in the past, UCSB and SBCC administrators have historically emphasized that they do not have the power to dictate behavior off campus.
With misogyny as a subtext, sexual assaults entered the spotlight this school year after the high-profile gang rape that occurred on campus in February. The brutal incident followed a less publicized gang rape in January and seemed to indicate a grim turn to the town full of carefree minds and invincible attitudes, and the rapes caused District Attorney Joyce Dudley to rally the stakeholders. She brought a number of public officials and employees to the table in March: SBCC President Lori Gaskin, UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Michael Young, 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr, and representatives from the UCSB Police Department and the Sheriff’s Foot Patrol. Participants discussed key problems and what could be done to make Isla Vista safer. Last week, they met again — the meeting had been scheduled prior to the mass murder — and elected Dudley as the chair.
Dudley plans to pitch two ideas she had before the shooting, she said. The first is dubbed a neighborhood prosecutor, a senior deputy who would spend half his or her time in Isla Vista — acting as a liaison — and review all Isla Vista cases so filings would be consistent. Dudley also hopes to implement a neighborhood court, which would be a restorative-justice process that could intercept young people before they end up in superior court. The group meets again this Friday.