15 May 2007

Culture of Violence

US Federal Protective Service Police officer w...I got a small taste of the costs of violence last night.

I wasn't attacked, or even in any real danger. Here's what happened: Near the building where I was attending a meeting, a man shot at another man. Fortunately, he wasn't deadly accurate; after five shots were fired, the victim was able to run toward the county jail for safety (he was an inmate on work-release) and the shooter ran to a car and left the scene. (The victim is now listed in critical condition.)


At the time, the police didn't know the shooter had left, however, and they locked down the neighborhood, warning everyone to stay inside and combing the nearby woods with dogs. I know it's not uncommon elsewhere, but around here it's rare to see police with automatic rifles and riot shields. One of them came in to tell us to stay put. It was a bit unnerving, but I figured we'd be okay. And since part of our meeting was a reception for the winners of Youth Diversity awards, we had lots of cake, cookies, and fruit juice at our disposal. Plus good company.

Some 90 minutes later, the police determined that it would be safe for us all to leave, escorted to our cars (or in my case, my bicycle) by a stout sergeant. I zipped down the hill, past the lake, and back home without incident, blue lights flashing far behind me.

As of this writing, they haven't caught the shooter, though they have a good description of him and the car in which he fled. They're saying it may be a gang-related shooting (here's where I insert an anti-violence PSA). But what the incident really drove home to me is the peripheral cost of violence.

Kobo Town - IndependenceBecause of one person's decision to shoot at another person, a vast number of lives were changed. The victim needed medical attention (paramedics, doctors, nurses); seemingly half the city and county police force were in the streets searching for the shooter, clues, and witnesses; and countless people were stuck in homes and offices and meetings and hotels in this densely populated part of the state capitol. Oh, and of course a bunch of journalists showed up. And shortly, I expect the shooter will be sucking up tax dollars in the form of resources of the court system and a prison someplace.

I don't mind the inconvenience in the name of safety and justice. But if you multiply this by magnitude of gun violence in the USA (more than 30,000 deaths and 100,000 gun injuries annually), the impact is immense. It's not just a matter of where the bullets land, but also a huge economic drain as well as a source of fear and anxiety (and the resulting spiritual and medical maladies).


Some say the answer is for more people to arm themselves. But knowing how people seem to be on increasingly short fuses these days, I'd rather see fewer guns and more anger-management training. In fact, much more anger-management and conflict-resolution training. And far fewer guns.

Here's an Afro-Latin-Reggae song about another form of violence, equally destructive. This album by Toronto-based Kobo Town seems full of both good music and strong social messages, and I'm really enjoying it. For more about them, check out the band's website.

[mp3] Kobo Town: Higher Than Mercy
from the album Independence
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