Since last Friday morning, America has endured 13 mass shootings that left 15 people dead and 44 more injured. The attacks bring the US mass shooting toll in 2016 up to 91 incidents with 99 dead and 332 injured.
Europe, meanwhile, suffered just one mass shooting —the first on the continent since an attack on April 2 in Marseilles, France. The new shooting came last Friday night in Naples, Italy, where an alleged hit by the notorious Camorra crime syndicate on a neighborhood crime family killed two and injured three. The brazen incident, which drew a fair amount of regional press coverage, brings the continent's death toll in such attacks so far this year to 14 incidents with 13 dead and 55 injured.
But for all the attention garnered by the bold violence in Naples, it was dwarfed by ongoing coverage of last Friday's mass shooting in Piketon, Ohio. The killer or killers carried out a two-stage execution-style assault on a stretch of rural road, targeting three of the same family's nearby properties and another one miles away. The massacre left eight dead. The mass shooting stage of the spree, which accounted for seven of those deaths, was the single deadliest such attack in America so far this year.
Piketon's media dominance makes sense, given what Jaclyn Schildkraut, an expert on the way the news processes mass shootings at the State University of New York (SUNY) Oswego, recently told us. Attacks that target what the media tends to consider typical victims—like young black or Latino men in cities—seem revoltingly routine to us by now. But attacks that deviate from the norm, hitting or endangering atypical victims, often in displays and scales of violence that don't fit with the sloppy drive-by and street dispute narratives of most mass shootings, garner intense scrutiny in the national press.
Most of this past week's attacks, a series of drive-bys and escalated confrontations, fit roughly within the category of shootings America chooses to ignore. A couple of incidents did stand out: Friday's attack in Naples was noteworthy thanks to its potential ties to crime families and imagery of well-armed, masked assailants storming a public square. And an attack on Monday at 3:30 PM in the crowded Music City Central bus terminal in Nashville, Tennessee, drew its fair share of attention as well. Although seemingly targeted violence allegedly perpetrated by one young black man against a minority victim—something the mass media might usually barely cover—the public location of the shooting, in broad daylight, endangering all manner of people (although fortunately injuring just four people) made it uniquely attractive for media coverage and terrifying to viewers.
But neither of these incidents held a candle to the unique and horrific spectacle in Piketon. An execution-style shooting that claimed many members of the same family with one shot to the head, some as they slept, sparing only two infants and a three-year-old child, at least one right next to their murdered parent—the assault seems singularly precise and cold-hearted. The decimation of a family in a small town also deviates from the norm, as does a shooting with only deaths and no injured survivors. And grim flourishes, like the money reportedly strewn at one of the victim's feet, and the potential connection to a marijuana grow operation—and the fact that the as-of-yet-unknown attacker(s) in the case remain at large despite a massive investigation—all add up to a distinctive spectacle of human suffering that reporters and readers alike can't look away from.
Piketon, paradoxically, both is and is not the quintessential image of a mass shooting. Although not a public rampage, this is the kind of tragedy many Americans think of when we think of that term—an aberrant, unexpected terror wiping out many people in a gruesome manner. But the catching, brutal facets of the crime that make it so outstanding to us also make it a poor representative of the bulk of mass shootings, which kill one or two at most and injure a handful, usually in communities that routinely struggle to contain violence. Urban shootings might seem low-grade and banal to some Americans, but by the standards of many places in Europe, they're all exceptionally bloody—and the fact that such attacks could even become banal, shifting our definitions of tragedy toward something like the Piketon massacre, should be cause for national reflection.
Our fixation on Piketon over the past week makes sense, going by media theory and human nature. It was a catastrophe almost made for fearful rubbernecking—not just in America but in the wider world as well. But the price of that fixation, the marginalization of somehow less newsworthy American mass shootings and the wider ignorance of a grinding epidemic of a unique style of violence, one that has wrought a heavy toll on the nation this year alone—that is borderline criminal.
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