In December 1991 my family and I ate at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. There was no trace of the bodies, blood and shattered glass from the October 16, 1991 mass shooting. We still felt their presence. Although I remembered the city riots of the 1960’s and 70’s and had closely followed the violence of 1968, the utter randomness of the Luby’s murders stoked more personal concerns. To slaughter people one did not even know struck me as much more horrendous than the misguided criminal actions of zealots.
While America’s 20th century experience with deadly violence from 1900 up to the 1960’s was extensive and tragic, as Jasmine Henrique reported in her article Mass Shootings in America: A Historical Review (Global Research News, 2013), the victims were almost always members of the killer’s own family or were the unfortunate object of a felonious act such as a specific, intentional robbery that was committed in secret. However, in most of the last half of the 20th century and the first nineteen years of the 21st century America has endured public mass killings of persons who were strangers to their murderers.
Memories of Luby’s came back to me as I participated in an internet class on judge and courthouse security taught by my friend and fellow faculty member Judge D. Neil Harris from Mississippi. Judge Harris along with other faculty of the National Judicial College including me are teaching a six-week course to seventeen judges from across America. Of course, it is not just the judiciary that needs to be concerned about security.
If you recall, when this course on general judicial topics started three weeks ago I suggested in this column there was much we modern judges could learn by examining how courts and judges arose originally. That is when humans considered net-working to be making friends with the folks in neighboring huts. As for court security in those bygone days about all that was required was for the judge to treat people who came to court as the judge would want to be treated. This worked pretty well until the world began to fill up with people who were not comfortable living in a smaller area.
But now, as William Wordsworth (1770-1850) might say, “The world is too much with us”. Or as Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) might have nostalgically wished if he were in charge of courthouse security, “That security system is best that restricts the least”. Unfortunately, we can no longer simply return to nature. The world has moved on.
Whereas in 1950 there were 151 million people in the United States and it seemed space was infinite, in 2019 we have 327 million and it has become difficult to stretch out. Mayberry, our TV town of 2,000, has metamorphosed into what feels like a megalopolis from sea to sea and from Mexico to Canada. Sheriff Taylor, who did not even carry a gun, ordered Deputy Barney Fife to carry only one bullet and keep it in his shirt pocket.
It may be that over population has impacted our behavior. Dr. John Calhoun (1917-1995) studied population density using lab rats as subjects. While many other scientists point out humans are not rats and are more able to adapt as conditions change, it may be our precipitous increase in mass shootings of random victims has come about as, at least, a partial result of population density. In their analysis of Calhoun’s theories, Doctors Edmund Ramsden and Jon Adams in their article Escaping the Laboratory: The Rodent Experiments of John B. Calhoun & Their Cultural Influence (Journal of Social History, Spring 2009) stated:
“As population density (of the rat city) increased it became evermore difficult for an individual to control the frequency of social contact. The result was unwanted interaction, leading to adverse reactions such as hostility and withdrawal, and ultimately, to the type of social and psychological breakdown seen during the latter stages in his (Calhoun’s) crowded pens.”
To solve a problem it helps to understand the cause of the problem It may be there are more valid causes for mass shootings than increasing population density. If so, they should be defined. However, if our teeming mass of humanity is contributing, we should address it and use our Homo sapiens adaptability to assuage the carnage. Regardless, whatever the etiology of increasing societal, including courthouse, violence there is no doubt is is occurring.
As reported by Timm Fautsko, Steve Berson and Steve Swensen of the National Center for State Courts and the Center for Judicial and Executive Security, there were 199 incidents of courthouse violence from 1970-2009 with an increase noted each decade. As they posited:
“We live in a time when threats against judges and acts of violence in courthouses and courtrooms are occurring with greater frequency than ever before.”
As much as I yearn to return to Mayberry and rely upon my mother’s stated advice, “Jimmy, just be nice”, the evidence overcomes the myth. Society, including the judicial system, must face the reality of a 21st century world. Security is necessary. That is why the Indiana Supreme Court in its Administrative Order AD19 requires each county court system to develop a security plan, seek approval for that plan, implement that plan and update the plan every two years.
I do not like it and my guess is neither does the Supreme Court. However, I, and I believe they, know it is necessary.