It’s natural for us to want to make sense out of the senseless acts of murder these past few weeks. In the coming weeks we will cover some of the same ground we did after the Capitol Hill murders in March of 2006, or after the spike in the shootings of African-American young men 2008, or the gang violence of the 1980s, or Columbine.
There will be calls for more gun control, which certainly couldn’t hurt. There will likely be revelations that Ian Lee Stawicki’s family tried to get him help but he resisted and there was nothing they could do. Our mental health system mostly requires those with mental illness to voluntarily commit themselves to care. Those of us who have ever been around family or friends with severe mental illness know this to be a cruel joke. It’s a little like expecting a person with a broken leg to walk.
We have been here many times before. King County convened a group in 2000 to lobby the Legislature to change the involuntary commitment laws. Will there be another effort to protect mentally ill individuals and the community? Or will we continue to pick up the pieces after it’s too late? The bar for commitment is so high as to be utterly irrelevant.
Mentally ill people are not supposed to be able to legally own guns. How is that being enforced? This is another question that is asked over and over and over.
The other violence that has smacked us hard in the face is the reality that so many of our young people feel it’s normal to shoot at one another and show a complete disregard for anyone, including themselves. Yes, we have been here before too. In fact, a report commissioned by Seattle’s Human Services Department in 2008 described a rise in gang violence and ever younger boys and girls involved in crime. The report attributed the rise in violence to turf wars.
We saw the same kind of violence in the 1980s with gang hits and drive by shootings. The young men locked up at that time have been released over the last few years with little assistance and opportunity and going back to the only way of life they have ever known. They have likely been teaching the next generation “the life” as well.
The violence that we are seeing, and have seen over time, has many causes and sadly will continue and wax and wane throughout our lives. We will search for the one big answer that can solve these senseless puzzles. We’ll blame video games, guns, society, single mothers, poverty, a broken criminal justice, and educational system. We change laws, create the War on Drugs, and Three Strikes and You’re Out! And sometimes we make things even worse.
We’ll do all of these things and terrible things will happen anyway. Maybe it’s time to just talk and try harder to understand each other. After so long trying to find the answers, I just don’t know what works anymore.