Thursday, July 26, 2012

Who done it? We did.

I enjoy watching crime dramas.  I have seen nearly every episode of the longest running (tied) drama on television, the original Law & Order.  Some episodes I know so well that in the first 30 seconds I remember who did it, but I still would watch because the twists and turns were so captivating.  CBS is nick named the Crime Broadcast Service because of their reliance on procedurals with its fall prime time schedule having two-thirds (14 out of 21 hours) dedicated to crime.

No wonder then that instant analysis and wanting to wrap up a crime in 42 minutes (leaving ample room for commercials) is a driving factor in news coverage.  Crimes are committed and in the same news cycle the police are expected to find the perpetrator and like nearly all crime dramas, that means the course of justice has prevailed.  Sure there’s a courtroom drama now and then, but the percentage of cases (fictional and not) that result in acquittals is miniscule.
In 2009 America's crime rate was roughly the same as in 1968, with the homicide rate being at its lowest level since 1964. Overall, the national crime rate was 3466 crimes per 100,000 residents, down from 3680 crimes per 100,000 residents forty years earlier in 1969 (-9.4%).    In 2009, according to the FBI, there were 581,765 arrests for 1,246,248 violent crimes, or 46%.  1,728,285 arrests were made against 9,082,887 property crimes, or just 19%.
Perhaps this is why the fictionalized crime shows are so popular – because the crimes get solved, unless, of course you watched Season One of The Killing on AMC or were a fan of Twin Peaks in the 90’s…shows that purported to be solving a murder, but, really were intricate character studies instead.  That the majority of real-world crimes go without arrests is not the expected narrative.
When a real-life crime happens, the instant analysis becomes a character study in and of itself.  In 1999 the Columbine massacre was neatly summarized into a narrative of two bullied boys taking revenge.  The truth turned out to be much more complex . 
This week’s shooting at an Aurora, CO movie theatre has received block-buster coverage and instant analysis.  Crime happens, perpetrator captured, analysis complete and conviction is just a matter of logistics.  Anybody who accumulates an arsenal of weapons and ammunition and plans and executes a rampage has a mental health issue.  Jared Loughner shot Rep. Gabby Giffords last year – and addressed in last year’s blog Mad as Hell…or as a Hatter? there is a mental health crisis in America.  According to the CDC 3.3% - or more than 1 million people – have “serious psychological distress” but are not institutionalized. 

Public policy conversations focus not on how to treat people, but instead on the issues of gun control – as if the person who goes to the gun range or shoots for sport is the same person who walks into a movie theatre and mows down dozens of people.  It’s an inauthentic discussion.  The root of the issue is that there are damaged individuals and the country’s inability to prioritize diagnosing and funding treatment for mental disease is the public policy dialogue that’s needed.  It’s just not quite as sexy as the Second Amendment battles.  Nor is as easy as suggesting that every criminal is mentally ill - that does a disservice to the sick.  It's complex.
It’s easy to blame the politicians for focusing on gun control – but it’s actually we allow it to happen because we engage with it.  It’s an easy subject to get two competing sides on framed around a highly emotional and outrageous crime.  The FBI estimates there are 200 million guns in the U.S., nearly one for every adult.  Outrageous!  Guns, however, don’t cause damage until they are misused…don’t take away Constitutional rights!
It’s the misuse that is the next logical discussion to take place.  In our desire for quick analysis and simple answers – a complex discussion of mental illness just doesn’t fit the narrative.  Let’s not be surprised when the next incident occurs that the person(s) will inevitably have a mental defect.

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