The town where I live — Little Rock, the capitol of my state and yours : from the newspaper headlines and television broadcasts you would think they were shooting it to pieces. You would be wrong.
They are shooting one another to pieces. And with rare but notable exceptions they are doing it on their home turf, their own neighborhoods.
They? Easy: they are the adolescents, teenagers and young adults of broken or uncertain homes or, really, no homes. The bedrock of the societal structure they recognize involves not so much the nuclear family, a concept essentially unknown to many of them, as alliances forged on the city’s meanest streets, in the small hours of the night; or, worse, admission to one of the several gangs that guard their territory with ferocious determination, addressing real or perceived slights with lethal resolve.
They are predominantly though not exclusively African-American, and African-Americans are predominantly though not exclusively their victims. This is not a middle-aged white man’s interpretation of official police statistics but a simple reading of the data itself.
The data does not reflect a parallel agony: Captive to the culture of violence are the tens of thousands of African-Americans in the involved areas who are attempting to live in earnest citizenship, paying their taxes and retiring their mortgages, and who wish only to go to work or go to church or go to school and then return home to a decent meal and a decent night’s sleep on a decent lane, and be spared the utter indecency of a night, or an afternoon, shattered by gunfire. Such is what most of us take for granted.
It is not reflexive defensiveness, and it could hardly be civic boosterism, for a Little Rock resident to note that the plague extends well beyond the limits of the state’s largest city, the seat of its largest county. Pine Bluff continues to wrestle with violent crime. Offenses against individuals taunt the Fort Smith municipal leadership. A recent nightclub altercation in Jonesboro escalated to homicide, though the number of rounds fired paled against the fusillade unleashed only blocks from the Capitol’s front steps.
That nightclub firefight: the featured performer, a rapper from Memphis whose stage name is Finese2Tymes, is now in custody, charged at the federal level as a felon in possession of a firearm. When arrested in Alabama, the authorities say, two pistols and an assault rifle were found in his car. Accounts thus far suggest he was not legally culpable in the Little Rock mayhem, yet a state charge would seem likely farther east: it was Finese2Tymes who, according to the U.S. Attorney, pulled the trigger of “an AK-style pistol,” sending a slug into the neck of a motorist who had annoyed him after a similar concert in Forrest City, just days before the one that devolved into a crossfire that wounded 25 people.
That two dozen individuals could be struck by gunfire in the close quarters of a nightclub and survive might, in saner times, be the stuff of a quasi-comic novel, or a Monty Python movie. The Gangs That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. (“Deliverance” might be a more appropriate title but it’s already taken.) Anyone who can find humor in the episode is welcome to it.
Not unwelcome are the prayer vigils that have become the coda to such incidents. Prayer never hurts and it costs nothing. The press conferences conducted by city officials (in Arkansas and other states) following mass shootings are at once necessary, maybe, and annoying, usually: expressions of remorse for the victims and determination that such carnage will not be tolerated. If their sympathy for the dead and wounded and their families is genuine, the present climate in fact offers the police and elected elite little option but to tolerate it. Like prayer, official outrage never hurts, costs nothing and doubtless is genuine.
Solutions, whatever they may be, will be expensive. But so are the headlines that drive economic development specialists to distraction.
Arkansas may not again see an explosion of fury as happened in the first hours of July in Little Rock, but it has not seen the last of young armed anger unleashed: the deaths will continue — one, two, three at a time. In my town, in yours.