Whats the Frequency, Sheriff?
If Orange County's latest middle-aged rage killing fails to shake Sheriff Mike Carona and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas out of their kid-bashing refrains, nothing will. On June 13, a Sheriff's deputy was slain in an AK-47 barrage allegedly produced by a 39-year-old "born-again Christian" at a convenience store in rich, quiet Lake Forest.
The newest gun tragedy is the county's sixth middle-aged rampage in 18 months, coming soon after an enraged 39-year-old driver allegedly mowed down two toddlers and smashed up three more in a Costa Mesa preschool yard in a mission to "execute" children (the county's only school murders in anyone's memory).
Even though the recent carnage is just the worst of the county's midlife crime eruption, Carona and Rackauckas continue to pump up their images and budgets by harping on folks' fear of young people. Carona declares at every podium stop that the growing population of youths, mostly Latino and Asian, spell the "next crime wave." Rackauckas recently told the Orange County Grand Jurors' Association that gang violence was the county's fastest-growing problem, requiring new prosecutor/ police "target teams" and probation rules stripping convicted gang members of constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
Yet their offices' own crime statistics tell far different stories. While gang murder (nearly all Latino or Asian) has plummeted by 50 percent in the past five years, a half-dozen middle-aged suburbanites (nearly all white) have recently killed two dozen people, eight of them kids, and maimed a dozen more.
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Conforming to the official fiction, the press, which finds no pattern in the region's "spate" of midlife killings, continues to link nationally scattered school shootings to promote fear of school violence. The Times Orange County's June 13 analysis of local school crime reports reheated the wildly exaggerated perils of public schools. In a middle school and high school system serving 200,000 students, the paper's report found 446 violent incidents (assault, robbery, sex offenses) in 1997-1998.
Adjusting for population, hours occupied, and the conservative assumption that school violence is reported as often as household violence is, the county's 10 most violent schools work out to be . . . about half as dangerous as its average home. In fact, if Orange County's 2 million adults were as law-abiding as their children are at middle and high school, the county would have had tens of thousands fewer violent, property, weapons, and drug and alcohol crimes last year. And, incidentally, zero murders or shootings of any kind in the past decade.
Thanks to readers' referrals and the National School Safety Center's (www. nssc1.org) useful "School Associated Violent Deaths" report, we can reconfirm the statement in previous stories: in at least the past decade in this county of 2.9 million people, there has been no case of a student murdering or shooting anyone at a school in Orange County. This during a period in which 6,000 injurious shootings, 1,200 of which were fatal, took place elsewhere in the county. (As the Justice Policy Institute's Vince Shiraldi declared, if you want to be safe from murder, run into a school). In all the media's strenuous hyping of local school peril, that simple point has never been reported.
Three students have been murdered on the way to or from school—a 9-year-old in 1989, a 17-year-old in 1993 and a 17-year-old in 1998. The two high schoolers were slain by non-students in alleged gang killings, the third-grader by an unknown assailant. Also, the body of a 24-year-old man stabbed the night before was found on a Tustin High School tennis court in 1996; the killer was also unknown.
Orange County's worst school gun case occurred 11 years ago. On June 2, 1988, a 23-year-old transient armed with an AK-47, 60 rounds of ammunition and a bayonet perched on the roof of an Anaheim middle school; his motive was unknown. When police arrived, he fled. Unaware of his massive arsenal, pupils gleefully helped cops chase and apprehend him. The gun was not loaded and no shots were fired.
Anaheim's scare proved tragically prophetic. Six months later, on Jan. 17, 1989, another drifter who police said "hated everyone" sprayed a Stockton elementary schoolyard with an AK-47, killing five pupils and wounding 30. Yet, in this current year of hyperfear about school killings, the 10th anniversary of the Stockton school massacre—the worst school killing in California history—passed unnoticed in the press. Need you ask why? The killer was the wrong age (26). The dead and injured were the wrong hue (Southeast Asian).
The media's school-violence stampede continues to be glaringly callous. The press obsession with white-student gunners in Littleton, Colorado; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Springfield, Oregon; West Paducah, Kentucky; Pearl, Mississippi; and Conyers, Georgia, does not extend to the even larger number of school murders (30 in all) in the past two years that were ignored. In these not-good-enough-for-prime-time school slayings, the killers were grown-ups and/or the victims were not white. Example: a masked gunman blew a 14-year-old away in an Illinois classroom in February. The victim was a Latino special-education student, the killer an adult. Not the kind of dead kid the press or pols care about.
Only days ago, two Latina girls, ages 17 and 15, were gunned down outside a school in Lynwood, a few miles up the 710 freeway. It was an inside-page story in the local press—no national reports. Meanwhile, a white suburban rifle-toting kid (who killed no one) 2,000 miles away in Georgia was featured and refeatured in front-page headlines and national magazine spreads.
In a lunatic time in which a local student is far less likely to be filled with lead by a 15-year-old Quake joysticker than by a deranged midlife meth freak, why can't our bizarre (and damn proud of it) county get a sheriff and DA who will level with us? Maybe that's a question that answers itself.
Mike Males, UCI social ecologist and demography instructor, is 48 but doesn't own a gun.
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