On a pleasant late July evening in Victoria, B.C. two years ago, 16-year-old Mark Arrieta pulled out a handgun at the strident urging of his 22-year-old “friend,” Somphanvanh Chanthabouala, and shot at point-blank range three other young people, seriously injuring two while killing 20-year-old University of Victoria student Philbert Truong. The shooting was the result of Chanthabouala feeling “disrespected” earlier in the evening at the Red Jacket nightclub by one of Philbert Truong’s friends, Thuan Le. A witness later said that Le’s disrespect was inadvertent, but literal. He stepped on Chanthabouala’s toes that evening at the crowded nightclub.
Quickly arrested after the shootings, Arrieta and Chanthabouala passed their time in the police station’s interrogation room by composing, singing, and dancing (in handcuffs?) a rap song that glorified another recent shooting in the news—that of a Victoria policeman. Later, the judge presiding at the trials of Arrieta and Chanthabouala watched the CCTV footage of the accused performing their rap song that night and was struck by Arrieta’s and Chanthabouala’s nonchalant attitude towards violence that exhibited a “disturbing callousness.”
Most criminals hide their inner thoughts and feelings from the authorities. But Arrieta exposed his inner state by writing a bit of doggerel that was discovered during a routine search of his cell. He composed it while awaiting trial:
I ain’t got a heart bitch, I got an ice box…Packing for that action bitch u better know I got mine, Any type of situation, I ain’t got no hesitation, Imma real g [I’m a real gangsta] don’t compare me to an imitation.
A callous disregard for another human being’s life doesn’t happen all at once. After all, we aren’t born with a full slate of anger and hate. It takes time to build up a nonchalant attitude towards violence. In grade 4 Mark Arrieta was suspended for starting a small fire. The grade 5 teacher described in her reports that the 10-year-old version of Mark Arrieta whom she taught was disruptive, angry, and disrespectful. Before moving to Victoria from Toronto the troubled youth was involved in an estimated 20 to 30 fights. In grade 8 Arrieta was suspended for hitting a teacher and for bringing a knife to school.
Going from bad to worse in grade 9, Mark Arrieta rarely came to school and reportedly smoked pot every day. Arrieta’s last suspension from school in April 2008 was due to the now well-established pattern of fighting with other students and threatening a teacher. This last suspension from school came only five months before Mark Arrieta murdered Philbert Truong.
Like a missile veering off course, destruction was the inevitable outcome of this angry trajectory. Sadly, both Arrieta’s parents and the school system proved unable to effect a course change.
While awaiting trial, Mark Arrieta told the detention centre’s chaplain that his principle motivation in life had been to escape what he described as the “poverty” of his youth. He resented the fact that his hardworking immigrant parents couldn’t afford to buy him the luxuries he wanted. When other elementary students had something he wanted he became jealous of the material possessions belonging to others. He wanted money to buy the objects he desired. After his last suspension, Arrieta moved out of his parents’ home, and into the alluring embrace of a “dial-a-dope” drug ring led by Chanthabouala. Dealing drugs provide Mark Arrieta with lots of money and a like-minded social circle that shared his twisted materialistic values and his nonchalant attitude toward violence.
A long time ago the Apostle Paul warned future readers about what happens when a society turns it’s back on the God of the Bible and His teachings.
For people will be lovers of self and [utterly] self-centered, lovers of money and aroused by an inordinate [greedy] desire for wealth, proud and arrogant and contemptuous boasters. They will be abusive (blasphemous, scoffing), disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy and profane.
[They will be] without natural [human] affection (callous and inhuman), relentless (admitting of no truce or appeasement); [they will be] slanderers (false accusers, troublemakers), intemperate and loose in morals and conduct, uncontrolled and fierce, haters of good (2 Timothy 3:2-4 Amplified Bible).
Even on a purely materialistic level of understanding we know that you are, indeed, what you eat. A nation that readily promotes and eats fast-food becomes swollen, fat, obese—in a word, physically unhealthy. This is simple, observable, provable cause and effect. So, why is it that we can’t see that when it comes to feeding the mind “garbage in does indeed equal garbage out”?
Our society overflows with images promoting endless mountains of “stuff” to sell us. It “entertains” us with images of every sort of violent act on our illuminated screens. Why our society even entices us to waste countless hours of our very short lives in this violence-rich entertainment milieux via interactive computer/virtual reality games. Billions and billions of dollars are being made in this greedy exploitation of the gospel of selfishness, materialism, and violence. The whole world (mostly) has embraced these destructive values. Why should we be surprised when a young convert to selfishness, materialism, and violence goes overboard in youthful exuberance and acts out the images in his head?
Chapter 23 of the book of Proverbs has a lot to say about the case of Mark Arrieta. If the people and institutions that had influence on this young man’s life had considered and acted to furnish this young man’s mind with the wisdom presented there, then Mark Arrieta’s life would have turned out differently. For, paraphrasing Proverbs 23:7, as a young man thinks in his heart so he will be.
What we think about and celebrate is of critical importance in determining who we are and what will be our future. Simply put, a good future will come to those who think about good things. But a bad future will come to those who think about bad things. The moral logic of the universe is clear. As the Apostle Paul concluded:
8-9Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies (Philippians 4:8-9, Message translation).