Tuesday, January 11, 2011

NYT's Bob Herbert: Examine Tucson Murders Within A Broader Context

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has written an interesting essay regarding the recent murders in Tucson, Arizona. Herbert argues that Americans must view the killings within a larger societal context of violence and murder.

Herbert uses several statistics to portray violence in the United States:
According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, more than a million people have been killed with guns in the United States since 1968, when Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were killed. That figure includes suicides and accidental deaths. But homicides, deliberate killings, are a perennial scourge, and not just with guns.

Excluding the people killed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 150,000 Americans have been murdered since the beginning of the 21st century. This endlessly proliferating parade of death, which does not spare women or children, ought to make our knees go weak. But we never even notice most of the killings. Homicide is white noise in this society.
Holding aside the unnecessary and chivalrous reference to "women and children," Herbert's analysis provides a sobering reality about the routinization of violence in the US.

Herbert's proposed solutions to this problem -- stricter gun controls and changing the glamorization of violence in the US -- probably fall short of the mark, however. While gun control could likely reduce some violent crimes, there are serious mental health and addiction issues that contribute to crime in the US.

Furthermore, there is a direct correlation between economic deprivation and criminal activities, including violent crimes. While this pattern does not mean that most poor people commit crimes, poor persons, who likely have untreated mental health problems, constitute a large percentage of violent offenders.

Herbert correctly argues that the media frenzy and outrage surrounding the Tucson murders will soon fade away into inaction: "The two most common responses to violence in the U.S. are to ignore it or be entertained by it." The next high profile killing will likely spark the same predictable response.

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