Saturday, July 30, 2016

Portable Violence

But I'm trying to think - I mean, I suppose if I read that in a particular area where there are known to be lots of gangs - I'm very concerned for the people who might be caught up in that somehow, but I'm not personally concerned about that. If I hear that somebody who has declared allegiance to ISIS has just walked into a random building and started shooting, I can feel some possible vulnerability to that attack. Those two events are different in the way that I would perceive them.
Robert Siegel "Why The Public Perception Of Crime Exceeds The Reality"
Although Mr. Siegel's guest, George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs assistant professor Nikki Usher, took his statement to be an example of the "mean world syndrome," in which people see the entire world as more dangerous, he did have a point there, and one that's worth talking about, because it has policy implications.

In the United States, despite the very rare occurrences thereof, things like terrorist attacks (for a somewhat broad understanding of "terrorist," in my view) and attacks with "assault weapons," these are things that, because of the fact that "they can happen anywhere," trigger a much greater sense of vulnerability than everyday violent crime. People understand, at least in general, that gang crimes, for instance, tend to happen in certain "bad parts of town." MS 13 is unlikely to have a shootout with their rivals in a suburban shopping mall somewhere - not because these places have somehow been declared neutral ground, but simply because it's outside of the area where most members congregate. And so members of "Middle America" feel that they can exercise a certain level of control over their own risk by being careful about where they go - avoiding "sketchy" neighborhoods means less chance of being caught in (or the target of) an episode of violence. "Terrorism" and "assault weapon" attacks, on the other hand, have no such limitations. They can, in the public imagination, happen anywhere at any time, even in places that people otherwise feel are "safe."

And this, I think is why the sort of everyday violence that's much more likely to claim lives, but, like car accidents and suicides, doesn't often make the headlines, doesn't inspire the same sorts of calls for intervention. People already feel that they have some control, and so they don't need the government to do it for them.

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