Columns 2015

The most violent state in the union

Did you see the survey that was in the paper a few weeks ago?  It showed that Alaska was the most violent of the 50 states. Once again, we’re number one. It’s rather sad that we manage to come in second for annual Spam consumption but first for violence.

This survey made headlines in the paper immediately after its release. And almost as immediately, the news and discussion you’d think it would produce was muted into non-existence. Maybe Alaskans are just too tired of the discussion. Maybe the Super Bowl was more important. Maybe we’ve just come to accept violence as SOP on the Last Frontier. Want to live the free life? Want the wilderness experience? Well then, be prepared to die for it… and not from an avalanche or bear attack. Chances are someone will off you right in your home to save you the inconvenience of actually having to go outside in the cold for the experience.

On just one day in January, the Alaska section of this paper contained the following items: there was an arrest in one of the January Anchorage homicides; troopers were investigating a death in Unalakleet; a Kotzebue resident died in a house fire; a man wanted on an attempted murder charge was arrested; and a Fairbanks man was charged in a fatal rollover accident. On Valentine’s Day, a Wasilla man was found guilty of murder; another man was sentenced to 65 years ion jail for a fatal stabbing; a killer’s conviction was upheld; and a man pled guilty to setting another man on fire. Happy Valentine’s Day!

So how does the fact that we are the most dangerous state in America not warrant more than a one day headline? Where’s the outrage? Where’s the demand for action, any action, that will knock us off this unfortunately pedestal?  Sadly, the victims of the violence are usually homeless people, the mentally ill, women and children. And often the crime itself is happening beyond the vision of the majority of middle class Alaskans. Headlines on violent crime comes from the villages or sections of Anchorage that would be considered… well, let’s just say, not middle class. So long as it happens to ‘them” and “they” don’t live where we do, we don’t need to worry.

Far too many of us act as though we exist in a different world from the violence we see reported in the paper everyday. We think the walls of our homes protect us from what is happening far from them. But every time an Alaskan goes to the store or the mall or the movie, they are exposing themselves to potential violence. As for the people who routinely exist side by side with the violence because they have nowhere else to go, they know all too well how simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time can end your life with a bang.

But above and beyond any personal encounters with the daily violence that has become far too routine in this state is the fact that as Alaskans we should be horrified that our state has earned such a dubious distinction. As Alaskans we should be mortified by the fact that we lead the nation in some of the worse statistics possible. Alaska has apparently risen to the top of all categories that start or end with the words abuse, assault and violence.

I came to Alaska over forty years ago from Brooklyn, NY. It was a time when New York City seemed on the verge of imploding from poverty and crime. It was a time when the federal government was basically extending a middle finger to the city in its hour of need. I thought coming to Alaska would put distance between the violence of the big city and me. Now, it feels as though New York is the safer place despite its size and diversity and Alaska has become the place to fear for your life.

We have to work to not get jaded from the almost monotonous repetition of these horrible statistics. We should never grow complacent and just accept that this is a violent place for some but not for all. We need to care that some Alaskans are not safe in their own homes, even if those homes are far from where we live. We need to fix what’s broken or the future will be very bleak for everyone.