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by N. D. Walker

I recently learned more of the details of the King and Kennedy assassinations. The bullet that struck Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., actually entered through his face.  Following the assassination of Dr. King, the Kennedy brothers were murdered in cold blood. The bullet’s that hit President Kennedy exited his neck. A preacher, a President, and the President’s brother, all dead, but not by some foreign menace or internationally provoked diatribe – but rather, unprovoked and untimely, and by the hand of America’s Most Wanted. What other country in the 19th or 20th century has murdered three prolific figures?

We live in a society where violence is rampant. Yet, we often treat images of violence in movies as entertaining, although they are filled with gore. We find violence among gangs egregious, but we don’t perceive it to be our problem because gang related violence often occurs in urban centers. We even think the problems of violence can be easily solved (with or without) gun restrictions, dependent upon the political affiliation, but we forget about the millions of unregistered guns in the general population. The desensitization of violence among the citizenry and the politicization of the gun debate in general, has impeded unilateral legislative action; as a result, the violence continues. But are we truly in a position to “legislate” violence, particularly in situations where expressions of violence in videos, movies, and music are commonplace and are excused as enantiomer’s of society?

According to the Strain Theory, social structures within society may pressure citizens to commit crimes. Robert Merton describes the strain, as “the discrepancy between culturally defined goals and the institutionalized means available to achieve those goals. He argues that the dominant cultural goal in the U.S. is the acquisition of wealth – which is often equated with happiness gained by the application of oneself to education. Since education is perceived to be the means to achieve those material goals those who do not apply themselves to education are categorized as lazy or defective. Consequently, a strain is generated and produces mode of adaptation or coping strategies that the disadvantaged use to deal with the pressure.”  Based on Merton’s perspective, material success or the attainment of some tangible is central to the strain theory. Which prompts me to inquire, what did Dorner, Lanza, and Holmes desire?

Post Christopher Dorner’s murderous melee, Adam Lanza’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, the Colorado movie shooter James Holmes’ rampage, and the constant culture of violence in Chicago and other urban centers,America has been awakened to the crisis of gun violence. Due to the pervasiveness of violence in America, we can no longer dismiss, ignore, or treat acts of violence as isolated incidences. No seemingly idyllic neighborhood, comfortable cranny, high or low socioeconomic status is exempt. Violence has become the equal opportunity epidemic. Like a disease, violence is infectious in nature as the headlines across America repeat weekly news of some horrific crime involving violence, guns, and unfortunately human collateral. From the White House to every house in America, and pundits and politicians at round-tables can be heard sparring, echoed by the footsteps of lobbyists on Capitol Hill vis a vis Wayne LaPierre and crew…only to be interrupted by another act of violence.

Americans are surprised, shocked, and some are afraid. However, the violence in America of late should not absolutely come as a surprise, unless you have no re-collection of history. We sing of America the beautiful, but America was ugly before it was beautiful. Our America fought a very brutal war to gain freedom from British rule, encored by the Civil War where brothers fought against brothers, and stained by the historicity of a slave trade that is as notable for brutality as it is infamous as a protracted human atrocity.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on their official site, defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against a person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a likelihood of resulting in injury, death or psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.” Interestingly, and unfortunately,  the definition of Violence by WHO covers a wide span of movies we deliberately define as “action films, drama, and dark.” In fact “over 70% of persons over the age of 30, believe there is too much violence in advertising for movies and TV” according to a joint poll by The Hollywood Reporter and Penn Shoen Berland.

If we acknowledge, and apply Strain Theory, can we deduce that social structures in society pressure citizens to commit crimes? No owe doubts the influence of gang violence in low income communities as contributing factors. Can the same theory apply to James Holmes, who was purportedly under a great deal of academic pressure? Could Adam Lanza have been under some duress due to difficulties related to Asperger’s? Does the theory extend to Christopher Dorner whose manifesto included allegations of disparate treatment by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)? Apparently, criminal behavior is learned like other behaviors are learned, and while there are an abundance of theories about violence “all sociology theories share the view that it is dimensions of the social environment that explain the distribution of different types of conduct and variations in the probability that individuals will learn different forms of conduct” (Jensen, pg. 639, para.1) Can we conclude from this convergence of theorists that the “social environment  is one of the primary contributors to violent behavior? If, so how do we create barriers or controls to prevent or reduce violence that is a direct result of visuals, environment, family, and peer groups. Who is responsible for the mitigation of influences that are perpetually compounded on a daily basis? Has America become a nation too preoccupied to deal with the problem of violence?

I hope the mother’s and father’s in Connecticut and Chicago and the rest of America lobbies until something happens to change the extreme and ubiquitous violence we are witnessing. Those parents owe it to their children. We owe it to our children. Because the next time, could be your time. It’s sad but true. Nothing happens until something happens to you.

 Interesting links and references cited related to the post and Violence Inquiry:

The Cafferty File/blog on Violence

The Hollywood Reporter


Strain Theory 


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