The grisly roster of slaughter in our own manicured back yards escalates. Orange. Huntington Beach. South Bay. Anaheim. Mission Viejo.
Quiet suburban blocks, middle class to luxurious. Their peace shattered by senseless carnage: stabbings, assault-weapon massacres, shotgunnings of entire families, crazed rage. The toll just in the past 18 months: 21 dead, six of them kids.
Is there some sinister fortysomething angst, waning hormones, graying alienation that drives comfortable Orange County middle-agers to homicidal rampage?
Why would a 41-year-old "solid citizen" rake a transit yard with assault-rifle fire? A 40-year-old family man slay kin, neighbors and strangers in a bloody hour that marked the county's worst mass murder? A 45-year-old professional blast his family of five? A condominium couple commit murder-suicide and butcher grade-schoolers?
Cold-eyed midlife bloodlust is everywhere. A Simi Valley 43-year-old gunned down neighbors as a victim's 3-year-old shrieked. An Ojai rifleman, 44, riddled his wife and three kids like pop-up targets. An Inglewood 51-year-old sprayed his office with a semiautomatic pistol, leaving three dead. A Santa Clarita soccer mom offed her four daughters and torched their home.
The body count from this iceplant-tip of incomprehensible killings by well-off grown-ups who should be entering prime mellow age, just in the Southland in the past two years: 36 dead, including 14 children.
Oh, can it. Just a couple of nut cakes. Cut to Colorado for the big story: ANOTHER ONE, Nazi Gothic high school maniacs, a gaggle of politicians, shrinks, and other tragedy entrepreneurs standing by to peddle scripted idiocies about WHAT IS MAKING OUR KIDS SO VIOLENT?
No fear profiteer wants a serious answer that might turn down the flame under such a lucrative potboiler. And so the press recipe: kick back until some nice-town teenager goes berserk, then nicely framed by sobbing kids and grieving parents, blend authoritative calumny, academic idiocy and media melodrama. Cook the officially designated demographic scapegoat.
And while biding time, keep the pot simmering by just making shit up. Nonexistent gangs in the South County hills. "Disturbing" Fullerton High School student cheating. "Alarming" vandalism by four teens. Guns in local schools. The toll from all of these recent page-one megafeatures: 0 dead, 1 injury, heavy casualties to rural mailboxes.
"A stabbing raises the specter of gangs in south Orange County haven," the LA Times' April 18 elephantine feature by reporter Bonnie Harris led off. The stabbing in question occurred last summer. The alleged knife wielder, 21, was accompanied by five James Dean-retro teens calling themselves the "Slick '50s." Four white kids, denying their gangstaship, politely posed for the story's cover picture.
The folks in this posh "suburban refuge," the "sanctuary" where "crime is so rare" that "there have been just three killings in 10 years," just couldn't comprehend the terror unleashed on their "clean, safe, kid-friendly streets" by . . . "gangs" (gasp in Harris' story). That was three more murders than anyone blamed on south-hills gangs. Harris' story exhaled "gang" dozens of times yet cited no homeboyism other than the silly "Slick '50s." A couple of "minor scrapes" and last summer's stabbing were the only "gang" crimes alleged.
Down these mean equestrian trails of Aliso and the surrounding silksville burgs-Dana Point, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, the Laguna tri-cities and San Juan Capistrano-a half-million people dwell. In all of them put together during the homicidal decade of 1990s, ONE youth was arrested for murder-in 1993. Leisure World is scarier than that.
The larger picture: 20 to 25 years ago, 5,000 Orange County white kids were popped for felonies every year. In 1997, it was 1,300-down 60 percent. Murder? Fifteen white youths were arrested for homicide in 1979; no year since has even approached half that peak.
"Please," yawned a Los Angeles gang investigator in a quote the press should have taken as a cue to ashcan the white-gang theme. Of course, fair is fair. If cops are going to brand every Latino and Vietnamese assembly they don't like as a gang, the same should apply when (in my boyhood Okieonics) white sumbitches go upside th' head. And by the same selective "gang criteria" (group identity, uniform dress, common signs, nicknames . . .), Angels charging out of the dugout to avenge a beanball and Little League parents instigating a rumble over an umpire's call should be charged as violent gangsters and packed off to long prison terms.
There is murder and mayhem in the upscale tollway towns, true enough, not that the press cares. In a real-death stabbing last summer, a 36-year-old Mission Viejo mother murdered her infant son. An "alarming trend" trigger to the press, given two other recent parent-suspect child murders in that paradise city? Uh . . . no. The killing merited a 2-inch Times squib on page 16. (That was princely coverage compared to the 1-inch, page-27 sliver afforded a Santa Ana 14-year-old beaten to death and dumped in a ditch by his "jealous" stepfather.)
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Too bad. The leafy suburbs' real "chilling epidemic" is household violence. Sheriff's records show that every week in the rich south-hills sanctuaries, two dozen domestic-violence calls (most involving weapons) and 100 felonies are logged. Ninety percent of those arrested are adults, including 50 per week cuffed for drug and drinking offenses. But mentioning True Facts would have spoiled the press' shocked-outrage safe-haven baloney that there's no crime and violence in the high-end villes-except when "gangs" invade.
Also to keep the fear pot simmering, a recent Times Metro banner story fretted that the percentage of gang murders that claimed innocent bystanders rose from 59 percent in 1996 to 70 percent in 1998. A "Troubling Statistic," the headline read. However, the statistics themselves (which the story didn't cite) yielded a different interpretation. In 1993, three dozen bystanders were killed in gang murders. That toll fell to 25 in 1996 and 22 in 1998. Suggested media-stylebook revision: a subject denoting a smaller quantity of something bad (i.e., bullet-perforated innocent-bystander corpses) does not usually take a negative modifier (e.g., "troubling").
Here's the shocking local twist on the media's Colorado-carnage coverage and North/South County gang inflammations: Orange County's white middle-agers murder more people-waste more kids, in fact-every couple of months than have been killed in the county's 500,000-student public-school system ever (zero, in anyone's memory). And no politician, expert, or reporter gives a rat shit. Troubling isn't the word for it.
Mike Males is a UCI sociology instructor and author ofFraming Youth: Ten Myths About the Next Generation.