Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Carnevale shootings: New Orleans, 6; Venice, 0

I read this today:

"NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AFP) — Six people were shot at the New Orleans' Mardi Gras festival, casting a shadow on the annual festivities in a city still recovering from the ravages of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina.

Authorities said the shooting took place on "Fat Tuesday" -- the most festive day of the 12-day Carnival season -- on the St. Charles Avenue parade route shortly before 2 pm (2000 GMT). The victims included a one-year-old boy.
None of the injuries appeared fatal and police quickly arrested two men after a brief chase, recovering three guns."

On Sunday, 22 February, 125,000 people (above and beyond the city's less than 60,000 resident population) flooded Venice for Carnevale. While the crowds ebbed and flowed, for eleven days Carnevale was violence-free. The crowds here had a lot of time on their hands, and were crammed into a relatively tiny space.

While there was chaos and hysteria at the train station when there wasn't enough train capacity to get many of them home, there was no violence. There were no gunshots. There were no guns. There were lots of people, many in costumes with masks, looking for a good time. If they found it they were happy, if they didn't, they contented themselves with looking at each other and taking pictures. Overall the vibe was extremely mellow. There was neither fear nor violence.

What's the difference?

The first and most obvious difference is guns. People have them and carry them and use them in the U.S. They shoot each other, police, animals, and anything else they can get away with. In Venice, at least, it simply isn't so. There is no major gun -- and "gun right" -- fetish. You don't see them, you don't hear much about them, there is no continuous, raging, polarizing debate about them. By and large, they are illegal. That being said, I must add that Venice is the safest place I have ever lived. Overall the level of violent crime is incredibly low.

This is not true for other parts of Italy where there is horrendous violence at the hands of the various "Mafia" type organizations. It is in the news. There are murders and robberies and kidnappings and executions. But those crimes are largely concentrated in certain areas. Overall, Italy has a very low crime rate. It has the second lowest murder rate in Europe. It also has the most restrictive gun laws in Europe, and there is no death penalty.

When I think about the violence that is endemic in the U.S., I am glad I am here. I do not see violence here; I do not feel it in the air. I am not afraid to walk the streets at any hour of day or night. I have been part of enormous crowds and although I worried about being squeezed or caught in pedestrian gridlocks, I never felt fear, real fear, the fear of insane or random violence. Its absence makes my life better. I was sad and appalled that people got shot trying to have a good time in New Orleans; but I was not surprised. Nor was I surprised that no one got shot here. I would have been totally shocked if they had.

The real question is why violence is taken for granted in the U.S., to be expected; why it is written large in the social context of the country, and why it continues to grow, to threaten, and to compromise the quality of life for everyone? Whatever the reasons -- complex political, sociological, psychological reasons to be sure -- they do not explain it. While "respect for life" is a hypocritical rallying cry for the all gun-toters when it comes to the "unborn", when it comes to real people, to children and adults, there is no respect, only cynicism. With the deepening of the economic crisis, there will be more; more desperation, more anger, and more violence.

So far, no teenager has walked into a high school here and shot twenty or thirty people, either randomly or by design. That's not to say it couldn't happen, but I seriously doubt it. In the end, the difference is in the culture.

Discuss among yourselves...

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