Was that a firework going off, or a gunshot? In many US cities, you probably don’t know.
Louis C.K. has this bit called “Of course but maybe”. This is apt for this weekend. It was a violent holiday weekend in Indianapolis. Much will be and has been written about a mass shooting of seven people in Broad Ripple and the death of an officer on 34th street the next day. Plus the death of another officer in Gary, Indiana shot in his patrol car.
The seven people shot outside the Vogue on Saturday morning were bystanders. They were waiting to get into the bars and clubs and some guy bumped into another guy and guns were drawn. Of course this is bad. But maybe if you’re standing outside at 2:30 in the morning to get into a place to buy overpriced liquor, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sketchy people are there, too. Indianapolis Metro Police say over 100 witnesses were there, and almost none of those people have come forward with any kind of information about what happened.
A matter of hours later in an unrelated incident, Officer Perry Renn was shot in the line of duty by a 25 year old guy with a prior record, a family history, and a rifle that penetrated right through his vest.
This and the Broad Ripple shooting warrants a lot of talk, as it always does. This city loves to talk, as do most others. The Broad Ripple issue is basically inciting calls of, “Oh my gosh, bad things happened in the part of town we all like.” Which is a thinly veiled way of saying, “Scary black people have managed to get near popular places for white people.” Every time Fishers has a bank robbery one only needs to go 1 or 2 comments deep on an article to find people saying, “Of course, he came from Indianapolis.” Like they’re termites.
But for all the talk, on one side you’ll hear about how these shooters were low life’s, they should have been behind bars, they should get the death penalty. It’s all very simple. Just lock them up or kill them.
On the other side you’ll hear about how these shooters were victims, they were given a shitty lot in life, they don’t have much opportunity or choice, they came from broken and forgotten neighborhoods. The solution is in education.
The truth is both sides are right about the problems and wrong about the solutions.
Proposed solutions leave a lot to be desired
We can’t build an infinite amount of jail space. We can’t become a police state. It’s expensive housing prisoners, and it’s expensive prosecuting them to the death penalty. Because we want Justice, we want our system of judicial processes to work, and we want them to work well. But that takes time and money. Time we might have, but we don’t have a lot of money. And the same people who clamor for locking people up are the same people that say we’re becoming a police state. So those people clearly haven’t made up their mind about much.
We can’t educate our way out of this problem, either. At some point there has to be a realization that some people just aren’t capable of learning advanced math, or they have no interest. Frankly, some people are just there. They exist, they muddle along, then they die. This is, sadly, most people.
But we can’t force them into a Bachelor’s degree, and we can’t force them into a trade program. Because a lot of people don’t really want to do anything. Some people do nothing, and they’re really very okay with that. I know people like that. Much to the chagrin of the rest of us who work for a living or are trying to improve ourselves, those people do exist.
But the important realization is that a lot of people have no business being at IU or any other school. They barely have much business in high school sometimes. So we can’t just pour money on to schools. We already do that anyway with little return.
So we can’t jail them and we can’t educate them. What gives? What happened and what do we do?
The answer is probably nothing. People have been murdering other people for centuries and that’s never changed. We will never achieve a murder free environment in large cities. It’s more likely that as murder rates are at all-time low, our awareness of them is at an all-time high.
Gun control can be practical
Large cities have gun violence and their solution to create more gun control laws just can’t work. It’s a lot like traffic. Cities have traffic problems and they control that traffic with stoplights, signs, divided highways, and so on. Sometimes despite that, they still have traffic. This is just part of living in a city. Rural areas throw a sign in the mud and call it a day. That works for cities, and that works for rural areas.
Gun control can’t work because people in rural areas like and need guns. On any given night in a lot of rural communities, there is only one or two deputies on duty. Those officers may even be at their homes and just “on call”.
If you’re living in a rural community and someone comes rattling your door knob, no one will come help you. Or if they do, it will be too late. So people have guns so they can protect their own property, among other fair reasons like hunting and scaring away animals that may harm livestock or crops. Cities have the opposite problem. To my liberal friends, do not look down your nose at gun advocates.
But gun advocates need to see the folly in their ways, too. We could remove all the high powered weapons, and that’s probably fair and reasonable to do. It’s hard to see value in having small canons and armor piercing weaponry in urban or rural environments. Pistols, rifles, and other “common” weapons aren’t going anywhere and shouldn’t. Common sense regulations are also fair. It’s a little unreasonable that it’s more difficult to rent a movie from Blockbuster than it is to buy a gun.
Guns will always spill over into the streets regardless of these regulations. I hardly doubt some doofus in a gang worries about forms. But it’s a reasonable first step and gives police a little something to work on in an investigation.
You actually could do something
The majority of the problem is cultural, and Indianapolis sure has a problem with this. It’s racial, socioeconomic, and largely fixable but only with a massive cultural change.
If you think about human behavior, people move to the suburbs because it’s safer (statistically and it just “feels” nice). They get all the benefits of living in a city with none of the downsides except a little traffic in the the morning and afternoon. Not a bad trade, really.
But all of that suburban flight has left a hole in our cities and that hole is sucking everything down with it. As former Indianapolis mayor Bill Hudnut used to say, “You can’t be a suburb of nowhere.” Carmel and Fishers need only look at Lawrence, Speedway, and Beech Grove to see where they’ll be in 40 or 50 years.
People could just stop running away from their cities. They could buy their homes in cities, raise property values, send their kids to city schools and lift all the boats.
You could, dare I say it, be friends with people and develop relationships with your neighbors. Plenty of cities have good luck with this. It turns out rich white people don’t turn to stone when gazed upon by a poor person. As proof, look at Downtown Indy. We all notice the “homeless” people sitting around, but they don’t bother us so much because there’s all kinds of other cool, neat, and nice things and people around. It sort of “waters things down”, for lack of a better way of saying it.
People could start taking the bus, so we don’t keep referring to a group of people as “bus people”, with the inclination that they’re lazy, gross, or dirty and should be avoided. Then we could start seeing transit as part of our infrastructure and not a service to the poor like other truly world class cities. We’d increase density and have a system where people clamored to be on or near a transit line as opposed to rejecting it for fear that “bus people” might be there.
People could recognize that if you leave a group of people in an area to effectively stew in their own bowl of societal loathing and disregard, you shouldn’t be surprised when those people develop a chip on their shoulders and become agitated and upset.
People could recognize that you can’t lump people together into groups by income and be surprised that poor people begat more poor people. If you make minimum wage, you’re going to get cheap haircuts, so the person cutting hair makes less, too. So instead of fighting the idea of “affordable rental housing” near luxury condos, try for a happy medium. There is a bit of a nugget of truth to the old Reaganism to “lift all boats”.
None of the shootings that happen in this city or elsewhere are all that surprising or confusing to me and they shouldn’t be to you, either. But the causes are really on all of us.
When I was growing up, if a kid seemed a little lost, there were people around who’d help fill in the gaps. They didn’t all run off to the suburbs (if Salem had suburbs).
So stop running, stop being scared, and live amongst the humans that are our neighbors. You’ll do more than any legislator, police officer, or social service worker could ever do.