Nine Mass Shootings

You may be wondering why a headline like this is part of a blog dedicated to Sustainable Living.  Well, our quality-of-life experience – encompassing our experience of beauty, our enjoyment of natural resources, and just our everyday health – is clearly an essential part of Sustainable Living.

Criminal behavior has always been a part of human history.  “Criminality” is typically defined by the rules of society.  Criminal acts may be violent or not, but they’re always seen as antisocial behavior.  Some acts go against established laws, and are subject to judicial punishment, with fines or imprisonment.  Some acts don’t technically go against written laws, but do go against the prevailing senses of morality.

In terms of acts of violence, I think of a comment from the film, Shoes of the Fisherman.  As Cardinals were conducting a conclave to select a new pope, one commented that young priests were making changes to improve conditions during troubling times.  Another commented that some changes could make things worse, through inexperience.  Another said that change was helpful, but without violence.  Then, a new Cardinal who had spent twenty years in prison as a political prisoner, said:

“Well, excuse me, but violence is a
reaction against a situation that
has become intolerable, isn’t it?”

Perhaps this surge in mass shootings and other crimes is a reflection of a situation in our society that has become increasingly intolerable for many.  I’ll add comments afterwards. 

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Nine Mass Shootings

A violent weekend highlights America’s continuing crime wave.

David Leonhardt
The New York Times
March 23, 2022

Many crime experts define a mass shooting as an event in which four or more people are shot. Last weekend, there were a shocking number of them — at least nine — across the U.S.

• In Norfolk, Va., an argument outside a pizzeria led to a shooting that killed two people, including a 25-year-old newspaper reporter who was a bystander.

• In the farming community of Dumas, Ark., a gunfight broke out at an annual car show, killing one person and injuring 27.

• In downtown Austin, Texas, four people suffered gunshot wounds during the final weekend of the SXSW festival.

The burst of weekend violence continues a trend that began almost two years ago, early in the Covid-19 pandemic, and shows no signs of easing, as my colleagues Tim Arango and Troy Closson report. Murders have risen more than 30 percent since 2019, recent data suggests. They are still far below the levels of the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s but have reached the highest point in more than two decades.

“We can’t endure this anymore, we just simply can’t,”

… Dan Gelber, the mayor of Miami Beach, said after two shootings last weekend led the city to impose a midnight curfew.

What explains the crime wave?

There is no fully satisfying answer, but experts point to several plausible partial explanations. They include:

• Social isolation and frustration caused by the pandemic.

• A sense of lawlessness stemming from police violence (like the murder of George Floyd).

• Police officers’ timidity in response to recent criticism of them.

• And a rise in gun sales during the pandemic.

Yet the crime wave seems both too broad and too distinctly American for any one of these factors to be a tidy explanation.  Gun crime isn’t the only kind of violent crime that is rising, for example. Nor are the crime increases limited to places where police brutality has been worst. As for the pandemic, if it were the only cause, you would expect crime to have surged in many countries. Instead, it has held fairly steady in Britain, Canada, France, Japan and elsewhere.

The closest thing that I have heard to a persuasive answer comes from history. Criminologists and historians who have studied past crime waves — like Gary LaFree, Richard Rosenfeld and Randolph Roth — point out that they often occur when people are feeling frustrated with society, government and their fellow citizens. This frustration can feed a breakdown in societal norms and a rise in what the sociologist Émile Durkheim called “anomie.”


‘Fellow feeling’

Roth, looking at homicide rates in the U.S. and Western Europe over the past 400 years, argues that crime tends to increase if people lose trust in society’s institutions and basic fairness. When empathy for other citizens — or “fellow feeling,” as Roth and others call it — declines and anomie rises, crime also rises. The American crime increases of the 1960s and ’70s were a good example, criminologists say.

Most citizens do not commit crimes, of course. But social alienation makes some people more willing to break the rules and act violently. A broader sense of disorder can create a so-called moral holiday, as The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood has written.

When I was talking about this idea with colleagues yesterday, German Lopez — who’s written about the crime wave in this newsletter — pointed out that the anomie theory can feel unsatisfying because it is ephemeral and unprovable. But it also fits the facts better than any alternative, German added.

By many measures, Americans are feeling frustrated with their government, their economy and their fellow citizens. Nearly 80 percent are dissatisfied with the country’s direction, according to Gallup. People spend hours screaming at one another on social media. Many Americans consider people with opposing political ideas to be so wrong that they don’t deserve the right to express their views. Polls also show an alarming degree of skepticism about democracy and openness to political violence.

Along with these signs of alienation, a wide range of behavior has deteriorated. Alcohol abuse and drug overdoses have increased. Americans’ blood pressure is up, and measures of mental health are down. Vehicle crashes have surged.

In each of these cases, the pandemic seems to be playing a role: The trends either began or accelerated shortly after Covid overwhelmed daily life in the spring of 2020. But the pandemic appears to be only part of the story. This country’s recent dysfunction is bigger than Covid. It is a dark new form of American exceptionalism.

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I thought that rather than feeling the jolt of mass shootings, and the ensuing fear that spreads throughout society, the better alternative might be an examination of the cause of the problem, and some suggestions for personal changes we could make that would make each day more joyful, to reduce or eliminate our sense of living in an intolerable situation.  For a different perspective, I turned to D …

“We do believe the individuals that choose to harm others are in some kind of pain.  Most are isolated.  Some are mentally unstable.  All have no way of managing their emotions.  We believe that those who have chosen this path of mass killing need help that is obviously not being given to them.

“It is a community issue that needs all of our attention.

“One of the tenets of ‘Sustainable Living’ is a community taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves.  A community is in some ways responsible for those who live outside the ‘norms.’  And how a community helps or ignores those individuals is a sign of the health of the community.

“The pandemic is making many things, including this, acutely obvious.  And yet, there has been no action.  The most an individual can do is to contact their local state and national representative and push for more resources for mental health.  In the last 30-40 years, mental health facilities and programs have been dismantled.  There needs to be a new system, because too many people need help and can’t get it.”

When I think in terms of the situation I’m in, I’m not sure how well I’d be able to get help from my city government – and it’s a small city.  But I do believe that the homeowners in our Garden Atrium community would come forth, virtually instantaneously, to provide help to anyone in our community who needed it.  Perhaps we need to think of ways in which our “community” is defined by more than lines on a map, but by some sort of bond arrived at through considerable personal dialogue.







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