REPOST: Crime is not random

The latest mass shooter, like the last mass shooter, was known to authorities. So I thought I would re-post this as a reminder that while crime is not random the authorities like to pretend it is to cover up their incompetence.

In reaction to the report that the Manhattan Bike Lane Terrorist was “known to authorities” and on a watch list, Kevin Williamson points out:

Who else was on the radar of the relevant law-enforcement and intelligence agencies? Omar Mateen, Syed Farook’s social circle, Nidal Hasan, Adam Lanza, the 2015 Garland attackers, the Boston Marathon bombers.

The 2015 Paris attackers were “on the radar” of French authorities, as were the Charlie Hebdo killers. The Copenhagen terrorists were known to local authorities. Man Haron Monis, who staged an attack in Sydney, had written a letter to Australia’s attorney general inquiring about whether he’d get into legal trouble for communicating with ISIS. The men behind the Quebec car-ramming and the shooting at parliament were known to Canadian authorities. Mehdi Nemmouche, who murdered four peoples at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, was a convicted armed robber who was under surveillance after traveling back and forth to Syria.

In that, terrorism is a lot like ordinary crime. Almost all of the murderers in New York City have prior criminal records, and New York is not unusual in this regard. A great deal of violent crime is committed by people who already have criminal histories.

Our government likes to pretend that violence is utterly random and even impersonal: rioters burn down a Korean grocery in LA or beat up Trump supporters in Berkeley and it is dismissed as the result of natural forces, not personal choices. If personal choices come up at all, it is the fault of the victim: don’t be a Korean grocer in LA, don’t vote for Trump. A foreign terrorist known to authorities shoots up a synagogue? We’ll play imagine for you, they say. A mentally disturbed young man with access to firearms he could never legally own shoots up a school just like he always said he would? Maybe we should take away your guns, they say.

Governments cannot remove all risks, no one really expects or wants that. We do however expect them to be competent at doing the stupid, low level, basic functions of the government, like prosecuting violations of existing gun laws (which would have been a good idea in the Lanza case), following up on expired Visas – all the 9/11 bombers were in the US on expired Visas – or doing something more than wait for terror-watch suspects to crack. As deeply flawed as the Black Lives Matter movement is, they do have a point: they don’t expect the governments to solve problems they have little control over, like black-on-black violence, but they do expect governments to have control over government employees, namely trigger-happy police officers.

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