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No mere police report conveys crime's true toll


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POSTED: Sunday, April 19, 2009

Anyone still holding to the notion that Hawaii is less prone to violence than other parts of the country would have to rethink that idea, given recent events on Oahu.

Bloodshed hasn't matched mass killings in Pittsburgh, Oakland, Calif., Washington state and in upstate New York, where an awful count of death totals 57 in a month of days.

That shootings, stabbings and beatings in the islands typically dribble in by ones and twos, however, doesn't dam up the seepage of lost lives.

As reports of one of New York state's deadliest shootings came in early April, the sickening history of mass murders was recounted.

Among the infamous killers was Charles Joseph Whitman, who through an hour and a half on a hot August day in 1966, shot or wounded 46 people from a tower at an Austin, Texas, university.

If Whitman is the nation's generational marker for mass shootings, Byran Uyesugi specifies Hawaii's initiation into an ever-growing membership of savagery.

Come November, it will be 10 years since the copy machine repairman went to work, shot seven of his co-workers dead and ripped through a community's peace of mind.

Hawaii hasn't experienced another incident on that scale, but the pace of violence continues.

The rhythm picks up tempo when a man troubled by financial problems and unemployment sees killing his family and himself as a solution. A perceived affront in a bar builds up to a confrontation in a parking lot and finishes when a knife pierces vital organs.

Of late, the lives women coiled in twisted relationships end when the men who supposedly loved them put bullets in their bodies or bats to their heads. Even an illusional romance can deliver death, like it did to 54-year-old Clare Silva on Easter Sunday.

These incidents certainly erode a sense of safety, but still allow room for rationalization; because of the circumstances, people feel such things can't happen to them.

Shooting deaths that involve criminals can push indifference even further. When police officials described recent Chinatown episodes as a sequence of conflicts between organized drug-dealing gangs, residents and businesses in the area were still fearful. But many who don't normally frequent Chinatown could shrug off the disturbances as routine in the notorious district.

There is danger in that view and in the belief that murder by whatever means, in situations common and rare, just happens, considering the nature of the human animal.

Acceptance of violence is further fueled by portraying those involved in stereotypes of good and evil. Victims were kind, sweet, always smiling individuals in love with life; the suspects, quiet, solitary.

This flattens the profiles of real people, casting them as one-dimensional actors in a sadly familiar drama. It allows easy dismissal of men and women in full when attention must be paid.

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Cynthia Oi can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)