What's Going On?

In the midst of the recent tragedies in Pittsburgh, Oakland, Binghamton and Silicon Valley, questions abound. Is this the result of a bad economy?
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Richard Andrew Poplawski has entered the pantheon of individuals who demonstrate the absurdity of the human condition.

Who is Richard Andrew Poplawski? He is the person accused of killing three police officers in Pittsburgh, PA. I have only been to Pittsburgh once. Most of what I know about the city is it's the home of the NFL's Steelers and it is the location of the plays by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson.

What I now know is the city of Pittsburgh shares the grief that Oakland is uniquely familiar. On the surface it is two cities in the past few weeks that has witnessed multiple police homicides.

But just underneath that tragic iceberg is the seemingly contagious violence that is sweeping the country. Last week, Binghamton, NY became the scene of one of the state's worst mass killing as Jiverly Wong, armed with two handguns, entered the American Civic Association, an immigration services center where he had been taking classes to improve his English. Mr. Wong shot and killed 13 immigrant students and association workers, wounded four others before turning the gun on himself committing suicide.

In Silicon Valley, a father recently killed five members of his family and himself. Tracy, CA, a suburb east of San Francisco, is submerged in grief now that the body of a missing 8-year-old girl was found inside a large black suitcase.

Over the weekend a man kills himself and 4 kids between 8-17 years. And a man entered an Iowa senior home and kills 8 people before being killed by police officer.

In the midst of these tragedies questions abound. Is this the result of a bad economy? Who could commit such crimes? How is it that the seemingly most irresponsible members of society are able to get their hands on assault weapons?

It is beyond the analysis of pundits to offer a definitive conclusion to such questions.

In fact, these events seem only seem to raise an additional question popularized by Marvin Gaye: What's going on? This open-ended question does little to soothe the natural impulses for concrete answers. But it accurately addresses what's happening across the nation.

Though Pittsburgh and Oakland have recent police homicides in common, what was at the root of these tragedies remains a mystery.

Assuming the reliability of the initial testimony, prior to gunning down three officers, Poplawski was worried that the Obama administration was going to take his gun away.

This confused rationale, drawing on the words of Walt Whitman, that many lead lives of "quiet desperation", seemingly places more emphasis on individual rights, as Poplawski understood them, and less so on any responsibility he had to fellow humans.

I have not heard the national media ask: "What's going on in Pittsburgh?" the way it was presented to me after the four officers were gunned down by Lovelle Mixon in Oakland.

While we may have more questions than answers we can draw on the words of others whose motivations and circumstance may vary as to the reason for their writings, but are no less helpful at a time such as this.

In his poem "the Second Coming," William Butler Yeats wrote: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."

Is America witnessing the fruition of Yeats' haunting stanza?

We are certainly seeing more people reach the conclusion of Shakespeare's Macbeth in that "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets upon the hour. And then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

In the final analysis, it really doesn't matter if its Yeats or Shakespeare, as to who has the most accurate critique, something is very wrong in America.

The senseless violence that is occurring transcends the technology of Silicon Valley. In urban areas like Oakland, whose reputation for violence preceded it before the four officers were killed, it is probably more understandable by the general public.

But what about hamlets such as Binghamton that in 2007 was labeled the 9th greenest city in the U.S. by Country Home magazine?

No doubt it was probably also viewed stereotypically that Binghamton was immune to such mayhem.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at byron@byronspeaks.com or visit his website: byronspeaks.com

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