Posted by: bkivey | 12 January 2011

Systemic Failure

As information develops in the aftermath of the Tuscon massacre a couple of things are becoming increasingly clear: the shooter acted alone and of his own volition and the local socio-legal infrastructure failed to do its job. We’re also seeing a lot more of the increasingly shrill and ever more tiresome yelling from the progressives to further restrict those with whom they disagree. Bitterly clinging to their failed social policies and bewildered by the sweeping repudiation of their ideology in the recent elections, their only recourse is to take singular acts of violence and try to turn them to political advantage.

Jonathan Alter captures this sentiment in an essay from Newsweek:

“Conservatives like to argue that these are isolated incidents carried out by lunatics and therefore carry no big lessons (unless the perpetrator is Muslim, in which case it’s terrorism); liberals view them as opportunities to address various social ills.”

Terrorism may be defined as an act of violence perpetrated to further a political agenda, and to my knowledge every mass murder by Muslims in this country (and quite a few others) fits this description, along with Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. Joseph Stack’s murder-suicide was fueled by anti-government sentiment, but the hatred was personal rather than political.

Conservatives tend to argue that incidents like Saturday’s shooting are isolated incidents because 1) they are, and 2) they understand that in any sufficiently large population there are going to be a few who are, for want of a better term, insane. That the progressive would equate individual action with societal failure is understandable from a political philosophy that doesn’t differentiate between the individual and the collective.

The fact is that there were laws and procedures in place prior to the shooting to prevent just such a occurance, and there were ample opportunities for local law enforcement to put those procedures into practice. It’s not like the police can claim ignorance of Jared Loughner’s increasingly erratic behaviour: they were called to Pima Community College on several occasions until he was finally told that he wouldn’t be allowed to attend, so great was the discomfort of those around him. Police were called to the family home on several other occasions. If a person’s behaviour is such that the police have to bar them from attending school, I’d say that’s probable cause to suspect them of something more than the usual teenage angst. At the very least such an individual should have to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

It’s also becoming clear that local law enforcement knows that they are at least partially to blame for the tragedy. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik’s divisive, embarrassing, and highly unprofessional comments to the national media are an ill-considered and disingenuous attempt to deflect scrutiny from his own office’s handling of their encounters with Loughner. The Player Queen from Hamlet comes to mind. The recent refusal of the sheriff’s office and the community college to turn over public records to the Arizona Republic newspaper as required by state law is telling. I’d expect that fairly soon we’ll be seeing wrongful death lawsuits filed against every government agency in reach, the only surprise is that the lawyers have waited as long as they have.

Much has been made of the error in turning the mentally ill out onto the streets without contingency plans, and there’s enough blame to go around for that lapse in judgement. The error is compounded by the attitude that forcing someone who displays consistently aberrant mental behaviour to subject to state-enforced mental therapy is somehow a violation of that persons rights and dignity. I saw this first-hand while living in San Francisco. At the time the streets wore full of homeless people, many of whom displayed obvious signs of mental illness. One woman spent her days digging up the bricks paving the sidewalks of Market St. When the city was notified that they faced significant legal exposure if someone stepped in a hole and broke their ankle, the city’s response was that they couldn’t do anything because to take the woman off the streets would be to violate her rights. Apparently everyone else’s expectation to walk down the sidewalk without fear of serious injury was secondary.

Rather than focus on ever-more restrictive legislation for law-abiding citizens that won’t do a damn thing to prevent a deranged individual from committing mass murder, perhaps the politicians and the conspicuously compassionate should focus on the individuals with a history of disruptive behaviour. Sure, a few harmless folks might be temporarily inconvenienced, but that’s preferable to the many having their liberties restricted or wondering if the guy talking to himself might suddenly whip out a pistol.

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