Am I my brother’s keeper?

I woke this morning to the news of yet another mass killing. This time, it was the city of Las Vegas…by every account, our modern Sodom or Gomorrah, take your pick. The headlines and talking heads on the news shows say that a man with an arsenal opened up on an outdoor concert crowd from a high-rise hotel building, killing 50+ and injuring more than 400. Even for those of us with extensive experience with death and the investigation of critical incidents, the numbers are staggering. 50+ souls gathered to hear some tunes under the blinding lights of the Vegas strip and found themselves to be the latest sheep senselessly slaughtered on our national stage. And, almost as obscene as the carnage, the media vultures descended on the scene and provided microphones for the subjective, knee-jerk finger-pointers before the first pieces of evidence could be properly documented and secured by authorities. Woof…

Unsubstantiated Speculation

Of course, it’s news and deserves our attention. But, I invite everyone to listen to the manner in which it is dealt with by the networks. Take note of the unsubstantiated speculation posed by admittedly uninformed commentators and how they use it to stir controversy by igniting fears around predetermined agendas. Tell me if this sounds familiar:

“Was it a random act of violence, or was it a well planned attack by a known terrorist organization? Did authorities have advanced warning that they failed to act on? What failures in public policy allowed this to happen and what could have been done…what should have been done…to prevent this horror from happening? And what role did high-powered weapons and large capacity magazines play in such an extreme body count? As of yet, we just don’t know…

It’s typical, bush-league modus operandi. Stir it up, but leave yourself an out. Having been a student of such events and their aftermaths for years, the irresponsible conjecture and melodramatic sensationalizing by the media for ratings is no surprise. Neither is it subtle anymore. The self-promoting personalities that compete for airtime and sponsors on cable news are predictably vaudevillian…and rarely fail to meet our low expectations. The worst part is that all the ginned up noise detracts from the legitimate concerns and serious treatment due to the terrible phenomena of mass-casualty incidents.

No Simple Explanation and No Ready-made Solution

I will simply tell you that there is no simple explanation and no ready-made solution. This latest incident and others like it have been predicted by law enforcement for years now. Violence follows patterns that aren’t hard to recognize and follow. We can anticipate the kinds of crimes that will unfold. Doing something about them? That’s the hard part, because it is totally dependent upon catching the singular, independent individuals that will act as perpetrators before they can pull the trigger or set off the bomb.

Let me say a few brief words about an issue that always comes up…gun control. I fully understand the emotional reaction that calls for one ban or another on the tools of violence, especially in light of repeated tragedies. Looking at it simplistically, it seems to make some sense and the vast majority of gun owners favor reasonable, rational regulation. Unfortunately, the recent initiatives suggested by legislators wouldn’t have made any difference in this case, no more than the current laws did that have been on the books for years. Moreover, our country is so flooded with firearms that even a total, absolute prohibition and confiscation campaign would be a gross exercise in futility and only succeed in making felons out of millions of law abiding citizens who would adamantly refuse to turn in their weapons. It’s that simple. I understand that is an affront to anyone who sees the world “the way it ought to be,” but it’s a practical reality that no amount of high-minded progressive effort will overcome. So we really need to concentrate our efforts elsewhere.

Having said that, I will admit I have no immediate simple answer that will suffice. Furthermore, any police chief or county sheriff who says otherwise is just stroking political strings. Frankly, I don’t believe there is one that will adequately treat the issue…certainly, not overnight. The factors involved are multifaceted and accumulative. We didn’t get to this sorry point in our culture instantly and I fervently believe it will take some time to turn a corner on the violence that is so prevalent in our society. Even the most casual review of the evening news proves our society has become highly volatile, overly aggressive and largely undisciplined.

“I don’t know what happened. He was always such a quiet, easygoing guy.”

The extremely divisive political rhetoric saturating public commentary doesn’t exactly encourage cooperation and our self-indulgent temperaments fail miserably to foster compassion for one another. Without that, it is hard to recognize boiling instabilities stirring in the fellow next to us, let alone the complex psychological, physiological, and biochemical attributes that lend themselves to these catastrophes. Let’s face it, when we see someone in serious crisis we generally don’t want to get involved. It makes us uncomfortable. More often, it seems wiser to mind our own business and look for an exit. We don’t have the skills, the time or the gumption to effectively deal with mental illness, personal troubles, or chemical abuse. And none of that takes into account those who are motivated by passion, politics, and profit.

Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ And he said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Genesis 4:9)

That was Cain’s response after he murdered his brother in the fields. He disavowed having responsibility for his sibling out of guilt. How many of us do the same today in the aftermath of an explosive incident involving a relative, coworker, or neighbor? How many times have we heard associates of murderers say, “I don’t know what happened. He was always such a quiet, easygoing guy”? I saw an interview this morning with the brother of this latest mass butcher. He seemed honestly shocked and sincerely at a lost for words to explain what happened. If those intimately familiar with these perpetrators fail to intervene, how do we expect strangers in authority to do it effectively every time? It’s not going to happen.

On top of those problematic “individuals” are the groups, organizations, and nations that encourage terror, chaos, and war. One can shrug and say such has been the human condition throughout history…and that would be right. But things have changed in our modern era. Advancements in communication, travel, and technology in general have shrunk the world and facilitated conflict. Never before have cultures been more apt to collide and conflicts to ensue. 70 years ago we were much more isolated and had minimal interplay with foreign attitudes, including those we found disagreeable. The optimist says familiarization should breed empathy, but in truth it has bred enough contempt to instigate terrorism worldwide and make warfare a commodity.

A Product of Pure Evil

President Trump called the incident in Las Vegas a product of pure evil. Whether we like him or not, it’s hard to argue with that characterization. Eventually, when the investigation is complete, we will be offered an objective summary of this calamity. I doubt it will satisfy us completely and it surely will be little comfort to those who have suffered loss, personally or vicariously.

Whatever the outcome, we will be left with the nagging question, “What are we to do?” Obviously, effective change is needed across the board and at multiple levels. As a Christian, I am called to try to see things from a higher perspective, acknowledge my ways are not God’s ways, and struggle with life through faith. I am not a stranger to the practical realities of crime and the myriad causational factors that challenge law enforcement officials. I saw more than my share of victims and their pained loved ones in 31 years of police work. But, I also know hope cannot be nurtured strictly by statutory amendments and policy reviews.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  (Romans 12:2)

Does anyone doubt we need a “renewing of our minds?” Those who prefer a secular viewpoint will role their eyes, but I have to ask, “How’s that working out for you?”

Photo credit: REUTERS:Las Vegas Sun:Steve Marcus Reuters