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Thursday, April 11, 2002

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Why did a cop go on a killing spree last night?

When I heard the story about a gunman who killed five people, the first question I had was "Why?" Was this a senseless random mass killing, or was there some understandable motive behind it. Not that the motive mattered too much to the dead victims. But motive makes a big difference in how people perceive the level of safety (or lack thereof) that they enjoy in a particular society or locality.

When a mother murders her children, or two street gangs kill each other off, or (in this case) a man shoots down the person accused of molesting his daughter (along with the alleged molester's defenders and protectors), I do not feel personally threatened. Although it may boost the overall homicide statistics, none of those perpetrators are likely to be a danger to me or to the average member of society. We may empathize with the victims, and make sure the perpetrators are punished, but we do not feel trapped in an evironment of out-of-control crime.

In contrast, a high level of robberies and assaults and home break-ins and car-jackings (some of which might culminate in murder) does represent a generalized threat. When a serial rapist who'd been preying on young women in my city (Simi Valley, CA) was finally captured last year (after he escalated to murdering one of his victims), everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief, because he had been a potential threat to the entire community. I heaved a huge sigh of relief, because the small but not-insignificant risk he'd posed to my own daughter instantly dropped to zero.

Purposeful violence that threatens everyone can be scary, but random violence that threatens everyone can be even scarier. That's one of the worst things about terrorism: You never know from one second to the next when you or a loved one might become a victim, and there are no steps you or they can take as individuals to protect yourselves. No one wants to sit helplessly waiting for the next attack, as the attacks keep growing, so both our nation and the Israelis are impelled to take proactive steps to destroy the terrorists.

If it was common for people in our society to snap and go on random shooting sprees for no discernible reason, it would shred the underlying trust that allows large numbers of people to live together in relative security. This cop had a reason for snapping: His neighbor had been accused and acquited of molesting the cop's young daughter, and the other victims had (in the cop's view) either covered it up or helped the molester avoid conviction during the trial.

Those were lousy reasons for murder (especially as you read the details in the story), and I cite them not to excuse the cop but to understand what happened. The shootings were not random, senseless acts in which the community in general was at risk from the shooter. They were deliberate, targeted acts by a deranged individual with an understandable motive, and they were foreshadowed by earlier warnings from that individual. Hence this shooting spree was not an indication that our society is dissolving in a tide of random violence.

One very minor consolation is that the shooter turned the gun on himself in the end. It's the same minor consolation I feel when an adult sets off a suicide bomb in Israel: At least the bomber is dead. Unfortunately I can't even feel that consolation when a brainwashed youngster is the suicide bomber. I just feel a great rage at the religious fanatics who are brainwashing those children and expending them like empty shells. And I want to destroy every one of those religious fanatics ASAP, before they kill more of their own kids and more of us in Israel or the United States.








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