In a violent world, keep US an oasis of freedom from fear
By Michael Lewis
Senseless armed slayings focus us on the very real need to safeguard against recurrences, but it's vital to put into perspective the relative danger.
While others do that with statistics, or sociological and psychological studies, or seek to plant armed guards in every school, I found myself doing research at the holiday dining table.
Perhaps "dining table" isn't the right term: I started over a pizza on Key Biscayne just before Christmas, talking with folks awaiting lunch at the next table. They gave me vital perspective.
While her husband went to the counter for food, a mother and her daughters, ages 10 and 8, chatted with us. As the girls played with a gift they'd just bought in a toy store, we asked what part of the county they live in.
Turns out the part of Miami-Dade they live in is El Salvador. Each year at Christmas they fly here, come to the same pizza parlor, order their food and then take it to a picnic in Bill Baggs State Park just down the road.
They bring the kids here, the mother said, because they can be outdoors, go to parks safely and ride bikes around the area with no worry.
Back home, she noted, that would be impossible. There's no going to a store safely — they buy toys online and pick up everything when they get to Miami — no wandering outdoors where danger might lurk, no going to parks and definitely no bicycle riding. It isn't safe.
If the kids do out go in El Salvador, it's inside an enclosed and guarded compound, with machine-gun bearing guards stationed on the playground's perimeter to protect the children.
That, she said, is not going out to play. So they come here every year to feel free — free not only of danger but of gun-toting guards.
She spoke only days after the horrendous slayings in Connecticut. She surely knew that it was a one-in-millions event here, while crime back home is too rampant to risk it.
We celebrated Christmas Eve the next night at a backyard Coral Gables dinner. The front door was unlocked; guests wandered in freely. Of course, there were no guards. Nobody thought about any.
But many of the guests were from South and Central America, where celebrating without protection would be impossible. There'd be no unlocked doors, no outdoor party. I'd been at the wedding of two of them in Central America, guarded by dozens of black-clad armed drivers.
Over pre-Christmas dinner, I asked a young Venezuelan executive about life at home. I'd met him back when he was a University of Miami student seemingly oblivious to security concerns.
But that's not the case in Venezuela, where both his father and grandmother were kidnapped for ransom in separate crimes that ended up as fatal shootouts — fatal for kidnappers and others but, thankfully, not the kidnap victims.
In Venezuela, he said, he can go from one point to another but has no possibility of anything else. Mostly, he said, he stays home unless he must leave.
At first, he reflected, he rebelled against being a virtual prisoner in his own home, but now he has come to accept it. He doesn't see any hope of recovering freedom of mobility, freedom from fear, freedom from danger.
Think about that the next time you go to a mall or a park or the beach — or just to work.
While anything could happen to anyone anytime — including meeting an armed homicidal maniac — in a nation of 315 million persons such incidents are rare enough that each one makes headlines. But in many nations, armed violence is too common to be newsworthy.
We live in relative safety in what on this globe remains a safe haven for the people from abroad who vacation here, do business here and buy condos and homes here.
They'd rather be here full time if they could — as would we. We are privileged.
It's painful that mental illness can lead to extreme violence. It's preposterous that we have yet to deal with a proliferation of high-powered guns that go far beyond anything our Founding Fathers could have envisioned. And it's chilling that anyone would suggest as a solution thousands of armed school guards to make our kids feel penned in like the two girls from El Salvador.
But in our newfound will to seek solutions, remember that we are trying to combat aberrations, not the norm of daily violence that others face elsewhere.
Yes, move forward to vital solutions, but also give thanks that you're here, in a nation where we are free to seek those solutions — and still, thankfully, free to send the kids out to play.
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