Monday, January 24, 2011

How Many Deaths

Violence is as American as cherry pie.
So said H. Rap Brown, former chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, former Justice Minister of the Black Panther Party, currently doing a Georgia imposed sentence of LWOP for killing two sheriff's deputies and serving the sentence at the federal supermax in Florence, Colorado because Georgia thinks he's too high profile for their prison system.  Which perhaps suggests that he knew what he was talking about.
I haven't said much about the shootings in Tucson because, I don't have anything much to add.  Here's what I did write, as part of a much longer post.  And it's pretty much all I have to say.
A crazy person, maybe acting alone or maybe not, shot a lot of people.  A bunch of them died.  It shouldn't have happened.  Sarah Palin didn't make him do it.  Neither did MSNBC.  None of it has anything to do with blood libel or cross hairs.  Arizona gun laws (or lack of them) might have made it easier, but horrible gun crimes occur all across the country, and you cannot show that this one wouldn't have happened if only the local laws were less generous to gun owning (or monster clips).  Or if we did a better job dealing with mental illness.  Or if they'd set up metal detectors at the Tucson city limits.
I mean, maybe.  But maybe not.
And every proposed remedy, which may or may not have prevented this and may or may not prevent some other horrible event, comes at a cost.
But as Pete Seeger said in a completely different context (an anti-Vietnam-war song)
Every time I read the paper, them old feelings come on
We're waist deep in the Big Muddy,
The big fool says to push on.
The specific story from the NY Times that got me going here is from Detroit.
Karen Dumas, who is spokeswoman for Mayor Dave Bing, said the incident began about 4:30 p.m. when the man walked into the 6th Precinct in the northwestern part of the city and opened fire with a pistol grip shotgun. The man was able to shoot four officers before one or more officers returned fire, killing him.

The most seriously injured police officer was the precinct’s commander, Brian Davis, who was hit in the lower back, Ms. Dumas said. He underwent surgery at the nearby Sinai Grace Hospital on Sunday evening.

“His condition is critical but he is expected to pull through,” Ms. Dumas said.

Two other male officers were hospitalized but expected to be released on Monday. A female officer was hit in the chest but the bulletproof vest she was wearing prevented her from being injured. All four officers were expected to survive, according to a police official at the department’s headquarters who was not authorized to speak to the media.

The police chief, Ralph Godbee, said that the police know the gunman’s identify but did not release that information Sunday as they began to investigate his background and possible motive. It was unclear whether the gunman had previous contact with the precinct or was targeting any specific officers.
And that's the tail end of an ugly weekend in a place that for a while was known as Murder City, USA.  More from that Times story.
The shooting came at the end of a weekend in which at least 10 people were shot in Detroit in three separate incidents. Three men were found murdered in a house on Friday night, and three people were hospitalized Sunday morning after being shot outside a strip club.

Last Monday, a police officer in a Detroit suburb was killed by a suspect in a home burglary. The officer shot and the suspect each died after exchanged fire.
On January 14, after Tucson but before Detroit, a Lakewood, New Jersey police officer was shot and killed.  On Thursday, two Miami-Dade officers were shot and killed.  And there have been who-knows-how-many but far too many other killings and near killings since Tucson.
The chorus of if-only-we . . . is cranked high.
Gun control is at the top of the list, of course.  But as Rick Horowitz pointed out (and we agree about this, even as we disagree about the merits of his argument by analogy), guns are just a mechanism.
Even if every gun in the United States were somehow located and destroyed, this would not stop people from killing people. At best, it would just change the way in which they kill people. It might make it more difficult to kill people; it won’t stop it.
Which is right.  People who want to maim or kill will find a way. And, let's be honest, whether you think it would be a good idea or not, serious gun control isn't a legislative possibility, and the Supreme Court has made pretty clear that those states that actually have serious gun control laws, are flirting with having their laws declared unconstitutional.
The death penalty won't do it, either.  Arizona has one.  So do the feds.  Didn't stop Jared Loughner.  LWOP won't end it.  Didn't change anything in New Jersey.
There are things you can do to reduce crime.  They have to do with education and treatment and providing jobs and support services.  They cost money.  They sometimes look like coddling.  In times of high employment and budget surplus, we're not inclined to spend the money on them.  When budgets are stretched tight and programs are being slashed, spending money at the front end - on crime prevention - which is absolutely the smart and ultimately cheap way to go, has virtually no chance.
But the whole discussion of what we can do is dancing around the point we really need to confront.  And that brings me back to H. Rap.  This is a violent place.  Guns, knives, fists.  Doesn't matter.  We inflict violence on one another.  In 35 of the 50 states, we formally accept the view that killing can be a proper response to violence.  (On the two-wrongs-make-a-right principle.  Or something.)
It's in our culture, in our blood.  Maybe it's in our water.  (OK, probably not.)  Until we figure out a way to deal with that, we're going to be playing catch up.  Which is all the more reason to abandon vengeance as a penological mode in favor of smart-on-crime programs.
But don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen.

1 comment:

  1. What in the world is going on?? It's about time we stop with stupidity and concentrate on more important matters....