“Somebody should have done something”

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Today, as the Tucson shooting tragedy aftermath continues unfolding, every Minnesotan is an Arizonan. I count myself among the people questioning whether widely-disseminated extremist voices contributed to the already unbalanced shooter’s growing psychosis. However, speculation and solid data analysis are very different things so let’s not jump to conclusions, unnecessarily and unproductively pointing fingers at right-wing crowd beaters. Instead, let’s contemplate interventional responsibility.

Watching the news coverage unfold, Sunday’s television stories included interviews with the shooter’s neighbors and former classmates. Without exception, they identified his odd behavior, confessing degrees of long-term concern. One NBC interview concluded with the subject plaintively declaring, “Somebody should have done something.”

Whenever a psychotic, untethered individual commits violence, we inevitably ask ourselves that question. “Why didn’t somebody do something earlier?” In retrospect, the behavioral pattern seems clear. Given time and the logically unsettling fear flowing from chewing through events like the Tucson shootings, fingers start pointing.

Who, exactly, is the “somebody” in “somebody should have done something”? Generally, people mean that somebody to be some level of government. It could be the Pima County Sherriff’s Office or the US Capitol Police. In the case of the Columbine High School shootings, that finger was leveled at the school district. The result is always the same; people expect a collective, communal response, executed through government, to community threats.

Despite the philosophical elements of conservative limited government declarations, defunding public services creates local government unable protect and serve its community. While we enjoy broad public safety protections, that service cannot continue if conservative “no new taxes” policy holds sway. Eventually, the critical sense of public security erodes and our communities falter. Fear robs us of community confidence.

We regularly live with uncertainty. That’s the price of a free society. But, when I hear the declaration, “somebody should have done something,” I really hear it as a question: “Why didn’t I do something?”  The answer involves supporting policy change that strengthens community’s capacity to respond to threats and to minimizing the circumstances that lead to violence. Strong, prosperous communities keep us safe and move Minnesota forward.