It is a gap between reality and perception and perception will always win. Unfortunately, the reality is pretty bad and I am afraid that the sugarcoated explanations we are receiving from our civic leaders will only make things worse.
It is just past midnight Sunday morning as I write this and MU just beat Kansas at Arrowhead stadium. However, the lead stories on the evening news are of capital violence in Columbia. KMIZ’s Web site repeated the day’s headlines: “Hotel Clerk Murdered,” “Two Shot in Gun Fight” and “Shots Fired Near Elementary School.” (These are in addition to other recent reports of shots fired, armed robbery and assault.)
Something is horribly wrong in our neck of the woods and it is not just me taking notice. On Nov. 17, KMIZ’s morning news show anchors Michelle Linn and Jeff Huffman wondered out loud about the increased number of shootings, robberies and home invasions they were reporting.
What bothers me are the attempts by Columbia officials and police to dismiss the increased “incidents” to “the season.” I agree that winter gloom is hard on the psyche and the holidays do not necessarily bring out the best in people. I recognize that the local economy is struggling and that an increased number of families are in financial straits. I understand that Columbia sits between two cities with high crime rates (an understatement for St. Louis.) What I do not understand is how elected officials can dismiss these reports with nonsensical explanations expecting the citizens to shrug off the increase in crime as if it is nothing unusual. That, my friends, is criminal.
A visit to Columbia’s official Web site will allow you to look at the city’s crime statistics, but they are highly sanitized and seemingly harmless. Residential and commercial burglaries, residential vandalism, auto vandalism and theft, and larceny are reported. The more heinous crimes, violent crimes, are not. In marketing, this is called “The Rule of the Ridiculous,” using numbers so large or small, or language that is so mundane or ambiguous as to show your product, in this case the City of Columbia, at its best. To find the violent crime statistics, you need to visit the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports Web site. But this is the raw data and does not consider the emotional toll of the citizens of the reporting cities and towns.
For me, perception achieved reality when a teenage boy walked into a sporting goods store looking at paintball and air soft guns. This in itself is not unusual, but his comments were. He wanted the air soft pistol that looked like a Walther P-99 handgun “for protection.” This otherwise innocent child, who had never been in trouble a day of his life, who goes to church with his parents and who is expected not only to go to college but to succeed in all of life’s endeavors, was, and still is, scared for his life. His 13-year-old mind told him that if he had a gun he would be safe.
I am not advocating gun control or other limitations to our Second Amendment right to “bear arms.” I am calling on our city, county and state leaders to take charge, to admit that the violence we are witnessing is more than endemic to “the season,” that the middle of Middle America is being held hostage to the violence. I want them to actually do something. We deserve remedies that will strike Missouri from the leadership role of “most violent” and make our streets safe again, not some poorly chosen rhetoric.
We can and must take the charge and conduct our patriotic duty. We must become the inquisitors this election cycle. As the November elections approach and primaries materialize, as citizens, we need to ask the direct and pointed question, “What are you planning to do about the increased violent crime in our land?” From city councils and county boards to the state Attorney General and governor’s offices, the answers must be direct and unambiguous. There must be no gap between reality and perception.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. David is also a member of the Columbia Regional Airport Advisory Board. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.