What the absolute (fill in your favorite four-letter curse word)?
We are away, but the headlines travel and tell a gruesome, sickening story.
A troubled teen is patted down as part of an accommodation allowing him to attend a public high school. Only on this day, a gun is found on him and two staff members, neither of whom presumably went into education to perform such duties, are wounded. A dozen hours later, the young shooter is himself dead of a self-inflicted gunshot.
Two employees at a longtime west Denver eatery are inexplicably gunned down while going about their duties. It was an otherwise unremarkable day at what a neighbor described as, “a nice, quiet little restaurant.”
In an act of particularly brutal insanity, an especially decent 20-year-old woman is driving along, minding her own business when she is killed by three young, suburban thugs apparently living out some military fantasy and intent on a night of raucous rock-throwing. Others across the metro area escape with their lives but are endlessly traumatized by this barbarity.
While in LoDo, a drunken fan, clearly with “issues,” loses his mind and attacks the Rockies mascot. True, the Rockies are a lousy team off to a miserable start. But Dinger is hardly the culprit. How messed up does one have to be to find violence an appropriate answer against any person? If you want to protest the team’s performance, do so by staying away from the turnstile.
I could go on. The violent acts that don’t make the papers or lead the nightly newscasts and leave behind anonymous victims are every bit as reprehensible and destructive.
Of course, the escalating crime and violence are hardly limited to our fair city. You can search the news in many other urban areas and find much the same fare.
But Denver and its environs seem to be having an extra rough go of it lately. That is reflected not just in news content, but in polling, conversation and social media. Subscribe to Nextdoor as one barometer.
A mayoral race that ordinarily would feature plenty of progressive platitudes and one hard-left candidate among the runoff contenders instead has a much harder edge and more centrist orientation.
Once again, this issue sends the loudest voices to their political poles. Tune into FOX News or most talk radio and the sentiment is that of lock them up and throw away the key. While those at home on the political left, including more than one Denver mayoral candidate eliminated in the first round, talk passionately of the “prison pipeline” and focusing on the “root causes” of crime in lieu of harsher penalties.
Those root causes are multiple and not to be dismissed. Babies are born innocent and come without the programming some later acquire to harm others and create mayhem.
But too many treat those underlying conditions as an excuse instead of, at best, a partial explanation.
Those causes are multiple. With notable exceptions, those perpetrating violence and stirring such havoc do not come from economic privilege and intact, healthy, nurturing homes.
Poverty and economic distress, broken families, inept parenting, failing schools, the still lingering effects of racist structures – each and all make for. a steeper hill that some fail to climb. None of us are without character flaws. But for too many, those deficits are magnified by the conditions of their upbringing and turn into anti-social behavior, sometimes of an unspeakable dimension.
Add to those factors a good deal of the mass entertainment in which the young are marinated to go along with limited job prospects, withering dreams, growing alienation and the coarsening of much mass culture and political discourse.
Some of these realities will be easier to redress than others. All demand attention while recognizing that any curatives have as much to do with culture as with policy.
There is no underestimating the impact of these conditions. But neither can they be used to somehow condone or explain away conduct that violates all of society’s legitimate norms and rules.
A mark of maturity is the ability to reject simplistic either-or formulations and to simultaneously hold two valid thoughts. In this case, those contentions are that root causes matter and at the same time that some acts still require the harshest, unyielding sanction.
That should not be so difficult. In fact, it ought to be obvious. Yet, too many are far too attached to just one of these polar positions.
In one major city after another, we are witnessing pushback to ultra-forgiving attitudes including the lunacy of defunding the police, on top of the horrendous branding that slogan represented. No sane person argues that cops should be given carte blanche or that a blind eye should be turned to the few bad apples in the ranks. But that is a far cry from the outright attack on policing common in too many circles.
Similarly, while there is always room to review sentencing ranges and guidelines, the whole notion of imprisonment is decried in some quarters. Talk about failing to read the room or meet the moment.
There is no denial that race has long been connected to such issues. Or that remnants of that disgraced history are still with us.
Nonetheless, the real racial disparity these days has less to do with arrests or prison time or even rare instances of police violence than with day-to-day victimization. If disparities are to be the focus, let’s take the magnifying lens to the substantially increased likelihood that those of darker skin tones will be the victim of violent crime.
This is being written while traveling abroad in the Arab world. Not that long ago, these societies may well have dealt with stone-throwing murderers in an eye-for-an-eye manner.
Spare my editor the letters of outrage as I am not seriously proposing that for the Jefferson County barbarians. A life sentence plus, say, 150 years for each of them should do the trick.
Eric Sondermann is a Colorado-based independent political commentator. He writes regularly for Colorado Politics and the Gazette newspapers. Reach him at [email protected]; follow him at @EricSondermann
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