Economic Crisis Is Getting Bloody
Violent Deaths Are Now Following Evictions, Foreclosures and Job Losses
By Nick Turse
November 20, 2009 "AlterNet" -- In 2007, Jason Rodriguez was fired from his position at an Orlando, Florida engineering firm and ended up taking a job as a "sandwich artist" at a Subway restaurant. His salary was cut nearly in half and his debts mounted until, last May, he filed for bankruptcy, listing his assets at just over $4,600 and his liabilities at nearly $90,000. Although he lived only 30 minutes away, according to his former mother-in-law, America Holloway, Rodriguez barely saw his son. When the boy asked why his father didn't visit, Holloway said Rodriguez told him: "'Because I don't have any money. I don't have a job. I don't have anything to eat. When things get better, I'll come see you.'"
Things never got better. On November 6th, the 40-year-old Rodriguez went back to the downtown high-rise office building where he had worked and reportedly opened fire, killing one person and wounding five others at his old firm. Asked to comment following the shooting, a local lawyer who represented Rodriguez in his bankruptcy proceedings, said "That's how it is right now. He's a very typical client. Of people that are suffering through the economy right now, there's nothing extraordinary about him… except that."
In the wake of the massacre at Fort Hood -- which took place a day before the Florida incident -- there has, quite understandably, been a search for answers as to the cause of the shooting that left more than 50 dead or injured. Much less attention, however, has been devoted to uncovering the reasons for the much larger number of men and women -- including those allegedly shot by Jason Rodriguez -- who have fallen victim to violence stemming from the global economic crisis.
An analysis of national, regional, and local news reports from 2008-2009 indicates a largely silent, nationwide epidemic of drastic measures and extreme acts for which the economy seems to have been a catalyst. News of such deeds linked to economic woes -- from armed robberies to pay the rent to financially-motivated suicides to familicides (murder/suicides in which both parents and their children die) in the face of financial ruin -- has filtered out of cities and towns in most U.S. states. Since only a fraction of these acts ever receive media coverage, what is being reported -- most of it in local newspapers -- is startling. And while it's impossible to know the myriad factors, including deeply personal ones, that contribute to people resorting to drastic measures, violent or otherwise, many press reports suggest that the global economic crisis has played no small part in a wide range of extreme acts.
Going to Extremes
Earlier this year, for example, "Binghamton Shooter" Jiverly Wong garnered front-page headlines nationwide and set off a cable news frenzy when, "bitter over job loss," he massacred 13 people at an immigration center in upstate New York. Similarly, coverage was brisk after Pittsburgh resident Richard Poplawski, "upset about recently losing a job," shot four local police officers, killing three of them. Many others have directed violence inward, sometimes shooting themselves as sheriff's deputies stood at the door with eviction papers, other times engaging in armed standoffs designed to end in a suicide-by-cop killing.
One such case occurred recently when 64-year-old Kurt Aho of Phoenix, Arizona decided to take a stand. Aho had been struggling to find work and was preparing for his daughter and grandson -- who had lost their house to foreclosure -- to move in with him, but on September 29th, his own foreclosed home of 30 years was sold at auction. Vowing that he wouldn't just walk away, Aho cracked open a beer and had drink with neighbor Jeffrey Hobson who recalled, "He said, 'When the cops get here, either I'm gonna die by them or I'm gonna kill myself.'" When the two new owners arrived, Aho promptly shot out the tires of their trucks. He then retrieved a .357 Magnum from his house and chased the pair away. Next came the police who rolled up and ordered Aho to drop his weapon. Instead, the self-employed contractor ignored them and walked into his house to grab a few more beers. Neighbors warned the cops that Aho was suicidal and that he would fire on them if they advanced, but the SWAT team stepped up the confrontation by shooting Aho with rubber bullets. Aho responded by firing his pistol twice, striking the SWAT team's armored vehicle with one of the bullets. With that, a SWAT team member fired on Aho, killing him.
In the days that followed, as they have all year long, other economically-motivated extreme acts were carried out across the country. In an attempt to save their home from foreclosure, Daniel Weston and Mary Ann Parmelee, both 52, hired a pair of loan modification agents. Believing they had been ripped off, the Los Angeles couple later lured the men into an ambush, on October 20th, in which "Weston and another man, Gustavo Canez, 36, allegedly beat and robbed them" using a handgun and wooden knuckles.
On October 29th, in New Orleans, Louisiana, a man facing eviction armed himself with a rifle and barricaded himself inside his home. The act wasn't an isolated extreme for the area. "We've had a couple of suicides," Lambert Boissiere Jr., New Orleans's 1st City Court Constable remarked recently. "When the deputies get there, they find the person inside. Or sometimes you knock on the door and boom, they commit suicide."
One such incident took place on November 5th when Patrick Sanchez of Irvine, California answered his door to find a sheriff's deputy serving him an eviction notice. Sanchez asked the deputy to wait, walked back into his home and shot himself. It was, reportedly, at least the third eviction-related suicide in that area this year.
Right now, having suffered 13 deaths at the hands of a lone gunman, Fort Hood, Texas is the media's anguished community du jour. In February, however, it was the former "RV capital of the world," Elkhart, Indiana -- a financially-devastated community where President Barack Obama made an appearance to push his economic recovery package. In his speech at Elkhart's town hall, Obama caught the town's plight dramatically: "[This] area has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in the United States of America, with an unemployment rate of over 15 percent when it was 4.7 percent just last year… We're talking about people who have lost their livelihood and don't know what will take its place… That's what those numbers and statistics mean. That is the true measure of this economic crisis."
In reality, however, the "true measure" has only become clear as the year has ground on. As of early November there had been 22 confirmed suicides in Elkhart and two other likely self-inflicted deaths, outpacing the county average of 16. According to coroner John White, in more than a quarter of the suicides financial distress or job loss was a deciding factor for the victims. "They left notes specifically stating that the reason they did this was because of the economy," he said recently. He continued, "Everyone needs to be more aware with the stresses of 17 percent to 18 percent unemployment."
People do need to be aware of the stresses -- and the dire costs associated with them, but the chances of that happening are slim. The massacre at Fort Hood is bound to produce volumes of analyses resulting from multiple government inquiries into the killings. But neither the FBI nor Congress nor any other government agency will ever convene an investigation into the slow motion bloodbath resulting from the global economic crisis. For this reason, there will never be anything approaching a full tally of all the victims who were killed or died or were wounded or psychologically devastated as a result of evictions, foreclosures, job losses, and other forms of financial distress over the last years. Nor will President Obama head back to Elkhart, or anywhere else for that matter, to attend a memorial service to the fallen from this less spectacular, but far deadlier bloodbath. As a result of the inattention, and despite ever rosier economic predictions and a surging stock market, the body count from the economic crisis is destined only to grow in the weeks and months ahead.
Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of Tomdispatch.com. His first book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, an exploration of the new military-corporate complex in America, was recently published by Metropolitan Books. His website is Nick Turse.com.