For Sleeping, Jumping or Shooting?


The story is that vaudevillian Eddie Cantor was at a recording session on what turned out to be Black Tuesday, 29 October 1929. In between takes he ad-libbed a monologue that had the musicians and recording engineers cracking up. The head engineer suggested he record his remarks. Not long after, he delivered the monologue on the stage of the New Amsterdam Theatre in Times Square. The audience loved the black humor and the monologue became a staple of his act throughout the Depression.

Well, folks,
They got me in the market
just as they got everybody else.
In fact, they’re not calling it the Stock Market any longer.
It’s called the Stuck Market.
Everyone is stuck.
Well, except my uncle.
He got a good break.
He died in September.
Poor fellow had diabetes at 45.
That’s nothing.
I had Chrysler at 110.

Now-a-days, when a man walks into a hotel,
And requests a room on the 19th floor,
The clerk asks him:
“For sleeping, or jumping?”

During the Great Depression, the suicide rate in American rose to 17 per 100,000 citizens. According to NAMI ( National Alliance on Mental Illness) the rate of suicide in the United States in 1995 (the year for which we have the most recent national death statistics)  was 11.1 per 100,000.  It would not be surprising to see that the current suicide rate is higher.

What is more ominous is the current spate of shootings that seem to be related to the current economic crisis. A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor notes the disturbing pattern and asks if the economy is a factor.

Details continue to emerge from Binghamton, New York, where a gunman identified as Jiverly Voong, 41, barricaded the back door of the American Civic Association Friday morning, then went in the front door shooting at everyone in the room, killing 13 and then shooting himself.

Early reports say the gunman was deeply upset over being laid off and for being disrespected for not speaking English well.

That event, as well as three policemen wounded in a Pittsburgh shooting after responding to a domestic disturbance call – friends said that gunman was also upset about his recent firing – fit a larger pattern of mass killings which have seemed to proliferate since America’s economic downturn, experts say. Forty-four people have died in a string of five such incidents in the past month, from Oakland, California to Alabama to North Carolina.

In the Great Depression, we killed ourselves. Today, we kill innocents before we kill ourselves. Why this disturbing trend? Experts have some ideas, but resist easy answers.

Most of these mass killings are precipitated by some catastrophic loss, and when the economy goes south, there are simply more of these losses,” says Jack Levin, a noted criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston.

Direct correlation between economic cycles and homicides is difficult to prove, cautions Shawn Bushway, a criminologist at the University at Albany in New York. But an economic downturn of this breadth and depth hasn’t been seen since data began to be collected after World War II, he also points out. “This is not the average situation,” Mr. Bushway says.

Still, criminologists do say that certain kinds of violent crimes have risen during specific economic downturns. The recession in the early 1990s “saw a dramatic increase in workplace violence committed by vengeful ex-workers who decided to come back and get even with their boss and their co-workers through the barrel of an AK-47,” Mr. Levin says.

And in the midst of this downturn, one study released Monday in Florida finds a link between domestic violence and economic tragedies like job loss and foreclosures. The Sunshine State saw an almost 40 percent jump in demand for domestic-violence centers, an increase related to the state of the economy, the study says. George Sheldon, secretary of Florida’s Department of Children and Families, calls the situation “the worst I’ve seen in years,” according to the Associated Press.

The potential link between murder-suicides and the economy is an area of study for the Violence Policy Center in Washington. “We’ve been looking at this issue of whether there are more murder-suicides … [and] a pattern is starting to develop that may point in that direction,” says Kristen Rand, legislative director at the center. “Between the Texas Tower shootings in the 1960s until the McDonald’s massacre in 1984, it was extremely rare to see these types of mass shootings. Now we’re seeing them much more often, and they do seem to happen in spurts.

Here is the latest from TBogg