America: A history of violence

By Dennis Hartley

It’s happened again. Another mass shooting. Yawn. That’s not detachment, it’s numbness.  I’ve written about horrific act after horrific act until my thumbs are blue. I don’t know how to react anymore; how do you even begin to make sense of such insanity? it’s overwhelming. It’s been occurring here in the land of the free and home of the heavily-armed with such frequency, and over so many decades, that it’s become as American as apple pie; so much so that I find myself reflexively compartmentalizing each incident by sub-genre anymore.

‘Sub-genre’? WTF am I raving about…you may be wondering? Allow me to explain. Take this latest  incident in Dallas, for example. As soon as some of the particulars became known, my brain (in order to keep my head from exploding, no doubt) began to process it all thusly:

“OK. We have a shooter, who goes on a (allegedly) racially-fueled rampage;  Ex-military. African-American. Five dead cops. Shocking, unthinkable, but sorry…not unique. Been there, done that, America.”

From The Times Picayune archives:

Mark Essex’s campaign of terror against the New Orleans police climaxed on Jan. 7 in an 11-hour rampage at the Howard Johnson’s hotel on Loyola Avenue, where he killed seven people, including three police officers, and wounded eight.

A week earlier, he had killed two other police officers and wounded one.

Mark James Robert Essex was born in Emporia, Kansas. Kicked out of the Navy after two years with a general discharge for unsuitability for “character and behavior disorders,” the 23-year-old took up radical Black Panther politics and developed an intense hatred for the police. He came to the city to meet up with a friend who shared his politics.

In late December 1972, Essex mailed a note to WWL-TV warning about a Dec. 31 attack on the New Orleans Police Department. The note wasn’t opened until the day before the hotel attack. And indeed, On New Year’s Eve, he gunned down a police cadet and another officer who chased him to Gert Town. He eluded police for a week until he wounded a Gert Town grocer and then headed for the Howard Johnson’s.

In front of room 1829, Essex shot to death Dr. Robert Steagall and his wife Betty Steagall. He soaked telephone books with lighter fluid and set them ablaze under the curtains of the Steagalls’ room. On the 11th floor, Essex shot his way into rooms and set more fires. He killed Frank Schneider, the hotel’s assistant manager, and shot Walter Collins, the hotel’s general manager.

As dusk approached, Essex was trapped in a block house on the hotel roof. The U.S. Marines volunteered a helicopter to get to him. During passes over the roof, officers poured gunfire at the block house while Essex popped out sporadically to fire back.

For hours after they killed him, police searched vainly for a second sniper who they erroneously believed was on the loose. In the days before SWAT squads, the police response was chaotic.

While we obviously do not have a complete pathology of the Dallas shooter yet, there are a lot of spooky parallels . But I’m not going to dwell on matching the psychological profiles; I’ve been there, done that in enough posts over the past several years, and it leads nowhere.

No, crazy is as crazy does; whether you’re white (the Charleston shooter), Muslim (the Orlando shooter), or African-American (the Dallas shooter). My point is, if America has reached a juncture where we can circle back and cite historical precedent for nearly every such unthinkable, heinous variation of mass violence…it’s been going on for far.too.fucking.long. But hey, now’s not the time to talk about gun control legislation, amirite?  Oh look, America’s Got Talent is on!

Related posts:

Orlando’s Silver Lining (?)

The Death Hour: How Hollywood Tried to Warn Us

A Sad Sequel: The American Assassin on Film II

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