"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Is Seattle losing it?

Danny Westneat’s Seattle Times column today ended with this: “This is the mood of the city. Joggers are packing heat. Moms of toddlers are contemplating arming up or heading out of town. It’s insane, yes. We are losing it. Can you blame us?”

Well, yes.

That’s not to dismiss the tragic events of the last week. A week ago: A man shot at the Northwest Folklife Festival. Shortly after: Four drive-by shooting incidents in South Seattle. Wednesday: Four killed in a cafe in the University District, a woman shot to death in another neighborhood – by, it turns out, the same man, who then shot himself.

Westneat’s column reflects the attitude of a lot of Seattlites, to either arm up (he writes about a jogger visibly carrying a firearm) or get out of Dodge. (You can imagine how local TV news has been dealing with this – scaring the bejeebers out of everybody.)

Some blame the police. Some blame the Department of Justice, which has been leaning on the police over civil rights issues. There’s a lot of blame being spread around elsewhere, too.

Consider it this way:

The meshing of these events into a short span is a fluke of timing. Nothing has changed. Seattle, in large part, is a safe large city, a fact true two weeks ago and true today.

The shootings reflect two trends contributing to violence especially in larger cities: gangs and mental illness. Both are challenging for police to deal with, but better approaches do seem to be coming along. (Seattle might cast a glance southward to Portland, for example, which is working on some innovative approaches in dealing with potentially hazardous mental illness cases.)

There’s nothing really new here. The mass of bullets is just, simply, drawing our attention to what’s already there: Problems that will take hard, slogging work to resolve. Seattle will probably figure that out before long.

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