Monday, April 6, 2009

On April 3, Jiverly Wong, a 42-year-old Vietnamese immigrant entered the American Civic Center in Binghamton, NY,(below, right) armed with a high-powered rifle. After holding 41 people hostage, Wong murdered 13, wounded 4 and committed suicide. Jobless and feeling disrespected because of his difficulty with the English language, Wong was later described by those who knew him as “depressed and frustrated.”

One could say the general population is depressed and frustrated in our current economic climate.. The most recent unemployment figures indicate a national jobless rate of 8.5 percent, the highest in almost a quarter century. That translates to 13 million American workers without jobs. If you were to factor in those who have been laid off and given up on finding a job, and those who have had to take part time work, the unemployment rate would hover around 15.6 percent. According to, there were 3,108,364 U.S. home foreclosure filings in 2008.

That which cannot be quantified is the level of depression and frustration among American citizens. The question that will answer itself in the coming months is simply, how many Jiverly Wongs are there lurking out there right now? According to Mansfield Frazier, “there are literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, out there right now in this county, feeling just as I did back in ‘68. A man can only take so much. Take note, America.” Frazier, in a new piece for The Daily Beast called “Confessions of a Man Who Almost Went Postal,” details his own depression and frustration more than 40 years ago. His angst almost led him to the same fate as Jiverly Wong. If you want to see what good writing and storytelling is really all about, you should read this piece. If you would like some insight into the level of desperation in the minds of many Americans right now, Frazier is what we call in this business, a “primary source,” one who experienced and witnessed the truth about which he writes.

Still, other than exceptions like Frazier, our evidence of the link between economic doldrums and violence is largely anecdotal. It sure is compelling, though. This past weekend 22-year-old Richard Poplawski shot and killed three Pittsburgh police officers. According to court reports, he did it because he felt police were no longer able to protect society during the economic collapse.In Oakland, CA, a gunman killed four police officers (pictured, left) after a routine traffic stop. Family members later said the shooter was “not a monster,” and that he must have been “desperate.” Last month in North Carolina, a man entered a nursing home and killed eight people. As he walked down the halls of the facility, he reportedly shot patients in wheel chairs and in their beds and one nurse who was caring for them.

And then, there was this: A 42-year-old Washington man took his 9-year-old daughter with him when he robbed a convenience store. The perpetrator had this to say to the clerk: “I’m out of work. My daughter’s got to survive.” Watch:

Is there a true correlation between economic crises and violent crime? Evidence is circumstantial. Media reports primarily on the most sensational incidents that involve multiple victims and one perpetrator. But anecdotally, it appears we are in the midst of a rising tide of criminal acts. You can expect to hear more public outcries for stronger gun control measures. And at the same time you can hear the National Rifle Association’s chorus of second amendment rights. And someone is likely to chime in about how individuals who keep a gun in the home are statistically more likely to use it on a family member than on a stranger. (Just this past weekend a Washington man shot and killed his five children in the family’s mobile home, and then killed himself). Someone else will point to the crime stats from 1929 – 1934, the height of the Great Depression, that clearly indicate a rise in violent crime year by year.

As usual, the numbers will tell the story. Here’s is what is known: According to the Associated Press, in the past month there have been 53 mass shooting deaths in the U.S. The shooters are generally male, often unemployed, and sometimes in the midst of an ugly separation or divorce. More often than not, they have no criminal records. Apparently it is money and/or love that drives men to try to quell their desperation through murder. And unfortunately, romantic troubles and economic terror are often hard to read on the face of the man on the street.

No comments: