Getting back to harping on the hype, my hometown has experienced a slight drop in homicides to date over last year, and the rate of homicides has dropped such that, if it continues at this pace, the city will experience a 10 year low in total homicides. As I have written many times, the volatility of these numbers makes these small snapshots unreliable as guides, at least in the short term, but I’ve noticed that the media will cherry-pick these volatile numbers to spread a story of danger, but never to imply that things just might be getting better.
With that in mind, and while doing research for a different essay, I stumbled across some data. Local media outlets have made a big deal out of the fact that two murders had taken place on the same day, and that three had occurred within ten days. That only two had happened in the previous four months, and that neither of those had been either street or gun related was never mentioned. Not once. But the deaths having “died down” shortly after the city’s fifth homicide of the year, the story soon became the total number of shootings over a two month period: 19.
What I found interesting was 3 deaths and 19 shootings over a two month period would still put the city on course for a 10% drop from last year, and the three deaths to nineteen total victims puts the fatality rate right square on the national average for deaths per shooting victim (14%) which means, and while I don’t have the data to confirm this, it is altogether likely that 19 shootings over that period is probably more or less what you’d expect. It doesn’t constitute a major uptick, nor a downturn, but it is a story. Apparently. What isn’t a story is that none of the murder victims appear to have been shot at random, and that at most two of those injured (ankle, leg) were innocent bystanders.
Two too many? Of course. But if you compare those two “wrong place at the wrong time” injuries with the suburban and rural carnage occurring on the roads it pales in comparison, but no mention is ever made of the relationship of sprawl to deaths and serious injuries which are 22 times more likely to harm you than a bullet.
On the other hand there is a type of violent crime which is clearly place related: Mass shootings. Troutdale, Oregon can be added to the list of mass shootings in schools, (and at shopping malls, in movie theaters) which have all taken place in overwhelmingly white, wealthier than average, typologically suburban places. Once again, not only is the connection to white, wealthy, suburbia never made, in each case the statement is made that the violence is so surprising because “this is not the type of place where you would expect this to happen” in spite of the fact that it is exactly the type of place where you’d expect it to happen!
It goes so far that people conflate shootings, for example, at schools where a perpetrator comes to school intending to shoot one particular person (i.e. a shooting which happens to take place at a school) with an event in which a shooter intends to shoot people at a school, but the victims are merely those unlucky enough to be around when the killer opens fire. It almost seems as though this were being done to avoid the obvious connection to place. Urban school shootings occur, but the role of the school is that it is a place the target is known to be.
I haven’t seen or heard of a single urban school experiencing the Columbine, Pearl, Newtown, Troutdale situation. Not one. Have you? Isn’t it odd that every time these events occur in these similar places the only reference to place is how unexpected this type of event is in that place according to…everyone?
If all of these events had occurred in poor urban schools, would anyone ever say when the next one took place: “What I can’t believe is that it happened here”?
No one is ever in danger in suburbia.