Show us a photo of the real killer, the gun: Mallick

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

American exceptionalism and the ‘exceptionally American’ problem of mass shootings.

The look of utter shock on American reporter Alison Parker’s face as she realized she would die and by whose hand — she must have recognized him — was horrifying. To the editor: While I applaud your coverage of University of Alabama criminologist Adam Lankford’s research on mass shootings, scrutiny of such events risks overshadowing larger societal problems.

Looking back, we may find that the defining mantra of our times was “pics or it didn’t happen.” The camera phone is ubiquitous, the act of photographing and being photographed now so common as to be unremarkable.A makeshift memorial with crosses for the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre stands outside a home in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2013, the one-year anniversary of the shootings.The United States is, by a long shot, the global leader in mass shootings, claiming just 5 per cent of the global population but an outsized share — 31 per cent — of the world’s mass shooters since 1966, a new study finds.

On Sunday, criminal justice professor Adam Lankford stood in front of a crowd of sociologists to explain how American culture contributes to the all-too-frequent American mass shootings. The Philippines, Russia, Yemen and France—all countries that can claim a substantial share of the 291 documented mass shootings between 1966 and 2012 — collectively didn’t even come close to the United States.

Bukaty/Associated Press) The shocking murder of two journalists carried out on live television this week has Americans once again asking questions about why these kinds of crimes seem to happen with such frequency in their country. It’s the social strains of American life — the false promise of the American dream, which guarantees a level of success that can’t always be achieved through hard work and sheer willpower; the devotion to individualism; and the desire for fame or notoriety.

The dark side of living in an image-soaked world becomes obvious, though, every time Islamic State posts one of its vile snuff videos, which aim to enlarge its monstrous reputation like a shadow cast on a cave wall. His findings are even more relevant following Wednesday’s events in Virginia, even though the deaths of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, journalists at a Roanoke TV station, don’t technically meet the definition of “mass shooting” — four or more victims.

Or when an even sadder and smaller player like Vester Flanagan looks for aggrandizement by murdering two journalists on camera and posting the video online. When an embittered former Roanoke, Va., reporter opened fire on his one-time colleagues, interrupting their live broadcast to ensure that his attack made it on TV, it was as though he was trying to prove Lankford’s point. In addition to being among the most violent of industrialized nations, ours is among the most unequal, with wealth being concentrated in the hands of a few.

His work discusses the reasons behind his finding, and in the context of the theory of American exceptionalism, he finds that there is indeed something uniquely American about mass shootings. Despite widespread recognition that income inequality has grown dramatically worse in recent years, many voters consistently fail to support policies that would alleviate it.

Using data compiled by the New York City Police Department in its 2012 report on active shooting incidents in the U.S. and around the world, as well as data from a 2014 FBI report, Lankford determined that the U.S. had 90 mass shooting incidents during that time frame. In opposing the redistribution of wealth, voters not only undermine their own financial interests, they also undermine the peaceful existence that should characterize an advanced democratic society such as our own. He aspired to fame — either behind an anchor desk, or, according to photos shared on his Twitter account, through acting and modeling — and he got it, in a way, through the TV and GoPro footage of the slayings. “WDBJ7 made me snap … they sure did. They are responsible for all of this!!!” reads a memo attributed to Flanagan in which he raged at former co-workers who he said harassed him for his race and sexuality (Flanagan was black and gay).

I’ve been worried about the number of recent verbal and physical assaults on women doing their work in public: the FHRITP insults directed in public at female reporters on-air; Donald Trump ridiculing a Fox commentator by suggesting she had her period when she asked hard questions; a Harper-supporting #AngryCon shouting unprintable insults at two female reporters on-air. It is obvious that the volume of guns is not going to be curbed in the next few decades, so we need to focus on identifying and helping those in need of treatment before they explode into violence. People were also furious that the video the killer posted to Facebook and Twitter was briefly available (and thanks to the auto-play feature, the video would have run without the viewer having to start it). At three deaths, Flanagan’s alleged attack does not qualify as mass killing — in the macabre hierarchy of violent crimes, a shooter must take four lives to be granted that title (this is according to Lankford’s definition — definitions vary).

The Virginia shooting was followed by soul-searching over what has happened to society when an angry criminal seeks fame through social media, and whether a modern obsession with fame in any form had finally reached its nadir. It found that American mass shooters were more likely to arm themselves with multiple weapons, though they killed fewer people than shooters in other countries. While both countries enjoy vaunted reputations as safe places to live, both (along with No. 2 Yemen and No. 5 Serbia) ranked in the top 15 countries internationally for mass shooters per capita. CBC reporter Meagan Fitzpatrick recently spoke to American sociologist Adam Lankford, who studies such shootings and was presenting an academic paper on the Sunday before the Virginia shootings. It’s so much easier to condemn an innocuous technology that’s in everyone’s pockets rather than deal with the intractable, endless problem of that deadly technology in people’s purses and glove compartments – the one that kills thousands of Americans every year.

Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who became a gun-control advocate after being shot in the head, cut to the chase beautifully on Twitter: “Our country has a gun violence problem. Aurora theater killer James Holmes was found guilty of the mass shooting in August and sentenced to life in prison. (Andy Cross/The Denver Post/Associated Press) “Notably, these strains seem to transcend age and class. In America, students, adults, blue-collar workers and white-collar workers may all be somewhat more susceptible to the social pressures that, in extreme cases, can lead to mass shootings,” he writes. Multiple studies have explored the motives of mass shooters, and in these measures, too, Lankford suggests that uniquely American notions are powerfully at work. When such dreams are frustrated, this bedrock belief in upward mobility predisposes some — especially those with a tenuous grasp on mental health — to psychological “strain”.

The things that Americans believe make us exceptional — our emphasis on individualism, our sense of destiny, our wealth-and-fame-based standards for success — also contribute. By this American preoccupation, too, he suggests, frustrated strivers can be nudged toward mass violence. “Increasingly in America — perhaps more than in any other country on the globe — fame is revered as an end unto itself,” Lankford wrote. “Some mass shooters succumb to terrible delusions of grandeur and seek fame and glory through killing.” Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the perpetrators of the April 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, both illustrate and feed such delusions, wrote Lankford: They both sought fame and gained infamy by their actions, and their example has been cited as inspiration by school shooters since, in Germany, Argentina, Finland and Canada. Seung-Hui Cho, who shot 32 people to death at Virginia Polytechnic in 2007, sent his manifesto and video to NBC before his attack (the network broadcast parts of it, causing an uproar). What happened in Virginia wasn’t new, but part of a sick tradition – a tradition that continues because it’s not much harder to buy a gun than a phone.

The Columbine shooters, for example, were considered vigilante heroes by other at-risk individuals in foreign countries who saw the fame the massacre brought them. But obviously, almost no one becomes famous. “If the lust for fame continues to spread from America to Canada,” Lankford said, the results will not be good.

Nearly one third of college freshman expect to eventually get an M.D. or PhD (though only about 5 percent do). “There’s a sense in which these aspirations are subject to that axiom that the bigger they are the harder they fall,” Lankford said. “If you’re reaching for the stars and you come up short, that’s perhaps more frustrating and devastating.” The reality is that very few people achieve the wealth, fame and prestige we’re all socialized to believe is our destiny. In the meantime, what is more realistic is trying to help those who are struggling to cope with their stress and their strains. “For concerned citizens, this provides an opportunity to get them the help they so desperately need, and to thereby make the world both a safer and healthier place,” Lankford said. Negative social interactions — lack of friends and mentors, failures in school — and mental illness can exacerbate the problem, making them believe that “their dreams are hopeless,” Lankford said. The strain theory framework has traditionally been used to explain high rates of crime, particularly in poor and marginalized communities, but Lankford says it’s particularly apt to describe mass killings. Workplaces and schools — or, in Flanagan’s case, former colleagues — are the symbolic sources of their strain; by attacking them, shooters seek to exact revenge on the people and institutions they believe have kept them down.

In the memo sent to ABC News, he described himself as a victim of a conspiracy of racist and homophobic harassment, using phrases like “out to get me.” Ultimately, the Charleston massacre — a horrific attack on a black community — convinced him that his aspirations were in fact hopeless. And at the same time, “the distinction between fame and infamy seems to be disappearing.” We are the country that gave rise to reality television and the phrase “I’m not here to make friends,” Lankford points out. There was nothing else to do but take his life, and those of 24-year-old Alison Parker, a bright reporter and beloved daughter, and 27-year-old Adam Ward, a cameraman with a fiancee and an easy laugh. “[I] tried to pull myself up by the bootstraps,” Flanagan wrote in his memo, according to ABC, but, “The damage was already done and when someone gets to this point, there is nothing that can be said or done to change their sadness to happiness.” We already reward people for being arrogant, aggressive and vitriolic with book deals and contracts for their own clothing lines and incessant news coverage.

But the loophole that even gun owners should worry about is that mentally ill people can legally buy guns as long as they haven’t been diagnosed with a mental disability or been treated for mental illness.

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