Terrorism, Racism, Violent Young Men and Guns in Charleston, S.C.
In Charleston, South Carolina, nine black people were murdered in a racially motivated attack by a young, white male. This has resulted in three general responses from the pundits in the media: Some are clamoring to call it an act of terrorism instead of a “hate” crime and claiming racism; Some are blaming society for raising a generation of violent young males; As expected, some are blaming the gun. Lets take a look at the reality of each of these lines of thought.
Racism is driving Violence…
Cries of racism or terrorism or epidemics make headlines, and ignite a media firestorm which sells advertisements and makes money for the networks. It also blinds us to the realities of the problem. Here are what the facts tell us about race and violence in America:
According to the CDC the rate of whites killed by police is .128 per 100,000 citizens. The rate of blacks killed by police .274 per 100,000 citizens. The white death rate has remained consistent over time, while the black rate has decreased by about 40% over the past half century. The concept that there is a sudden “epidemic” of white cops killing blacks is not the case. Although the rates are decreasing, we still saw 2151 whites (60% of the population) and 1130 blacks (14% of the population) killed by police between 1999 and 2011.
This leaves us with police shooting blacks at about twice the rate than what we should expect based on their proportion of society. We can talk about racism (something we cannot control), or we can look at criminal indicators like gang affiliation (something we can potentially reduce) to explain the issue. Assuming gang affiliation is a driver of crime and that criminal behavior subsequently increases the chances of being shot by police, we would expect blacks to be shot 3.5 times more often then whites… Clearly gang affiliation is not an entirely accurate predictive metric by itself. Poverty, economic opportunity, and a variety of social norms play into this. Focusing on racism as the sole factor that contributes to violence distracts us from finding the right metrics to address the issue.
I read another commentary piece that blacks are “terrified” in America of being killed by whites. A quick look at inter-racial violence in general tells a very different story. According to the Department of Justice, in 2013 409 blacks murdered white victims. 189 whites murdered black victims. Considering our population demographics, blacks murder whites at a rate of about 10 times what we should expect to see.
Despite all this, according to Roxanne Jones, “blacks are terrified”. If that is the case it because the black population is being sold a false line of reasoning by the media and the victimhood theorists who thrive on it. “Racism” makes national headlines and doing even the basic research to substantiate claims is well beyond the capabilities of today’s journalists. Violence is the problem; racism is dragging us down a rabbit hole and wasting our collective time.
Is it Terrorism?
One thing we do know that differentiates terrorism from racism is our reaction to it as Americans. When Bin Laden destroyed the world trade center under the banner of Islam it was an almost unifying moment across the nation. When Timothy McVeigh attacked the Federal Building in Oklahoma it was the same sense of unification. Those are acts of terror against Americans. When a white male attacks a black person, it is divisive across the country and generally along racial lines. Almost any time a white male is involved in an interracial homicide, a significant portion of whites claim persecution and a significant portion of blacks claim victimhood – with out waiting for the facts of the case to be heard.
The reality is race should not enter into the equation. This should not be a case of differentiating between racism and terrorism, but a discussion of differentiating mass murder and terrorism. As we have seen, many in our society have already widely missed that mark, acting as if racism itself is a crime.
Generally, terrorism is defined as the use of violence in pursuit of political or ideological gains. This perpetrator shot 9 black church members to purportedly “start a race war”… If my political goal is the division of races, and I see a race war as the best means of getting there, and subsequently attacking black church members as the most effective means of starting my war, I suppose it could meet the technical definition. I am not sure that the manifesto of the lunatic meets the mark as it has zero popular appeal. This incident was not directed by some white conspiracy to kill blacks. It is the end result of failing to deal with crazy people in our society, and the general lack of a security posture sufficient to make those crazy people afraid to act out.
I would not put Elliot Rodger, James Holmes, Dylan Kleebold, Eric Harris, or Adam Lanza in the same category as terrorists. They were extremely deranged individuals acting to pursue very skewed personal goals, not ideological, religious or political ones. My suspicion is that we will soon find that Dylan Roof will fall into this same category. While his delusional rallying cry appears to be a race war, it is a far cry from goals of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab, the FARC, etc. This the act of a lunatic, not a terrorist, and they are quite different.
Calling this an act of terrorism does nothing to help prevent these type of actions. Labeling something as racism or terrorism does nothing to alleviate the problem of mass violence: calling Bin Laden a terrorist did not make us more effective at stopping or killing him. Extensive analysis and extraordinarily effort based on that research has enabled us to kill him, and largely destroy his organization. Polarizing labels are quite likely to distract us from the underlying causes and keep us from solving the issue.
Young men are Inherently Violent…
Like most mass homicides in America, a young male committed the crime in Charleston. We know that the pre-frontal cortex is not fully developed in human beings until they are in their mid to late 20’s. The pre-frontal cortex is specifically responsible for impulse control, moderating social behavior, judgment, and a few others aspects of behavior. We know that there are genetic deficiencies in a significant portion of males (30% according to some estimates), that when coupled with childhood abuse tends to be associated with violent and anti-social behavior. Based on those two factors alone, we should not be surprised that nearly all of the mass murderers in recent history have been young males.
