Death in DC: Exploring Singularity


Avalanche Effect

Monday morning a deranged shooter entered Washington DC’s venerable Navy Yard, shot dead twelve people, and wounded a number of others.

The City held its breath, tuned into a news source and the upward body count began.

Flags are at half-staff here and the news is dominated by stories about those killed, the motive of the shooter and his apparent ease of entry into the Yard.

Just across the river from the Yard is DC’s 7th Police District (7D), where so far this year there have been 24 homicides and 482 robberies or assaults using a gun.

If the Navy Yard is an avalanche, 7D is a rock at a time but the pile at the bottom is twice as big.

You will need to look carefully and quickly in the press to see mention of a 7D homicide and you can just plain forget about the gun assaults.

Are some lives more valuable or their passing more newsworthy?  Why, yes, of course, especially when they are free from the taint of past crimes or are not killed in the midst of committing one or so is the impression, anyway.

US Marine Corps Memorial

As humans we live our lives “a rock at a time” but for most of us life is about those avalanche moments: a love or a loss, a brush with fame and adventure, the beginning and end of family.

The procession of time we call a “life” is mostly recalled as a series of singular moments where the commonplace recedes to a point beyond memory.

In America, violence has become an archetype like representative government or the private ownership of land.  It is simply who we are.  We fought the British for freedom, waged total war on the American Indian and the rest is a blur.  The base of the US Marine Corp Memorial tells the story well.

As we talk once again of military intervention abroad, our elected leaders fail to protect us here against the home grown terror of guns in the hands of madmen.  Our troops are surely brave but most politicians are just as surely cowards, a deplorable mixture for a democracy.

Where would we be if the singularity of the Navy Yard or Aurora or Newtown became that 7D rock at a time where catastrophe was so omnipresent as to escape our notice?

Perhaps the more important question is will we know when we have arrived at that place?

Or, perhaps we already have.



  • Victoria Huckenpahler says:

    Excellent, as always, Eric. On the question of whether some lives are worth more than others, I’ve learned that’s simply not for us to judge. I’ve worked with the prison population for 15-going on 16 years now, and I’ve discovered some extraordinary humans who, upon release, bust their tails to get a college or university education in mental health or social work so they can return and help their once-fellow inmates. If the prison industry is ever to be cleaned up, it will be by people like these who have been there, done that, and seen the futility of the criminal lifestyle up close and personal. One never knows who will turn out to be one’s most valuable citizens!

  • Dave Peterson says:

    The same thing happens in the fire service, as you well know. I always have a special sympathy for the families of a firefighter who dies in the Line of Duty during the period shortly before or after a multi-fatality LODD, as it seems their loss is somehow less important. The only instance where a multiple LODD was not national news worthy was the West Texas loss. In that case the media was beside it’s self trying to report the Boston Marathon bombing. I think it ironic that we spent so munch effort discussing the reasons for that catastrophe, that we had little chance of predicting or preventing, and hardly any on the explosion in West that probably could have been prevented.

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