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Roots of Arizona's Violence

by Stephen Lendman Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011 at 7:56 AM

America's culture of violence

Roots of Arizona's Violence - by Stephen Lendman

As expected, America's major media won't explain it. Nation magazine editor Katrina vanden Heuvel ducked the issue, saying it's "a time for grief, not grievance." Blaming a "crazed act of a clearly unstable man," she called it "an assassination of democracy....shut(ting) down speech to slay those seeking its exercise," then added "we still don't know whether (violent rhetoric) was responsible for last weekend's horror."

A Wall Street Journal "Murder in Tucson" editorial deflected blame from hard right extremists, and rejected political reasons for the attack, saying:

"....Loughner is a mentally disturbed man who targeted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and anyone near here....because she was prominent and they were tragically accessible....Whatever confused political motives he expressed seem merely to be part of the maelstrom of his mental sickness."

In other words, blame a "deranged" gunman, not society, its extremist politicians, demagogic media hosts and pundits, and America's longstanding culture of violence. More on it below.

New York Times writers Marc Lacey and David Herszenhorn noted "political repercussions," concern for personal security, denunciation of threats and acts of violence against public officials, and overall outrage. Ignored was growing anger from festering economic conditions and the proliferation of violence across America, never reported when ordinary people are affected.

A Times "Blood and Invective in Arizona" editorial noted accused gunman Jared Loughner's mental illness and "Internet ravings about government mind control," saying also that "scores of politicians" receive violent threats without explaining reasons for public anger or that society top down is responsible.

Unexplained as well is how radically, in recent decades, America shifted right, accentuated by extremist talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Back, Sean Hannity, and many lesser known ones except to their faithful. Also politicians, including conservative Democrats, Republicans, and Tea Party favorites like defeated Senate candidate Sharron Angle, referring to congressional "domestic enemies and homegrown enemies," needing "Second Amendment remedies" as a "cure" for "The Harry Reid Problems."

Key as well is the nation's political/media-led war against Muslims, Latino immigrants, people of color, whistleblowers, progressives, dissent, and anyone considered unAmerican. Most of all is America's violent culture, a topic a previous article addressed, accessed through the following link:

Key parts relating to domestic violence are covered below. It began by explaining that from inception, America glorified wars and violence in the name of peace. It's waged them every year in its history at home and/or abroad against one or more adversaries.

It has by far the highest homicide rate of all western nations and a passion for owning guns. Violent films are some of the most popular, and similar video games crowd out simpler, more innocent street play of generations earlier.

Prescription and illicit drugs use is out-of-control as well as tobacco, alcohol and other type substance abuses.

Moreover, US society is called a "rape culture," data showing:

-- one-fourth of adult women are victimized by forcible rape sometime in their lives, often by someone they know, including family members;

-- one-third of them are victims of sexual abuse by a husband or boyfriend;

-- 30% of people say they know a woman who's been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year;

-- one in four women report being sexually molested in childhood, usually repeatedly over extended periods by a family member or other close relative;

-- American women overall experience extreme levels of violence; an astonishing 75% of them are victims of some form in their lifetimes;

--domestic violence is their leading cause of injury and second leading cause of death;

-- statistically, homes, with men in them, are their most dangerous place as millions of women experience battering by husbands, male partners or fathers;

-- for most women with children, there's no escape for lack of means and because male assailants pursue them, causing greater harm;

-- adding further injury, societal help is often lacking because women are afforded second class status, privileges and redress when they're abused, so many suffer in silence fearing coming forward may cause more harm than help;

-- their children are also abused; millions suffer serious neglect, physical mistreatment and/or sexual abuse; many only get relief through escape to dangerous streets where they end up alone, more vulnerable and in greater danger away than at home, where there, too, families act more like strangers or predators, forcing young kids to flee in the first place.

Throughout America, irrespective of class, income, race, religion or ethnicity, these conditions are more commonplace than rare. Moreover, peace, tranquility and safety are illusions when crowded out by foreign wars and domestic violence at home, in communities, neighborhoods, schools, through the media, in core families, and by federal, state and local governments waging war on ordinary people.

