If there is a political crisis, there is an opportunity. Jared Lee Loughner’s attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona certainly created a crisis. The New York Police Department (NYPD) is now ready to cash in on the opportunity. Or so their recent report entitled “Active Shooter: Recommendations and Analysis for Risk Mitigation,” suggests. However, this will be a bit of an unusual reward for the men in blue – they score the ideological points while the surveillance industry reaps the monetary profits.
The “Active Shooter: Recommendations and Analysis for Risk Mitigation,” is a report that documents every shooting incident in the US from 1966 until 2010. To qualify as an active shooting, the event must meet the criteria of Homeland Security “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” 281 incidents in the above mentioned time window qualify and are examined in the report in an attempt to develop a response plans.
A quick survey of the shootings reveals some unsurprising results. Males have been the main the perpetrators of such violent acts. 96% of the shootings were carried by males, and the report casts doubts about the validity of the other 4% as being associated with females. There are also two “peak periods” in which such acts may be carried out, from age 15-19 and then again from 35-44. Surprisingly, the NYPD released no information about the race of the shooters.
The targets for the shooting incidents were also studied. Only 22% involved a seemingly randomly selected group, while the rest had some personal, familial or professional relation to the shooter. This is the point at which the NYPD first demonstrates its desire to bankroll the paranoia. Instead of indicating that it is unlikely that a random shooting event would occur, they argue that the numbers demonstrate that, “active shooter attacks can occur even without any prior altercation or grievance.” Cue the ominous music.
Moreover 41% of the attacks involved shooters with a “professional” relationship to their victims, by far the highest percentage. A quick scan of the documented cases in the appendix might also suggest another category that would encompass the vast majority of shooting incidents (money and work, or for those so inclined, capitalism). For example, in 2003, Emanuel Burl Patterson shot into a Labor Ready temp agency in Huntsville, Alabama while waiting for work and engaging in an argument with a fellow temp worker about a CD player. The NYPD classified this attack as “other” since Patterson was not employed at the time and had no long-term relationship with his four victims. Further, in 1999, Walter Shell attacked the law offices of his deceased ex-wife after being cut out of her will. The NYPD also classifies this as “other” since the attacker had no direct relationship that is easily quantifiable to his victim. The “money and work” category would encompass the vast majority of the shootings suggesting that the shootings spring from some economic roots.
However, the NYPD goes another route by manipulating the statistics to take the heat off of the main suspect when it comes to popular notions about what motivates such acts of violence – downsizing corporations. Only 1/3 of the 82 incidents they classify as “professional” involve employees who have been fired. They then confidently state, “the threat from active shooter attacks is not limited to downsized employees. In fact, in many cases, active shooter attacks resulted from disagreements among current employees of the organization.” A nice attempt to displace the violence from the workplace, but hardly convincing.
The real rub of this report is in its recommendations. While it does indicate that there are generally two ways out of an active shooting – suicide (40%) or applied force (46%) – it does not give a resounding endorsement to any police tactic or squad or even call for more funding.
In fact, in a boost to closet superheroes everywhere, bystanders are listed as one of the sources for applying force to restrain shooters. And there is no touchy feely stuff in regards to training in preparation for such an attack. No waiting for the professionals here. The third pillar of the training is to “Take Action.” If evacuating or hiding doesn’t work, the NYPD recommends that, “occupants should attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter by throwing objects, using aggressive force, and yelling.” Yes, this is basically the same recommendation for dealing with a bear, but it is also the chance for a regular person to become a star by taking out an active shooter.
But the report does not just rely on local heroes. Instead, it recommends preventative and preparation measures, both done in fine post 9/11 paranoid style. For prevention, the NYPD recommends the installation of surveillance cameras that cover all angles in the workplace and feed into a centralized location. This is a good example of advancing a pre-existing ideological agenda into a moment of crisis. Quite a financial boon to the surveillance camera makers and to those who wish to have every corner of New York City filmed for the purpose of total surveillance of the population. Regular people are all, simultaneously, potential heroes and suspects in this report. This point is further drilled home when the report advises people on the scene to “keep hands empty and visible at all times,” when the police arrive.
Just to re-enforce the popular paranoia, the NYPD also recommends training and drills to deal with potential active shooter events. These include training on how and where to hide, preferably in a “designated shelter location,” and exercises in attempting to “visualize their entire escape route before beginning to move.” Perhaps training sessions on how to “Take Action” are also in order.
Near the end of the document, absent from the press release sent to the media, is a statistical chart that examines active shootings in the US in comparison to the rest of the world. Not surprisingly, the US is the leader with 281 incidents. Canada finished second. Of course, our neighbors to the North reported only 8 active shooting incidents since 1966. In fact, the entire rest of the world combined reported only 44 active shooting incidents in the time period of the study. Perhaps the US is an exceptional place after all.
The undeniable reality of the report – beyond the calls for more paranoia re-enforcing exercises and uber-surveillance measures – is that the gun violence in the US is linked in a particular way to the economic structural violence carried out on a daily basis. In the time period the NYPD studied, 1966-2010, the US has undergone a radical class revolution from above with the top 5% re-distributing wealth from the rest of us to themselves. This process has had serious implications for mental health in the country and has made acts that might have otherwise seemed forbidden or immoral seem viable.
No amount of training or preparedness or citizen heroes can stem this tide. The US is in serious need of a cultural and economic transformation that puts people back in control of their lives. A Socialism for the 21st century is the best prescription for preventing future active shooting attacks.
Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and the editor of the Socialist WebZine. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached at [email protected] Become a FAN on Facebook