NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - People across the country feel the heartache in El Paso, Dayton and Gilroy, including those here in the New Orleans metro area. But, they’re not just mourning the loss of over two dozen lives, they’re asking questions and looking for answers.
Matt Neeley, a Metairie native, was trying to sort through his feelings with his friends Sunday (Aug. 4).
“It doesn’t make sense anymore and it makes me feel hopeless,” Neeley said. “Yesterday it was El Paso, today it’s Dayton, Ohio. It’s not shocking anymore and that’s the saddest part of it.”
New Orleanian Brian Teasley shared Neeley’s feelings, as did and their other friend, Anna Finch, when their conversation turned to mass shootings.
“Sadly, your mind goes to ‘How many? What state? Do I know anybody there?'” Teasley explained.
The three said with the bloodshed so frequent, it’s a difficult topic to avoid.
“I’m frustrated by constantly having the same conversation,” Finch said.
Despite the fact that both mass shootings happened hundreds of miles from New Orleans, Neeley said it’s impossible not to feel unsettled - no matter where you are.
“The more it happens, the more if feels closer to you so, it’s no longer ‘over there,’ even if it’s in El Paso or Gilroy. It feels actually closer than what you think,” Neeley said. "When you see a crowd and you’re like, ‘is everything going to be okay?’
Peter Scharf, a criminologist and professor at LSU Health, said though people may feel closer to tragedy as mass shootings become more prevalent, they also start to accept it.
“They are realizing the personal nature of this. It’s easy to say, ‘I feel sorry for the people in El Paso,’ but this can be anyone,” Scharf said. “[Acceptance] makes people numb, and maybe less likely to act, because they think it’s normal. It’s not normal. This is crazy.”
Scharf explained there is a culture of violence attached to this perceived “new normal,” which can perpetuate not just copy cats, but what he calls role modeling.
“Killing a lot of people and leaving a memoir and a form of manifesto over the form of a t-shirt or grave site vigil. It’s a new kind of crazy expression, sort of,” he said.
Scharf suggested a solution could lie in a collective will to overcome passivity and address that culture of violence.
For now, Finch and her friends are hoping country divided down party lines can come together to address this deadly trend.
“Things have to be better,” Finch said. “Right now, I feel like things are going very much in the wrong direction, and people need to, perhaps, put their differences aside and work together towards a greater common good, and look at the reality of what’s actually happening.”
The feds are investigating the shooting in El Paso as a possible hate crime, which could have serious consequences for the alleged shooter. Tulane law professor Joel Friedman said there are hate crime statutes in many states, including Louisiana. But at the federal level, Friedman said if a defendant is found guilty of a hate crime murder, the convict is eligible for the death penalty.
Something else to keep in mind, Friedman said, is that double jeopardy does not apply in federal law.
“Texas can’t charge you with murder, and then if you’re acquitted, charge you with the same murder. But, the federal government can charge you with murder, and if you’re acquitted, the state can charge you with murder, and there’s no double jeopardy violation,” Friedman explained. “So, it’s potentially subject to prosecution by both jurisdictions."
However, if the case is not declared a hate crime, it stays in the state’s jurisdiction only, Friedman said.
As for the shooting in Dayton, there has been no indication Dayton authorities believe it was a hate crime. Ohio does have the death penalty, but the shooter was killed by police.