It begs the question: what kind of country glorifies mass killing, assaults and abuse; that calls pacifist nonviolence sissy and unpatriotic, yet claims peace loving, "indispensable state" credentials, and manipulates false notions of exceptionalism and moral superiority to force our ways on others globally. It's no third world dictatorship. It's America where human rights, civil liberties, democratic values, common dignity, and personal safety are more illusion than fact.

American Society Breeds Violence

Imperial America aside, popular culture breeds domestic violence. Television features it, studies showing nearly every home has at least one TV set, and 54% of children have their own in their bedrooms. They spend 28 hours a week on average watching, double the time spent in school, so they learn more about life through the media than from parents, teachers or friends.

Before age 18, the average American child watches 200,000 acts of violence, including 16,000 murders, and studies show homicide rates doubled 10 - 15 years after television was introduced.

Moreover, potential adverse effects from excessive media exposure include:

-- increased violent behavior;

-- impaired school performance;

-- increased sexual activity and use of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs; and

-- decreased family communication among other negative influences, unrelated directly to violence.

Studies show that two-thirds of children's programming have violence, three-fourths committed goes unpunished, and most victims aren't shown experiencing pain. Moreover, nearly half the TV violence children see is in cartoons, usually portrayed humorously with victims hardly ever having long-term consequences.

In addition, big screen films are similar, exposing children like adults. So is online material, including pedophile cyber-seduction on unsuspecting children, leading to sexual assaults.

Studies also show how violent video games (VVGs) like Doom, Wolfenstein 3D and Mortal Kombat may increase aggressive thoughts, beliefs and behavior both in laboratory settings and real life. They're worse than TV or films because they're interactive and engrossing, getting players to identify with aggressors by acting like them while playing. These games teach violence. Many young people play them often and parents don't object. No wonder years later they exhibit the same violent behavior as adults.

The American Psychological Association's (APA) March 2010 Psychological Bulletin published an analysis of 136 papers, representing 130,296 participants and studies from several countries. It showed a consistent correlation between violent video game use and aggressive behavior.

Music also teaches violence. The Parents Music Resource Center reports teenagers hear an estimated 10,500 hours of rock music between grades 7 and 12 alone or nearly as much time as they spend in school. Entertainment Monitor reported three-fourths of popular CDs sold in 1995 included profanity or lyrics about drugs, violence and sex with some popular rap artist music glorifying guns, rape and murder.

Against this backdrop and centuries of belligerency, no wonder domestic violence and attitudes toward it are out of control. A lone gunman is symptomatic of ingrained values that proliferate violence daily in US communities and homes, unnoticed unless someone prominent is affected.

Moreover, America's history reflects harshness against dissidents, labor, minorities, street protesters, rioters, ethnic or religious groups, and others, plus commonplace one-on-one confrontations. The great majority go unnoticed or cared about when committed by one person of color against another.

For centuries, monstrous violence against Native Americans nearly exterminated them. Harshness against Black slaves included whippings, other beatings, rapes, mutilations, forced family separations and even amputations as punishment for runaways. Post-slavery, Jim Crow and northern segregation enforced White supremacy on Blacks. Today include Latino immigrants, Muslims, and others disadvantaged as prime targets for state-sponsored repression plus whatever they experience in regular one-on-one incidents.

FBI and other Data

In 2009, the FBI reported 13,636 murders, itemized as follows:

-- 6,452 by handguns (nearly half);

-- 348 with rifles;

-- 418 from shotguns;

-- 1,929 by unknown firearms;

-- 1,825 with knives or similar instruments;

-- 1,864 by other weapons; and

-- 801 with hands, fists or feet, etc.

The Brady campaign against gun violence gives much higher figures, including 30,000 annual gun related deaths and 70,000 injuries, including 3,000 children and teens. For Black men aged 15 - 34, firearm homicide is the leading cause of death. For Hispanic men aged 15 - 24, it's the second leading cause.

Moreover, America is the only industrialized country that "has not responsibly addressed the problem of gun violence," causing, on average, eight times more fatalities than in other developed nations. For children under age 15, it's 12 times higher.

America has few federal gun laws, and even those are pockmarked with loopholes. Among states, Arizona is the most lax, making gun purchases almost as simple as buying toothpaste. As a result, anyone can obtain them, even Jared Loughner. Despite his known extremism, instability, and perhaps derangement, he easily got a Glock 19, a dangerous semi-automatic handgun bought legally from Sportsman's Warehouse in Tucson on November 30. Using a 30-round magazine with an extra bullet in the gun's chamber, he fired the entire clip before subdued.

