MILWAUKEE — One woman here killed a friend after they argued over a brown silk dress. A man killed a neighbor whose 10-year-old son had mistakenly used his dish soap. Two men argued over a cellphone, and pulling out their guns, the police say, killed a 13-year-old girl in the crossfire.
While violent crime has been at historic lows nationwide and in cities like New York, Miami and Los Angeles, it is rising sharply here and in many other places across the country.
And while such crime in the 1990's was characterized by battles over gangs and drug turf, the police say the current rise in homicides has been set off by something more bewildering: petty disputes that hardly seem the stuff of fistfights, much less gunfire or stabbings.
Suspects tell the police they killed someone who "disrespected" them or a family member, or someone who was "mean mugging" them, which the police loosely translate as giving a dirty look. And more weapons are on the streets, giving people a way to act on their anger.
Police Chief Nannette H. Hegerty of Milwaukee calls it "the rage thing."
"We're seeing a very angry population, and they don't go to fists anymore, they go right to guns," she said. "A police department can have an effect on drugs or gangs. But two people arguing in a home, how does the police department go in and stop that?"
Here in Milwaukee, where homicides jumped from 88 in 2004 to 122 last year, the number classified as arguments rose to 45 from 17, making up by far the largest category of killings, as gang and drug murders declined.
How to stop it?
Turn off Fox News.
Turn off George W. Bush.
And those religious right shows; D. James Kennedy seethes with anger and resentment.
James Dobson too.
But there's another issue in play here too: these people don't seem to matter to themselves or others. You shoot someone because they show disrespect? What could that mean other than the killer somehow thinks it important that others show him respect. It is literally a life or death thing with the killer.
How could this "Christian" nation imbue its citizens with such a sense of meaninglessness that they believe their existence is threatened by the disrespect of others? Well, part of the reason is the fact that so much respect seems to be demanded of people today, and people aren't trained to experience the wonder of their own existence, and the environment where these killings happen- inner cities in the Midwest- doesn't exactly encourage the kind of existence needed to exist "meaningfully."
Finally, yeah, no doubt there's a political aspect to it.