On Tuesday afternoon of this week (March 11th) a gunman went on a rampage in the little southern towns of Kinston, Samson and Geneva, Alabama. With a population of around 2,000 people, Samson is literally out in the middle-of-nowhere. It’s 25 miles to the nearest Interstate Highway, and that's across the border in Florida. Geneva is slightly bigger, with 4,000 people. The nearest “big city” would be Dothan, about 30 miles or so to the northeast. You might not even know where Dothan is, so let’s say about 75 miles south of Montgomery, right near the Florida panhandle. There ain’t a whole bunch of anything in that part of Alabama, just cotton fields.
The gunman reportedly set fire to his mother’s home with her in it, then drove around, shooting other people with (police say) automatic weapons. The wife and infant child of a sheriff’s deputy were killed. A state policeman was shot at, although thankfully he was not killed. The gunman fired from his vehicle as he drove,
When it was all over, eleven people are reported dead including the gunman, who police say died of “self-inflicted” gunshot wounds. (Yeah, I’d say that too.) Today (Wednesday), the cops are trying to piece it all together and identify all of the victims.
Obviously, this is a horrible tragedy, especially for such small towns. The mayor of Samson said he was sick to his stomach because he knew all of the dead people – had known most of them for years. And we don't doubt it.
This morning, Fox was reporting, ”We have terrible breaking news…” as if none of its viewers were tuned-in yesterday, or logged-on to their computers at all in the last 18 hours, or even watched their local TV news at five, six, nine, ten or eleven pm. Well, I suppose Fox does cater to cave-dwellers with no other contact with the outside world.
The idiot talking-head woman on the Fox News morning show today was interviewing Frank Lindsey, the Chief of Police in the town of Geneva by phone. In an incredulous, breathless, I just can’t believe this!! tone of voice (which is how Fox reports every story, come to think of it), she asked him how on earth something like this could happen…how a man could shoot so many people and not be stopped? Like, oh my God! You could almost see the question in her mind: ”Why wasn’t the S.W.A.T team called out? Where were the police helicopters?
The Chief fielded the question gamely. ”Well, he was in a moving vehicle most of the time,” he explained patiently. ”He had a lot more firepower than we did. All we had were our pistols. He fired 15, 16 rounds at us from automatic weapons.”
I am convinced that people who live in big cities like New York, L.A. and Washington D.C. have NO EARTHLY IDEA of what it’s like to live in rural America. Not just “the suburbs,” but way out in the boonies, in towns like Samson, away from the cosmopolitan locales where TV networks like to put their headquarters.
In rural America, law enforcement is, to put it kindly, a joke. Small towns do not all have quick-response S.W.A.T teams on-call. Local police agencies are usually understaffed, and – let’s be honest – some of the officers would not be likely candidates for a position with any CSI squad, not even the TV versions. There is always the State Police, but they are usually out patrolling the highways, keeping the public safe from heinous criminals doing 67 in a 55.
My friend Greg was on his way home from work one night. Passing through the tiny town of Castleberry, Alabama (pop. 600), Greg was nearly killed when his truck was broadsided and destroyed by a drunk driver, who got out of his work truck and fled the scene. As they were putting Greg into the ambulance, the driver showed back up and tried to blend in with the crowd.
”That’s him!” Greg said to the local (part-time) cop. ”Are you gonna do a field sobriety on him?” he asked.
”Yeah, we’ve told him to come to the hospital for the blood-alcohol test,” the cop said, indicating that they knew the guy.
Guess what, the guy never showed. What a surprise. Ergo, no results of any field sobriety test!
In rural America, there just aren’t a lot of cops. And the few that are out there have to cover a lot of ground. In fact, when I lived in Santa Rosa County, Florida (a suburb of Pensacola), the Sheriff at the time freely admitted that on weekend nights, if you weren’t bleeding when you called the cops, it might take “a while” (up to 30 minutes) to get a car to your house. Nice to know if you ever think you hear a prowler or suspect someone is trying to break in. (Escambia County, in which Pensacola is situated just grounded its two police helicopters due to budget cuts.) Often, there is just a small Sheriff’s Department to cover a whole county, with no local P.D. agencies in any of the towns.
This is how it is when you get outside of the Washington D.C. Beltway. No S.W.A.T. teams, no police helicopters that are constantly airborne, no cops patrolling with M-16’s at the ready…not always. And let us remember that the cops usually show up after the fact.
This must be unbearably troubling to some…that a crazy guy can load up his car with automatic weapons and go on an unstoppable shooting spree. We like to think we have “security” but it is just an illusion. The reality is that the police…hell, nobody can protect you from everything. It’s one of those “inconvenient truths” of living in a free society.
And you know, I’m okay with that. Maybe Fox Newslady was aghast with horror and disbelief, but I understand the way things are in this country…that bad things like this happen…have always happened. People do terrible, terrible things and there’s not a whole lot we can do to prevent them from happening. And that’s probably never going to change.