Outgoing Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter said
“Domestic terrorism is international terrorism,” Nutter said. “There is really no level of distinction between the violence that goes on, on the streets of America on a daily basis and the episodic acts of international terrorism that also take place — primarily in cities…”
“Citizens around the world feel unsafe because of international terrorists … those same feelings exist for many in (American) communities,” Nutter said. “These criminals are terrorizing our citizens and that same level of fear of violence, the death of citizens, the destruction of property, are the same. In many cities across the United States of America on a weekend, you very well could have six, eight, 10 people shot.”
He called for a stronger relationship between federal and local officials to address American violence with the same sense of urgency and priority given to global terrorism.
Well, let’s think about how this is and isn’t true. There seem to be two ingredients that lead to violence, whether on an American street or in the Middle East. One is young men with something to be angry about, and time on their hands to do something about it. The second is a culture of violence that makes it okay to act on those angry impulses. I think you need both of these things. So to de-escalate, you need to understand and address peoples’ real grievances, keep them busy by providing economic opportunity, and gradually work on changing cultures than glorify violence.
If you just go by body count, gun violence in American cities is much worse. As Nutter pointed out, a body count of 200-300 per year from gun crime is typical in cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore. Nationwide, the body count due to murder is 15,000 per year or so. But you can put that in the context of about 30,000 suicides and 30,000 deaths by motor vehicle. So that’s a lot of violent death. If you really wanted to prevent the most violent deaths, you would tackle some of these sources rather than international terrorism, or even the domestic crazies who occasionally gun down students, children, theater and church goers.
But there is the unexpected shock aspect to terrorism, whether international or just some nut in a theater. The gun violence and car crashes on our streets are so familiar they don’t shock us any more, even though they kill orders of magnitude more people every year even compared to 9/11. After 9/11 the United States started two wars of choice and spent over a trillion dollars. This seems to have escalated the violence rather than reducing it.
I’m not suggesting international terrorism doesn’t have to be dealt with. It has to be monitored and disrupted. There is the risk that an extremist group could get their hands on a nuclear or biological weapon, and then the body count would be shocking indeed and it could seriously disrupt nations and economies for a long time.