That is about the limits of what we can measure and scientifically prove – so how do we explain the lack of violent behavior in the vast majority of the rest? The answer is the environment in which they grow up. It is socialization. We are failing to prevent these lunatics from acting out. James Garbiano made a statement in his recent opinion piece that sums it up nicely: “To put it bluntly, even “crazy people” act within a cultural framework.”
The glorification of uncontrolled violence is largely what is socializing or providing a cultural framework that allows for this type of behavior. Once again that is a difficult problem to address but it is not insurmountable. Many blame Hollywood, video games, and the like for violent behavior. Desensitization towards violence is not necessarily a driver of violent behavior. Desensitization may make an aggressor more effective once he decides to commit violence, but I have yet to see a link between desensitization and an increased volume of violent acts.
One significant contributor to the problem over which we have some control lies in our education system. The attempt to eliminate violence and failure from the childhood experience has left a significant portion of children unable to deal with violence and failure effectively. Of that subset, some are probably mentally unbalanced and predisposed to violence. Of those, a smaller subset acts out. If we were to have an honest discussion of violence in our education system, it would look quite different then the gaping hole to which children are exposed today.
Violence is a part of every competitive ecosystem on the planet. It is a part of who we are, no matter how much the extremist educators want to attempt to relegate the baser portions of our existence to some fictitious state in which they do not exist. Children model the behavior of their parents and family members first and they are generally the most influential in a child’s development. Our education system is the next, and it is grossly failing to educate, let alone prepare future generations to compete, to function, and ultimately to control the violence that does and always has existed in society.
Stating that violence does not exist, or should not exist is both currently and historically unsupportable. Worse, it is counter-productive. Attempting to eliminate a child’s exposure to violence is nearly impossible. Our failing is in ignoring the issue by systematically refusing to address it. The use of violence is a basic element of the human condition that our progressive education system is miserably failing to address. That failure is leaving children without the experiences, both positive and negative, to properly use and control violent impulses.
My supposition is that failing has far more detrimental consequences then taking a child to a movie or explaining what they see on TV and in video games, on the playground, and in society. How and where that violence fits into our society is something future generations should understand. Zero Tolerance polices are a prime example. No grades policies yet another. They simply leave children ignorant and unprepared to deal with basic impulses and predictable acts to which they will be exposed.
Did access to guns do it?
Nearly every right wing organization is virtually silent at the moment. Nearly every left wing organization is blaming access to a firearm. This particular coward legally purchased a .45 caliber handgun a few months back and apparently used it to commit his crime. The fundamental difference in the two opposing points of view on firearms in this country is one of fact vs. fiction, and unfortunately far too many in our society are working off fictional data. The left is continually clamoring about the reduced “gun homicide” rates in their magically selected “advanced” nations. Generally the U.K. and Australia are touted as their supposed success stories, purportedly seeing a decreasing “gun” homicide rate and a decreasing suicide rate since implementing firearms bans in late 90’s.
First – studying the gun homicide rate is as irrelevant to public safety as studying the screwdriver homicide rate. What we ultimately care about is the homicide rate and not the tool murderers choose to commit their crimes. In both Australia and the UK we see no statistically relevant decline in the total homicide rate after the gun bans were implemented in the late 90’s. I’ll say that again – there is not ONE single statistically significant finding that the implementation of those bans reduced the homicide rate. Murderers simply chose other weapons to complete the task, some of which are less effective, but there is no significant decline that can be tied to a gun ban. That is simply the statistical reality.
The same is true of the suicide rate. Countries with strict firearms control have much lower “gun” suicide rates, but hanging, overdoses, jumping, and cutting suicides rates make the total rate before and after the ban in the U.K. and Australia quite comparable. What we did see in Australia over the years is that they have seen a slight decrease, but the gun ban also coincided with a massive public education and suicide prevention campaign. The end result is a decline from 1996 of 12.7 suicides to 2013 of 10.6 suicides per 100,000. The US suicide rate is currently 12.6 per 100,000 and has historically remained pretty stable.
Nearly 20 years later, with multiple Australian studies indicating the ban had little or no effect on the suicide or homicide rate, the myth persists. Many are of these myths are perpetuated by institutions like the Bloomberg School of Public Health, pseudo-scientists like Daniel Webster, and others who are simply in the business of fabricating anti-gun studies and publishing anti-gun white papers. I don’t necessarily agree with the NRA in its opposition to universal background checks, but when they are bombarded with the fabrications in the media and left wing lawmakers attempt to pass them off as research, I can’t really blame them for simply digging their heels in and saying no to everything under this administration.
The real tragedy here is that we lost nine lives in Charleston, S.C. because we have failed to investigate and deal with the issues that we can impact to reduce mass murder for nearly twenty years. Unfortunately it appears we will lose many more lives if we don’t stop distracting ourselves from stopping the problem by blaming racism, terrorism, and inanimate chunks of metal. It’s not enough to have an opinion. You owe the rest of us an educated opinion if you’re going to use our time. It’s just common courtesy. American journalism seems to have forgotten that.
~ Patrick Henry