Recession-hit US reels from violence surge

WASHINGTON - A spate of high-profile mass killings in the United States in recent months—including half a dozen rampages since March—shows the impact the economic meltdown is having on rising violence, experts say.

By (AFP)

Published: Sun 5 Apr 2009, 1:27 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 3:20 AM

The recession’s fallout on victims of domestic violence is also being felt as donation-starved shelters fill to capacity and are forced to turn away abused women.

Criminologist Jack Levin says there is a clear link between the economy and rising body counts.

“A mass killer is someone who has almost always suffered a catastrophic loss—that’s the link between a recession and mass killings,” he says, citing the loss of a job, the loss of a lot of money or the loss of a relationship.

With exact motives still being investigated, signs of troubled times were evident this week in a number of gruesome massacres across the country.

In Binghamton, New York, a jobless immigrant on Friday went on a murderous rampage in the center where he learned English, mowing down 13 people before killing himself.

The massacre was followed Saturday by the murder of three police officers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they were shot dead as they responded to a domestic disturbance call.

On March 29, a heavily armed gunman shot dead eight people at a North Carolina nursing home, days after six people were killed in an apparent murder-suicide in an upscale neighborhood in northern California’s Silicon Valley.

A day earlier, US media reported a brutal scene discovered at a Boston home—a man had stabbed to death his 17-year-old sister, decapitated his five-year-old sister and began stabbing another sister before being shot by police.

Direct correlations may not always immediately surface, but Levin, criminology professor at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, says the trends are clear.

“Catastrophic losses serve as inspiration, or precipitant,” he told AFP.

In a severe recession there are simply more people suffering such a loss, he says.

In an economic downturn, the United States often sees “many more large-body-count murders—on the job, in the family—as many more Americans feel desperate in a situation they feel got completely out of control.”

Mass killings are almost always “methodical and selective,” says Levin, pointing to a similar spike in murders during the US recession in the early 1990s.

In that period “many workers were being laid off and the number of vengeful workers who killed their bosses skyrocketed.

“And too often these revenge-seeking ex-workers would not only kill their boss, but their co-workers as well.”

After the economy unraveled in September and further nosedived in 2009, clusters of large body counts surfaced, linked to the sort of losses Levin describes.

In January, a father apparently upset over the loss of his job shot dead his wife and five children before killing himself in a Los Angeles suburb.

In December a gunman dressed as Santa Claus stormed a Los Angeles home of his former in-laws on Christmas Eve and opened fire on his ex-wife and her family, killing nine people before killing himself.

In November a recently fired engineer in California killed three colleagues, and in October a 45-year-old man shot his wife, three children and mother-in-law before killing himself, reportedly because of financial woes.

Domestic abuse also increased during the early 1990s recession, says Levin, and it was clearly linked to the economy.

“Husbands, fathers dedicated to their families as breadwinners lost their jobs and felt they would never again have control over their families.”

Cindy Southworth, director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, warns against labeling recessions as a time for more abuse.

“A bad economy doesn’t cause domestic violence, just as a good economy doesn’t cure domestic violence,” she told AFP.

But Southworth says a bad economy “disproportionately impacts victims of domestic violence, and shelters that support them.

“If there is already domestic violence in a home, an abuser might have lost his job and is now home all day, as opposed to just the evenings. There’s more risk time.”

Chitra Raghavan, a psychology professor and domestic violence expert at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, says even if economic downturns don’t cause abuse, they make an impact.

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