Celebrity Pushes Violence, Patience Curbs It

“I want to be fully dressed in Camo in my casket.” This ghoulish request for hunting garb came from a high school freshman in Marysville, Wash. in a group text he sent just before he killed four classmates and then himself. His final moments were spent on Facebook and his cell phone, telling family and friends how he wanted to be remembered.

Last week, a disgruntled and unstable man gunned down two former colleagues on live television, but he was careful also to post the event live on Facebook and Twitter. Footage quickly appeared on YouTube, where entire channels are now devoted to him. He took time out from his escape to fax a 23-page screed to ABC News before killing himself.

One of his claimed motivations was to avenge Dylann Roof, the South Carolina gunman who interrupted a prayer meeting with a hail of bullets, driving thousands to his Facebook page where he posed proudly with his beloved Confederate flag. Google “Dylann” and only one of the first 100 links does not refer to Dylann Roof. (Pity Hollywood casting director Dylann Brander.)

I cite these three examples — there are many more — in response to Springfield Detective David Lewis’ plaintive observation, as reported by The Register-Guard’s Chelsea Gorrow: “In my own personal opinion, life seems cheaper these days. And when you have that attitude, it probably seems easier to pull the trigger.”

Eugene and Springfield have seen a spike in violent crime this summer, following a trend that’s appearing in many cities across the country. The tally of 2015 homicides in Washington, DC last week surpassed the total for all of 2014. Nobody quite understands why.

Lewis has thought about the issue more often and from a closer vantage than most of us, but I wonder if he’s captured only half of the formula that is disrupting so many lives and all of our psyches this summer. Life may not be less valued, but celebrity is certainly more attainable.

Each of us wants to be understood, to be known. There’s a reason solitary confinement is considered a punishment. If heinous acts, properly planned, can make a person famous, that lures many desperate people. If we can’t be sure we’ll be known, we can at least control what we were known for — “fully dressed in Camo.”

As social media tools remove barriers between us and instant celebrity, more will succumb to this temptation. It took a little while for the pattern to emerge, but now that bell won’t easily be unrung.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

The spike in violent crimes has been notable because crime rates have been falling for most of the last decade. This trend has likewise stymied experts, because recessions usually bring more violence to the streets.

I think the cause was the same: cell phones, cameras, and their pipeline to instant notoriety. Any purse-snatcher had to suddenly beware of their face being broadcast within seconds by an alert victim or passerby with a phone and a Facebook account.

Most criminals don’t want to be caught — but there will always be some who do.

And then there’s the link between crime waves and heat waves, as noted by The Atlantic magazine. Climate change makes our streets more dangerous.

Our summer temperatures in Eugene were almost two degrees warmer than most recent years, which doesn’t seem like much. The weather trends are different elsewhere, but a disruption from what’s normal is a common narrative.

Most of us can adapt to such small changes, but it’s not so easy for people who are “on the edge,” “barely keeping it together,” “trying to make ends meet,” or “just waiting to go BOOM!”

So what can we do, if celebrity is easier, coping is harder, and “life seems cheaper these days”? That’s the only question that can keep us from feeling powerless in the face of these trends.

We cannot control the pace and openness of the Internet. Our choices today may affect the planet’s temperature, but not tomorrow’s forecast. All we can really do is allow those around to us to feel known and understood.

Show patience for those who seem to have lost theirs. Be available. Befriend.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.