Is America an increasingly violent society? Statistics seemingly tell us no. From 2001 to 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent crime victimizations actually dropped 34%.
While this decrease is part of a longer-term trend (and there’s still startling amounts of carnage in this country), it begs the question of whether the United States is really less violent than previously and, if so, where all that excess violence went.
It’s notable that, since 2001, the U.S. has been exporting and facilitating violence of all sorts all over the globe. Some of this violence is thoroughly sanctioned and some isn’t. In Iraq, members of the U.S. military committed violent acts against untold numbers of Iraqis, including military personnel who served Saddam Hussein’s regime, as well as insurgents, and civilians. (The U.S. invasion itself touched off Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence that killed tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands and continues to this day.) Though the numbers may not be comparable, much the same story could be told about Afghanistan, not to speak of Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Americans have also killed African pirates on the high seas and, just days ago, an Indian fisherman on a boat in the Persian Gulf.
Recently, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents have been killing suspected drug smugglers in Honduras. U.S. arms have been sent to Middle Eastern autocrats visiting violence on their own people and the U.S. military has trained African troops to more effectively kill African insurgents. American weapons have flooded Mexico and supercharged drug violence there. A war in Libya, involving the U.S. military, led to Tuareg fighters looting Libyan weapons stockpiles and committing acts of violence across the border in Mali (which was plunged into further violence due to a military coup by an American-trained officer). Today, America’s commander-in-chief regularly selects individuals in a number of countries to be placed on a “kill list,” targeted, and assassinated. And so it goes.
Exporting violence is not, of course, simply a post-9/11 phenomenon. It’s been an American tradition, from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, from Haiti to Hiroshima. When the U.S. exported war to Southeast Asia, it eventually engulfed Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in utter carnage. One way civilians there were frequently killed resulted from what historian David Hunt has trenchantly called “the sin of running.” A Vietnamese villager frightened by the roar of a helicopter or a door-gunner pointing an M-60 machine gun at her would bolt in fear or a young military-age man would take flight when armed American teenagers, who might detain, beat, or kill him, approached. As Vietnam veterans would later tell me, “running” branded Vietnamese as guilty, and so as enemies, in the minds of many U.S. troops and led to startling numbers of noncombatants being gunned down.
Today, TomDispatch regular Stephan Salisbury examines police violence in America, which may, hardly noticed, be on the rise. In poor neighborhoods, in particular, the “sin of running,” it appears, is alive and well. For the last decade, we’ve barely noticed as the U.S. spread violence globally. At home, we generally take note of only a few of the most egregious or spectacular cases of violence. Luckily, Salisbury has delved deeper and offers a window onto the less-reported version of American violence that most of us fail to see. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Salisbury discusses the lack of good numbers on police shootings and why they are so poorly covered, click here or download it to your iPod here.) Nick Turse
Police Shootings Echo Nationwide
Aurora Gets the Attention, But Guns Are Going Off Everywhere
By Stephan Salisbury