Data from the Department of Justice and other sources show:

-- 960,000 violent acts against a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, and up to three million women physically abused by their husband, male partner or boyfriend annually;

-- in 2001, more than half a million American women (588,490) victimized by nonfatal violence committed by an intimate partner;

-- intimate violence is mainly a crime against women, accounting for 85% of these incidences;

-- women are up to eight times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate partner;

-- in 2001, 20% of violent crimes against women were by intimate partners;

-- up to 324,000 women experience intimate partner violence during pregnancy;

-- women of all races are about equally vulnerable to intimate partner violence;

-- women are up to 14 times more likely than men to report suffering severe physical assaults from an intimate partner;

-- 20% of female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner, and 40% of 14 - 17 year old girls report knowing someone their age struck or beaten by a boyfriend;

-- in a national survey of 6,000 American families, 50% of men who frequently assaulted their wives also abused their children;

-- studies show up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually; and

-- over half a million women report being stalked annually by an intimate partner, while 80% stalked by former husbands are physically assaulted and 30% sexually abused.

The FBI divides violent crime into four categories:

-- "murder and nonnegligent manslaughter;

-- forcible rape;

-- robbery; and

-- aggravated assault."

It uses the International Association of Chiefs of Police Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program's definition of violent crime as involving force or threat of force. Annual data show these crimes:

-- topped one million in 1975, and from the mid-1980s ranged from around 1.5 - 1.9 million annually;

-- since 1975, annual violent crimes of murder and reported rape ranged from around 100,000 - 130,000;

-- every year over the past century, 10% or more of all crimes committed were violent ones;

-- in 2009, an estimated 1,318,398 violent crimes occurred nationwide, according to the most recent FBI figures; and

-- the domestic incidence of violent crimes overall exceeds the combined total of all US foreign wars.

A Final Comment

Generations of violence engrained it in US culture. It proliferates daily in homes, communities, and by state-sponsored repression against society's least advantaged, cared about or wanted. It made America the world's prison capital - a repressive gulag with over 2.4 million incarcerated, more than China with a population four times greater.

The Institute for Creative Development's director Dr. Charles Johnston, a psychiatrist and futurist, calls violence a drug. In his Center for Media Literacy article titled, "Addicted to Violence: Has the American Dream Become a Nightmare," he said:

"At a psychological level, the drama and titillation of these violent scenarios and our identification with their heroes and heroines serve to create a sense of excitement, potency and significance that is missing from most people's daily lives."

Other effects are more neurological in nature. "Here, it is less violence per se - behavior driven by anger or aggression - that hooks us to violent programming than the generalized rush of adrenalin we feel in response to violent situations presented to us."

Media violence is powerfully addictive beyond equivalent substance abuse. It also involves "social circumstances that support the addictive response." For example, anger and frustration initially drive riots or street violence. But as it becomes "more chaotic and random," it's driven less by doubts of achieving the American dream "than by knowing at some level that even winning would mean little, that the dream itself had become empty. This ultimate despair (becomes) a force for destruction."

Further, violence's addicting power, both real and media driven, "increases exponentially during times of transition" when something familiar no longer inspires and nothing new emerges. "At these times, people are particularly" prone to violence to gain "excitement, engagement, and influence, feelings lacking in their own lives. And random violence....becomes particularly addictive in a new way" by giving "voice to the feelings of fear and chaos so central to these times...."

His two-part cure involves basic media literacy to separate facts from fantasy to counter "people's susceptibility to (be harmfully) manipulat(ed) by violence's hypnotic effects."

Secondly, it requires working together to write a new narrative - a "much-needed next chapter in our cultural history," including new policies and defining metaphors, as well as "new ways of talking about what (most) matters" at all levels - at home, in schools, in community meetings, at all government levels, in business, between family and friends, and through the media.

Ultimately, the ability to reject pseudo-excitement, pseudo-meaning, and pseudo-fulfillment depends on the extent of positive real life experiences. They're absent for millions in a society experiencing growing poverty and despair, exacerbated by its longstanding addiction to violence, proliferated by America's infatuation with imperial wars, conquest, and repression. Kicking that habit may be key to rehabilitating domestically.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at Also visit his blog site at and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

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