They don’t count. Not these dead. Not these wounded. Not the people traumatized by the crack-crack-crack of assault rifles outside their homes.
Not if the gunmen had emptied their clips and piled up their victims in Liberty City or North Miami or Miami Gardens or the like. Apparently the dead and wounded of this kind of indiscriminate shootings have been relegated to a lesser category in our grisly national accounting. They weren’t casualties of a “mass shooting” or “mass murder.” That label belongs to the dead and wounded from incidents like San Bernardino or Colorado Springs or Roseburg or Charleston or Newton or Aurora.
After the San Bernardino shooting last week, a peculiar debate over semantics erupted around the definition of mass shooting. Objections were raised to the criteria employed by shootingtracker.com, a website built and maintained by members of the Reddit forum to measure mass shootings. Shootingtracker.com counts gunplay that leaves four or more victims. Which produced the oft-quoted, controversial stat that put San Bernardino as the 355th mass shooting so far this year.
Critics, especially the gun lobby, complain that the Reddit method fails to distinguish between ordinary criminal gun violence and the indiscriminate slaughter when a gunman enters a school or church with a motive to kill as many innocents as possible.
Mother Jones magazine, which employs a narrower criteria, counts San Bernardino as the fourth mass murder so far in 2015, the 73rd since 1982.
You can’t argue with the horror of those indiscriminate lunatic mass murders. But it’s difficult to imagine that the gunmen who in 2010 drove along Breton’s Grocery and Pavilion Laundromat in Liberty City shooting at anyone along the sidewalk, wounding nine and killing two, were anything but indiscriminate killers.
The three gangbangers with assault rifles who burst into a dice game in Liberty City the year before, killing two teenagers and wounding seven, must have seemed, at least to their victims, like crazed murderers.
The “gang revenge” motive hardly lessened the horror in 2012, when two men with assault weapons interrupted a North Miami funeral, killing two and wounding 12, including a 5-year-old girl.
And last year, it looked a hell of lot like a mass shooting to me as blood congealed on the sidewalk of an apartment building across from the notorious Liberty Square public housing project after two shooters had stepped out of a black SUV and emptied their assault rifles on anyone standing around. Two were killed. Seven injured. Crime techs retrieved more than 60 shell casings.
It says something about the extent of our national epidemic of gun violence that we can decide to separate inner city murders from the shootings that grab national attention. As if mass murder in an impoverished ZIP code can be shrugged off as something unremarkable.
But I can tell you this. An infamous mass murder might create a vague sense of unease among Americans in general. But for worried Liberty City residents living with constant gun violence, there’s nothing abstract about their fear.