The past two months and more have been extremely trying, with many unable to watch the news. From the ambush of police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas, the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a fascist, xenophobic dictator rising in the east, it seems as though the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Many are expressing concern for their own safety, especially given that there seems to be a war going on against our police officers–public servants who are here to protect and serve us. However, study after study has demonstrated conclusively that we are living in one of the least violent periods in world history.
Compared to all other historical periods, our chances of dying by violent means are the lowest in recorded history. That includes war as well as criminal activity. We have longer lives, more children, and if you are reading this post it means you’re sitting in front of a computer or smartphone that puts you in the top 20 percent of the wealth of the world (Conservatively speaking.) Yet every night the media inundates us with images of bombs exploding (In some far off country), terrorist groups (Who have never landed a successful attack on US soil), shootings, riots, and war threats between other countries. It makes it seem as though these events are commonplace–after all, we see them every night. But that is an optical illusion–look hard at the facts.
These events are all spread over an enormous geographical area. Let’s take the recent police shootings as an example. On July 5, Alton Sterling was shot while pinned to the ground by two police officers. The very next day on July 6, Police shot and killed Philando Castile as he sat in his car. While these two tragedies are horrible and certainly are a cause for concern which goes far beyond these events and does speak to the institutionalized racism that exists in our criminal justice system, I want you to consider the distance and time involved. 24 hours and 1200 miles apart. How many people, do you suppose, would you see stopped by police on the side of the road between those two places? And if we expand it out to include the rest of the country, how many traffic stops and arrests happened that very day, and nothing at all went wrong.
Of course, headlines of “Man arrested without incident” wouldn’t grab nearly the same attention as when things do go wrong, and to focus on when things go right would be to dilute the shock value of when things go wrong. When it comes down to it, the media is focused on readership, ratings, and shock value. Stirring the pot is social media like Facebook and Twitter, where we are daily inundated with constant reports, updates, and reams of editorials whenever something attention grabbing does happen– and updates on Candy Crush and Bejeweled Blitz. Our friends share these, furthering the congestion of too much information. It suddenly appears as though police are waging a war against us, which ferments anger and fear– and we all know, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to the dark side. Which we are seeing in full now.
Fun fact: 2016 is on track to be a deadly year for police officers, but it’s STILL only slightly over half way to the number of officers killed in 1972, when this happened all before. Tell me if this sounds familiar: A shooter born in America, discharged from the navy for “character and behavior disorders,” takes up radical politics, develops anger towards the police over perceived racial injustices, so sets up in a building outside of police headquarters and starts shooting police. It happened… in 1972. Did you think I was referring to something recent?
This shows that these experiences are neither new in America, nor are they as constant and widespread as the media would have us believe. So, why does it appear that bad things are happening all around us, every day? Why does it seem like the world is such a frightening, scary, dangerous place?
Communication, my friend. Back in 1972 if you wanted to hear about the events in New Orleans Louisiana, you had to wait hours, if not days for the news to catch up, and then it came to you on the family TV, once. Families would see it together, shake their heads, and move on decrying the collapse of western civilization. Now, with the invention of Facebook, twitter, and the 24-hour news cycle with a constant hunger for more to talk about, it’s hard to forget the truth behind the violence, and that truth is that it’s incredibly rare and incredibly unlikely to affect you. So rare, that it’s easy to forget that violent crime rates are now less than 15 in 1,000 people. That is INCLUDING all of the recent mass shootings. Put this into context: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, you were more than three times more likely to experience a violent crime in 1994 than you are today.
What does all this mean? It means the world is actually safer now than it was when I was growing up. Communication and instant notifications from around the world simply make it seem scarier, and it is this fear that has led many Americans to begin lashing out at each other as well as the police officers that protect us. I plead with you not to give in to the fear and hatred. Most people are not racist–though of course with any large population there are exceptions. Most police officers are good people doing a tough job with the best intentions, though again there are exceptions. Most politicians have the best of intentions when they put themselves out there and ran for office. The media thrives on these exceptions, and the exceptions are becoming normalized through our day to day interactions. It’s an optical illusion, making the violence appear much bigger and more widespread than it actually is.